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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: Seattle Public Schools

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July 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Computer scientist hopes to customize teaching and learning

Educators have been struggling for decades to resolve a fundamental problem: Students who are in the same grade because of age often vary greatly in skills, abilities and experiences, even on the first day of kindergarten.

Teachers are told to differentiate their instruction so that each student gets what she needs ­ a good idea in theory, but hard to pull off in a real classroom because teachers also vary in skills and abilities.

That’s the big puzzle that University of Washington computer science professor Zoran Popović hopes to solve with insights gained over the last five years of developing computer learning games that adapt to the skills of individual players so they progress more efficiently toward mastery.

Popović directs the university’s Center for Game Science.

He also is the founder and chief scientist at Enlearn, a not-for-profit organization started with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which partnered with the center in May. Enlearn is developing a commercial application for the interactive technology aimed at the global K-12 market.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: math instruction, Seattle Public Schools, technology

June 18, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Seattle joins school districts dropping senior projects

Michael Osbun / Op Art

Michael Osbun / Op Art

As high-school graduations wrap up this month, a six-year tradition is ending in some school districts: the senior project.

Seattle Public Schools appears to be one of the first to drop the projects after state legislators voted last spring to stop requiring all students to complete one to earn their high-school diplomas.

In a letter to principals a few weeks ago, district leaders said individual Seattle high schools could continue to require the projects if they wished but the district wasn’t going to.

A spokeswoman said it’s too early to know if any schools will keep it.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Edmonds School District, Seattle Public Schools, senior project

June 6, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Guests: How gaps in teacher quality widen the gaps in student achievement

Dan Goldhaber

Dan Goldhaber

Lesley Lavery

Lesley Lavery

Roddy Theobald For an op-ed

Roddy Theobald

In the summer of 2013, Seattle Public Schools adopted a five-year strategic plan that includes the laudable goal of ensuring educational excellence and equity for every student. The plan cites the “significant demographic achievement gap” in the district, and seeks to address this gap by calling for “an equitable distribution of resources that prioritizes the needs of students.”

Recognition of achievement gaps and calls to address them are not new. What is new is our capacity to identify the resources that contribute to or ameliorate these gaps. Compelling research over the last decade has shown that when it comes to in-school resources, teacher quality is what matters most. Unfortunately, Seattle has a long way to go toward ensuring that this crucial schooling resource is equitably distributed across students.

Teacher quality is hard to define and may mean different things to different people, but we don’t need to agree on a particular measure of quality to come to the conclusion that it is inequitably distributed across students. In fact, a variety of different measures show that disadvantaged students in Seattle Public Schools are less likely than their more advantaged peers to have access to a high-quality teacher.

As one example, students receiving free or reduced price lunch in Seattle’s seventh-grade math classrooms are more than twice as likely as their higher-income peers to be taught by a teacher with fewer than two years of experience (about 12 percent versus 5 percent of students).

This teacher-quality gap is not unique to middle-school math, or to this particular measure of teacher quality or student disadvantage. It shows up at the elementary- and high-school levels, when teacher quality is based on a value-added measure of teacher performance or credential exam scores, and when the comparisons are made between white students and historically disadvantaged minority students.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, teacher evaluations, teacher quality

June 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Average teacher misses 6 percent of school year

A new national report on teacher attendance concludes that, on average, teachers show up for 94 percent of the school year.

In Seattle, one of 40 large districts included in the report, teachers show up at a slightly higher rate  — 95 percent of the time.

That may seem like a good attendance rate, and the report’s author, the National Council on Teacher Quality, doesn’t dispute that. But the group says there is a problem hiding in those averages — that 16 percent of teachers are absent 18 days a year or more.

In Seattle, about 13 percent of teachers fell into the chronically absent category in 2012-13, the group said.

Screen shot from the National Council on Teacher Quality report

Screen shot from the National Council on Teacher Quality report


Comments | More in News | Topics: National Council on Teacher Quality, Seattle Public Schools, teacher attendance

May 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Tough talk (from the left) on race and Seattle schools


Our city’s history of racial segregation via redlining is well-documented. But Seattle’s present-day race divide, most visible in its schools, goes less discussed.

Not so during a discussion on “Race, Class and Education” that I took part in on Wednesday night. In politically correct Seattle, the gloves came off.

Sponsored by Humanities Washington, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering conversation about culture and community, the talk took place at the Royal Room in Columbia City, the heart of rapidly gentrifying South Seattle.

I anticipated an audience full of parents wanting to discuss South End schools. But it was mostly teachers. And they had plenty to say.

For instance: Affluent parents who talk about equity in public education don’t really want it. They may like the way it sounds, but won’t embrace the hard fact of what it means to treat all students equally.

“It’s easy enough for everyone to say I’m down for equality,” observed my co-panelist Wayne Au, a former school teacher and now professor of education at the University of Washington, Bothell. “But when it comes to, say, de-tracking ninth-grade English, they go, ‘Wait a minute, you’re going to take away the honors program? Is that going to mess up my kid’s chance to get into Brown?’”


Comments | More in News | Topics: race, Seattle Public Schools

May 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM

More students expected in Seattle and other area school districts

Seattle school officials expect nearly 1,400 more students next fall which, if they are right, would mean the seventh straight year of growth for the state’s largest school district.

