Monday, October 26, 2015

Washington Middle School Spectrum Seattle Times Article.

There were two recent articles in the Seattle Times: initial article followup story discussing the phase out of stand alone Spectrum classes at Washington Middle School.

The Spectrum classes were overwhelmingly white and Asian, said Susan Follmer, the Washington principal, and the regular classes were filled with students of color.
“The practice of rigid tracking is very antiquated and not supported by research that tells us how we can have success for all,” Follmer said. “It is a strange practice for district that says its number one goal is equity in education.”

I find the nexus of social justice and tracking a particularly difficult topic and I considered just posting the article as is without much framing. However, I think that I owe everyone a small bit of reflection. To start, the tenets I'm most certain of are that education's primary goal is to meet every child where they are at and that rigorous pathways need to be available.

Questions I have

  1. How has the experience in gen-ed class rooms changed since this shift?
  2. How has the experience for Spectrum students changed?
  3. Meany middle school is about to open in 2 years at which time most of the Spectrum  population will move given the demographics.  What's the principal going to do then?
  4. Does this signal changes are coming for the HCC track?
  5. How committed is Susan Follmer to the other part of the goal having every child "achieve  to their highest level."

More Uncomfortable Thoughts

  1. Does my own reaction to this story differ from how I view a middle school spectrum program which is already blended like that at McClure? 
  2. Does tracking my own child somehow hurt the children left behind in the gen ed classrooms?
  3. How many tracks are needed at the middle school level?
  4. If a school segregates students but does not offer them different curriculum how does this practice not look like a modern form of "separate but equal."?

 As always please be thoughtful in your comments.


Anonymous said...

That the principal of an HCC middle school feels comfortable coming out and publicly attacking tracking and saying it's counter to the district's goals is pretty telling. There's not a lot of support for meeting the needs of HCC in SPS--from district leadership, school leadership or even some HCC teachers. You would think an HCC principal would have to demonstrate some support for the program they oversee, but no, not in SPS.

And let's talk about this part of her comment: "It's a strange practice for a district that says its number one goal is equity in education." What exactly is this primary goal of "equity in education" anyway? The strategic plan says this:

Goal 1. Ensure educational excellence and equity for every student.
It identifies three strategies:
- Challenge and support each providing equitable access to a rigorous and relevant curriculum
- Elevate professional practice...
- Commit to early learning...

So are we supposed to challenge each student? Or provide everyone with the same rigorous curriculum, even if that means its too challenging for some and not challenging enough for others? Because in SPS, "equitable access" is often interpreted to mean "equal." Equitable access could just as easily mean--and, I would argue, should mean--that everyone has an equal opportunity to access a curriculum that provides just the right level of challenge and growth opportunity, but you rarely (never?) see if interpreted this way in SPS. It is not "equitable access" if highly capable children don't have the same opportunity to learn something new that other students have. Or is the real goal equitable OUTCOMES? Efforts to slow the academic growth and acceleration of HC kids seems to suggest this may be the case.

Anonymous said...

Ben, one of your questions is one that also really concerns me and is one I've brought up several times before. You asked: If a school segregates students but does not offer them different curriculum how does this practice not look like a modern form of "separate but equal."?

Yes, it does look like that! If the reason HC kids need special services is because they have different needs, then we need to be providing them something different. When the district decided that HCC middle school students would use the same LA/SS scope and sequence as their gen ed peers, and would be working on the same grade level standards as their gen ed peers, it started to look like "the cohort" was all that was left. Now the adoption of the same SS textbooks for all MS students makes that even clearer. I agree that the cohort is important, so that kids have more opportunities to "fit in", have some deeper conversations, etc.--but if the cohort it the ONLY thing left, I don't think it can be justified. Unless HCC classes are moving much faster and getting through more material, and are using some more challenging supplementary texts and requiring more rigorous work products, this looks like segregation for segregation's sake. The instruction needs to be different. It can't be just the cohort.

Perhaps the efforts to make HCC middle school services, and HC high school services, more and more equivalent to the gen ed program will prove to be a blessing in disguise. As it becomes clearer and clearer that there's no "there" there re: HC services and that's it's just the cohort, complaints and lawsuits re: segregation might be successful. The district will have to admit it's not doing much to specifically meet the unique needs of HC kids, so that will need to change.

Anonymous said...

If Seattle Public Schools ever defined the more accelerated curriculum they used for Spectrum, then we could say "if you use the accelerated curriculum for all the students at WMS, that would be great, dissolve Spectrum." But of course 1) there's no definition really of what this curriculum is, and 2) were it really there and really more advanced, it wouldn't suit everyone in the school, and that would create new problems. (They can move the dividing line to include more or even a majority of students at the school... but probably not all).

