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Education Lab Blog

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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September 2, 2014 at 12:41 PM

Seattle’s special-ed mess: Who’s in charge of what?

Hodan Mohammed, center, of Open Doors for Multicultural Families, joins Fadil Abubakar, 19, left, and Rahma Ali, 18, for a photo at NewHolly Youth and Family Center in June. Mohammed helped them and their families navigate the complexities of special education. Photo by Maddie Myer / The Seattle Times.

Hodan Mohammed, center, of Open Doors for Multicultural Families, joins Fadil Abubakar, 19, left, and Rahma Ali, 18, for a photo at NewHolly Youth and Family Center in June. Mohammed helped them and their families navigate the complexities of special education. Photo by Maddie Myer / The Seattle Times.

More than year after the state ordered Seattle Public Schools to fix its long-troubled special-education program, progress has been incremental at best and falls far short of the district’s own promises.

When national consultants visited Seattle during the spring, they found a bureaucracy still so disjointed that few know who is responsible for what.

They heard, for example, four different versions of how the district is supposed to handle parent complaints about special education.

The data systems are such a mess that nobody could tell them how many of the district’s 7,200 special-education students — with disabilities such as autism, deafness and dyslexia — were in school on any given day.

Go here to read the full story.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, special ed

August 27, 2014 at 9:59 AM

Today’s story: Seattle’s Garfield High wants hazing to be history

A group of Garfield High upperclassmen cracks up Monday after performing during their training at the school. Garfield is hosting the Link Crew leadership training course before the start of school next week. Photo by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times.

A group of Garfield High upperclassmen cracks up Monday after performing during their training at the school. Garfield is hosting the Link Crew leadership training course before the start of school next week. Photo by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times.

As an eager, if nervous, ninth-grader, Anya Meleshuk allowed several older girls to blindfold her one afternoon, put her in a car and drive her to a park where she was told to “propose” to a stranger. Later, dressed in fairy wings, she downed a dozen flavors of ice cream while her friends watched, and went home afterward feeling as if she had been accepted, initiated into Garfield High School, where such “froshing” has a storied history.

Many alumni cherish similar memories and were outraged last fall when Principal Ted Howard, long an opponent of this tradition, showed up unannounced at a Homecoming Weekend event to quell what would become Garfield’s moment of hazing infamy.

Go here for the full story.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Garfield, hazing, Seattle Public Schools

August 11, 2014 at 2:58 PM

Seattle special education chief placed on paid leave

The Seattle school district’s executive director of special education was placed on paid leave Friday afternoon while the district investigates whether proper procedures were followed when the district hired a national consultant last spring. The executive director, Zakiyyah McWilliams, will be out during the review, which is expected to take a few weeks, said district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers. “This is not…


Comments | More in News, Seattle Public Schools | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, special education, T.I.E.R.S Group

August 8, 2014 at 5:00 AM

National report praises Rainier Beach High for discipline fix

Paul Tong / Op Art

Paul Tong / Op Art

When students show up late for class at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School, they aren’t marched off to the principal’s office for punishment, they’re greeted at the door by a “welcome team” of school staff that gets them talking about why they’re tardy and how to fix it.

Maybe they’re having problems at home, or they need help with transportation or even an automated wake-up phone call if that’s what it takes.

Those three-to-five minute conversations have reduced tardiness at Rainier Beach and are cited on page 48 of a massive report on discipline issued earlier this summer as an example of how stronger relationships between students and adults can nip misbehavior in the bud.

Far too often, middle schools and high schools are suspending and expelling students for minor misconduct, according to the report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

And students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are suspended or expelled at a higher rate than other students.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Council of State Governments, Rainier Beach High School, school discipline

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

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