On Tuesday, the officials announced that they are projecting a total enrollment of 52,379 students in 2014-15, up from 51,101 this school year.  That’s about 7,000 more than in 2007-08, when enrollment first started to increase after a decade of decline.

That growth is why many Seattle schools are full and overflowing, and a major reason the district asked voters to approve a $695 million levy in 2013, which it is using for major renovations of nine schools and to build or rebuild another eight.

Other area districts are growing fast, too. The Lake Washington School District, for example, recently reported that it has grown by 1,600 students over the past two years, and expects another 4,000 over the next eight. Other Puget Sound districts with rapid growth include Issaquah, Renton and Tahoma.

Among the 50 largest districts in the state, Seattle ranked 8th in terms of growth from 2011-13, according to the latest data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. An analysis based on earlier data, done by the Associated Press, placed Seattle in the top 20. Lake Washington, with the later numbers, ranked third, Issaquah fourth, and Northshore seventh.


Comments | More in News | Topics: enrollment, Seattle Public Schools

May 8, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Learning in two languages boosts student achievement, study says

In our ever-global world, more and more parents want their children to be fluent in more than one language. Dozens of public schools in Washington state offer classes where teachers spend part of the day speaking English, and part speaking another language — usually Spanish or Chinese.

For English-speaking students, one benefit is the chance to become fluent in a second language at a young age. The benefits for non-English speakers in such programs might even be greater.

Last week, researchers at Stanford University released yet another study that backs the value of the dual-language approach.

Over 10 years, the researchers tracked about 18,000 English-language learners in San Francisco and found that, by middle school, students in dual-language programs outperformed those in English-only programs on a number of tests. The dual-language students even did better than those in bilingual programs where students got some support in their native language.

Students in English-only classes had the highest scores in early elementary grades, researchers said, but the students in dual-language classes caught up a few years later, then passed them.


Comments | More in News | Topics: dual-language programs, English as a second language, Jing Mei Elementary

April 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the game: Talking race, culture and multi-colored lockers


Julie Breidenbach

New schools don’t crop up every day. So watching the formation of Fairmount Elementary, scheduled to open this September in West Seattle, has been instructive.

Parents may assume the most difficult tasks would be selecting a curriculum, and hiring the right teachers. Not so, says Julie Breidenbach, a Seattle School District veteran and current principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, selected for this weighty job.

Actually, it’s the little things: Making sure that student lockers are in different colors, so that kids who can’t yet count can still find theirs; ensuring a child-friendly system for communication with parents.

What follows — a free-wheeling conversation with Fairmount’s new principal — is the third installment of “Skin in the Game,” an occasional series tracking the birth of Seattle’s newest school.

Q: You’ve collected a pretty active group of parents already. How do you juggle their concerns as community members with your own ideas for what Fairmount needs?

A: It’s a big emotional investment, where your child goes to school, so that doesn’t surprise me. There are some certain things that educators do, and certain things parents do and sometimes these things overlap — a bit. But I’ve learned over the years to set some very clear boundaries. Time is finite and there are things I’m not going to waste a lot of time discussing, like uniforms. ‘No’ means no.

Q: You’re considered a strong supporter of education for gifted students. But a lot of people around here feel that Seattle’s Accelerated Progress Program, with its vast majority of white children, is little more than racial segregation.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Fairmount Elementary, Seattle Public Schools

March 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

A year later: What’s up with school discipline case in Seattle?

Illustration by Paul Tong / Op Art

Illustration by Paul Tong / Op Art

A year ago this month, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education publicly acknowledged it was investigating racial disparities in student discipline in Seattle’s public schools.

So is the investigation close to completion?

No clue. The silence from the federal education department remains as thick as it was a year ago.

“About all we can tell you is that the compliance review remains under investigation,” a spokesman said Wednesday.

Seattle Public Schools officials say they don’t know the status of the investigation, either.    But they also say they are working to  reduce the number of suspensions in their schools.

Federal investigators last visited some Seattle schools late last year, saying they wanted to do more interviews, said Pat Sander, a district  administrator. But they have not called to set those interviews up, she said.


Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, race, Seattle Public Schools

March 13, 2014 at 5:00 AM

UW philosophers help small children ponder life’s big questions

Jana Mohr Lone guides a discussion at John Muir Elementary School in Seattle. Photo courtesy the University of Washington.

Jana Mohr Lone guides a discussion at John Muir Elementary School in Seattle. Photo courtesy the University of Washington.

Most people think of philosophy as a subject for college, not kindergarten.

But University of Washington philosopher Jana Mohr Lone believes young children benefit just as much from discussing big questions about life.

In 1996, she founded the Center for Philosophy for Children at the UW, which has grown steadily and this year is working in 18 public and private schools in the Seattle area. Last month, the center hosted Washington state’s first high school ethics bowl.

Lone also teaches a UW class on how to discuss philosophy with children, has written a book on the subject, and will lead an upcoming webinar for teachers on how to lead philosophical discussions about literature.

But the center’s mainstay are the regular visits that Lone, other UW faculty members and trained UW students make to about a half-dozen elementary and middle schools, where they help young students ponder questions such as whether people are good only because they fear the consequences of doing something bad, and whether mental work is really work.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Center for Philosophy for Children, Jana Mohr Lone, philosophy

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