This is keeping with a lot of exterior evidence that SPS is eliminating Spectrum because it's not a legally protected program, along with any real responsibility in neighborhood schools to provide challenging curriculum, with the result that more and more students are trying and succeeding to get into HCC. And that's not good for neighborhood schools.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the deeper question goes back to the entrance requirements into Spectrum/HCC and the (false) assumption that it is equitable gate-keeping?

I think we definitely should have tracks, just not tracking.

The article about Washington sounds like Gen Ed was opened up and Spectrum inserted. Why not open up Spectrum, keep it's (somewhat) accelerated standards, to all who are willing to work hard?


Anonymous said...

I've always believed the classes should be open to anyone who is willing to do the work.

The gen ed classes do suffer, however, because you are putting all the kids who don't want to be there or don't care and disrupt class into the same classroom with gen ed kids who DO want to be there. So it's not fair to the kids who want to learn. The whole blended thing is, IMHO, to dilute the kids that lower the quality of every class by disruptive behavior. And also non-disruptive kids who just need the pace to be slower. You can't label and isolate those kids, so do you put them in the lifeboat with the gen ed kids and lower the quality of those classes, or spread them across all the lifeboats and lower the quality of all of the classes? I can see the problem for administrators. It is an issue of equity.

But, for advanced kids, the equity issue is that if you are low or high income and have parents who are on the ball they can get you to a private school and you will have a much better education. If you are middle income and cannot afford private or get meaningful financial aid, you are stuck with the public schools, and get a worse education. Private schools can avoid the most disruptive kids and have smaller classes and easily fire teachers who don't perform, all of which benefits the kids who can access those schools.

On top of all that, the only measurement that seems to matter is "the gap", which is present the day the kids show up at school at age five, and which is a most often a function of societal problems, but which the schools are supposed to somehow rectify. So all the effort goes to bringing up the bottom, and either by omission (not meeting the needs of advanced kids just because all the resources go to the low kids) or commission (failing to meet their needs on purpose to help make the gap look smaller) the top gets held down.I do not know the solution. I do know my advanced kid who's in a Spectrum MS could do much better in a different environment, but here we are. I am hoping that in high school, where she can choose honors or app classes, she'll finally get what she needs from SPS.


Anonymous said...


Ms. Follmer's goal is not providng access to a more advanced program to those who want it but forcing the same program on everyone. (In the same way that all students are in half-day Montessori at Leschi now - whether their parents want it or not.)


The high schools are moving toward inclusive honors classes too. Your daughter is not likely to see an improvement until her junior year. If she chooses her electives carefully that will help. (Some languages are more difficult than others for example.)

This isn't limited to Seattle Public Schools. I know two high school students outside of this region who have taken their 10th - 12th grade English classes online to avoid their school's English classes. That seems to be the subject that is most difficult to deal with when it's not taught at the appropriate level.

There are some (2e) kids with very challenging behavior in my youngest child's classroom. Sometimes I do wonder if he'd be better off in a less-challenging but more peaceful private school environment. I expect we'll be looking at private middle schools.

Anonymous said...

One of the regular substitute teachers has told my children's classes, on multiple occasions, something to the effect of, "you are APP/HCC students, you should be better behaved." My children comment there are no behavior requirements to qualify for APP/HCC. Parents choose HCC in the hopes of getting an appropriate academic challenge for their children.

Anonymous said...

What schools other than Washington currently have self-contained Spectrum?

Anonymous said...

If I might follow up, do know which High Schools have inclusive honors.

Thanks again

1980sWMS said...

I can't directly answer any of these questions, but I would like to share my experiences as a student. I attended Washington Middle School approximately 1981-1983 as a white student in a Spectrum class, bused from Lower Fremont. The concept of busing was to integrate, but the school stayed mostly racially segregated on a per-classroom basis. Math, Language Arts, and Social Studies were segregated, and things like choir and wood shop were not. The worst thing is that for the most part, the adults didn't seem to notice or comment on their being a problem, nor did they give us any tools for integrating ourselves socially.

That's past and present . . . I hope we can move forward to a better future.

Anonymous said...

Off topic but important.
Check out the posting on Math In Focus and the new district math scope and sequence on the Save Seattle Schools blog
If you were excited that your elementary child was finally going to be taught from a quality math curriculum well, you might be disappointed to find out what is happening. SPS is trying to fly under the radar on this.
I'm not sure what is happening at the spectrum or HCC schools, perhaps parents could find out and post it here or on Melissa's blog (note school and grade).
Ask your teacher/principal if your school is still using MIF (as published? covering topics in a different order? with supplementary material - how much and what?) or is it using other material/curricula - if so what, who decides what?
What sort of homework is your child coming home with (MIF workbook homework sheets vs other stuff? I know that with any curriculum sometimes the homework will be supplementary teacher-provided material but is this all that is getting send home?)
Ask your child what math workbook (if any) they are working from in class (is it the same as last years?)
What do your teachers think of this situation (though they are probably not at liberty to say)?
Share your findings...

Math Matters

Anonymous said...

Spectrum was great and provided good education for my first child during middle school. But in 8th grade year the classes went to a blended format where Spectrum kids were distributed to different classrooms except for math. It was harder to learn in the blended classes; more disruptions.

Why are kids coming into middle school wanting to be disruptive in class? Why aren't they being prepared for middle school at the elementary school level? So they can participate without disrupting class?

Now my second child is in the school. The curriculum seems to have degenerated and he is not as successful and I don't think he will be as prepared for high school. Part of that may be that what's being taught just doesn't grab his interest. Middle school curriculum in Seattle needs to be revamped so that more learning is happening during these years.

Anonymous said...


Take a look at Item number 7 on the Board Agenda for the upcoming November 4th meeting. APP/HCC Pathway? Gone.

Furthermore, this document was not posted as of 4:55 p.m. today when I last checked, yet it's time-marked at 4:15 p.m., perhaps to back-time the document to comply with the rules & deadlines to submit such proposals to the Board? And how about sneaking this into a Board Agenda late on Friday afternoon, with less than 3 days before the Board would be voting on it?

Something is rotten in Denmark, folks.

Once again, if this plan is voted in, APP/HCC will be further splintered into pods and pawns to solve capacity problems. While capacity issues are real, and HCC has survived divisions thus far, this is too much too fast. I cannot understand why this can't be dealt with by growing new programs and rolling kids up from elementary. Why are we splitting at MS and HS, which are the most critical years for these kids?

Write the Board and Steven Martin and let him know how you feel about having the rug pulled out from under this group of kids, yet again.


Anonymous said...

Summary: The reworked policy strikes very specific wording about APP pathways and assignments, and defers to the Superintendent Policy. It doesn't appear that the APP/HCC pathway has changed, yet, but by removing the wording from the Board approved policy, it leaves the door open for HCC assignment changes that do not need Board approval. We can only speculate at this point (and brace for some other disruptive change for the class of 2020).

Unknown said...

WSDWG -- Thank you so much for alerting us to this October surprise.

I wrote to the Board, asking them to amend the proposal to specifically call out HCC as one of the unique and limited-population programs that would be served outside the attendance area.


Unknown said...

I also emailed the parent reps of the HCC Advisory Committee to alert them.


Anonymous said...

I noticed they are now referring to APP/HCC as a service, not a program. And that such services will be available city wide. If this actually goes through, the end run around would be to get into Garfield as a choice seat, since there will be room if all northend APP is booted. This is a sneaky move, not surprising.

Anonymous said...

Without massive protest now, bye bye pathways! Not just for HCC, but spread the word to your language immersion friends, too, as those kids are also going to be impacted.

This is another huge step toward the homogenization of SPS.

Anonymous said...

It's been known for a long time that the Garfied guarantee would eventually end if for no other reason that capacity issues. The unfortunate thing is that once again, it's the very same kids who went thru the Lowell eviction and geo-split to JAMS that will likely bear the brunt of the changes.

About 4 or 5 years ago, Kay Smith Blum and Sharon Peaslee came to Lincoln early in the interim siting and indicated their vision of having 5 APP pathways around the city: NE, NW, central, SE, and SW. It has been slow to realize, but we are almost there or somewhere close to it. The only reason it couldn't happen sooner was because Garfield was the safety valve, the only thing that kept the highschool situation in the north end from breaking entirely.

Rather than just fight this new proposal, I'd love to know what solutions people have. For the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 and perhaps beyond: who goes where for high school? We are hundreds of seats short, so how are you going to make this work for everyone?

signed, surprised others are surprised

Unknown said...

A solution proposal is exactly what I'd like to see from the district. Currently they just want to remove all the information and replace it with nothing, leaving the program 100% subject to staff whim and expedience (instead of just 80%).


Anonymous said...

Here's the Live Link to the Redlined Board Agenda

Link to Redlined Student Assignment Plan Scheduled for Board Vote on Nov. 4, 2015


Anonymous said...

@ surprised, I think people are surprised at how it happened, not that it happened. We all saw the GHS pathway wouldn't be feasible much longer. Many expected a new north end pathway though, not a comple abandonment of cohorted HC services. After all, per the current SPS plan on file with OSPI, the primary feature of our HS HC services is the cohort. Without the cohort, what exactly is SPS providing to specifically meet the needs of this unique population?

The timing is also an issue. Current HCC 8th graders are choosing high schools in a matter of months. Will the GHS pathway still be in effect for them? Who knows. What about Ingraham? Maybe, maybe not.

Another questions concerns this idea that you will be assigned to the attendance area school provided it has the "appropriate services" for the student's needs. What exactly does that mean? If there's not a large cohort, can you go elsewhere? What about if you're strong in math and the school only offers AP Calc AB but no BC? Is there a minimum number of AP or classes that need to be offered to meet kids' needs? What's the appeals process, so that each individual student can make the case based on their own needs?

Anonymous said...

Why did some expect a new north pathway? Where in the world would it go? Yes, maybe at Lincoln in 2019. If the cohort model still exists in 2019, I am almost certain that HCC will be used to fill that building because it's the easiest piece to move around. But in the interim? Garfield breaks long before 2019. So then what?

And don't kids who test into HCC in 8th grade or high school now have some sort of guarantee (on paper at least) that their needs will be met locally or, on a case by case basis, they may petition to go elsewhere? Once that precedent is set, it's "easy" (on paper) for the district to dissolve the cohort and channel HCC back to its neighborhood schools, thus helping build a small cohort at each high school. Again, the biggest challenge is the lack of seats north of the ship canal. So maybe next year or the year after, HCC kids will have an option of local school or an IB program at Ingraham, Rainier Beach, or Sealth (is that the one in WS?) based on address to help manage numbers. I don't see what else works.

When are high school boundaries supposed to be redrawn? They weren't done when elementary and MS were recently, but must be soon. There could be incredibly goofy boundaries in order to find a seat for every kid who resides in north seattle in a high school somewhere in this city.


Anonymous said...

Surprised, here's one reason north-end folks might expect a pathway:


Services for Highly Capable
The variety of instructional programs or services for students identified as Highly Capable will include pathways to sites with adequate cohorts of Highly Capable students in order to provide peer learning and social/emotional opportunities for these students, teachers with experience and/or professional development on the academic and social/emotional needs of these students, appropriate curriculum, appropriately differentiated instruction, deeper learning opportunities, and accelerated pacing.


Anonymous said...

Hey Surprised. You said north enders shouldn't expect a pathway because things are crowded in the north end and Garfield breaks before 2019. But much of the reason Garfield will break is because of all those north end HCC kids being sent there! So how exactly do you propose we redistribute them all into that "lack of seats north of the ship canal"? If the greatest high school capacity problems are north of the ship canal, how does it make sense to further reduce the number of north-end kids able to attend a school south of the ship canal?

And are you seriously proposing that HC students in northern Seattle have to travel to RBHS or Sealth? That would be one heckuva commute! They are proposing to add 500 seats to Ingraham, but that will probably not happen until after Lincoln.

Anonymous said...

The HCC Advisory Committee has not even announced the date, time and place of their next meeting (which is likely to be next Tuesday.) They won't make the effort to get involved in this.

Anonymous said...

Looks to me like the new plan eliminates APP/HCC and leaves advanced learning education up to the description of individual schools.


Anonymous said...

I'm not proposing anything, and I never suggested that north Seattle kids should go to RB.

I'm simply pointing out what many have seen coming for years now. High school capacity is overloaded. The only saving grace up north has been the large number of kids who leave the area and go to Garfield. But now Garfield is breaking.

If you start redrawing HS boundaries, the most logical thing is to shift everyone southward where there is room. Some north end kids will still have to go to Garfield because there is nowhere closer to home for them. But some central area and south area kids might get shifted south too. I have no idea where to draw the line and I get that people who live closer to Garfield than to RB wouldn't want to move. But the system is broken, and RB has a few hundred seats and an IB program, right? At the end of the day, those seats need to be filled. The million dollar question is by whom? The fighting over this is going to make the 2013 decisions about who goes to JAMS look like a bunch of happy campers toasting marshmallows and singing Kumbaya.


Lynn said...

Schools are so full now that kids in the SE mostly can't attend any schools outside the region. They're all at Franklin, Cleveland and Rainier Beach. It would take another 500 or 600 kids to fill Rainier - which would require moving the boundary for Garfield north of the school itself. We need staff to explain the short term solution for the North End until Lincoln reopens and new seats are available at Ingraham.

Ryan O'Donnell said...

I'm just jumping into this blog. If anyone is willing to give me a call and provide some background I would greatly appreciate it! My contact info:

Ryan O'Donnell, M.S., BCBA
Co-Founder, Institute of Meaningful Instruction, LLC

Pm said...

This article is describing something that sounds a lot like Seattle! I would love to see universal screening return to Seattle.