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Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category

See a real struggle for a school district (not local)

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

No matter what kind of negative experience you have ever had with a school board, or probably any local government body, I have a hard time imagining it being as difficult as what’s happening in the East Ramapo, New York school district.

This story includes the federal and state governments, side deals and alleged and real racism, all ingredients for contention. And of course, some people get compared to Hitler, this time in a place where that would be an especially inflammatory charge.

The strangest element here though is that the school board is dominated by a group, a Hassidic Jewish community, who would never send their own children to public schools. You can look at the coverage from the Journal News, a Gannett news outfit in the Lower Hudson Valley in New York. That coverage includes amazing video of the district’s attorney actively mocking members of the public. New York Magazine has a comprehensive piece that explains so much of what is motivating the now dominant community.

One thing I think I can say without editorializing on who’s right here; The district needs nicer lawyers.

I first heard about this on the This American Life episode that aired locally here on KUOW on Saturday. I think it does a good job of being fair and it encapsulates the entire story well.


‘No Child’ waiver loss might be a blessing

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

This week’s North Kitsap School Board three-day retreat agenda includes discussion of what impact Washington’s loss of a No Child Left Behind waiver will have on the district. This is a conversation every district will be having.

While the additional allowances each school district in the state will have to make does make for extra work, there are some in educational circles who argue it is better than the alternative, evaluating teachers based on student scores on standardized testing.

The waiver loss does not mean a loss of funds. It means less flexibility with using those funds, about $40 million across the state. While the No Child law is being reworked states were given some flexibility in applying some of its standards, but the U.S. Department of Education held firm that states had to have a workable teacher evaluation system that relied at least in part on student test scores. Washington, in the end, declined to create a system and the feds tightened the screws on how money is spent.

What we’re talking about is Title I funding, money aimed at disadvantaged students. For North Kitsap Title 1 funding equals about $562,000. Under the existing law about 30 percent of that, about $168,000, will be directed to other purposes, said Patty Page, district superintendent.

Of that $168,000 about $56,000 is to be spent on professional development. The rest would go to transportation for parents who want to take their children out of schools deemed not meeting No Child adequate yearly progress standards. In North Kitsap that is Suquamish Elementary, Wolfle Elementary and Kingston Middle School.

Page said there are still a few questions left unanswered. One is whether the district’s application to provide special tutoring within the district will be granted. Another is whether transportation to other schools means schools outside of the school district. Answers to those questions and others are supposed to come soon.

The retreat is Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, with each meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. and scheduled to last three hours. The meetings are in the district offices.

The No Child waiver is fifth on the three-day agenda, following the 2014-15 budget, open government training, strategic plans and board goals. Page didn’t expect the No Child waiver discussion to happen in the first night’s work, which could mean Page will by then have more answers on some lingering questions.

One story in an education publication suggests some states would tell Washington to accept the waiver loss with a happy face and move on. That’s the case made in a story in Education Week. Losing the flexibility over a few dollars might be an easy price to pay for the flexibility you get elsewhere. From the story:

For instance, he (Richard Zeiger, the chief deputy superintendent in California) said, there have been political benefits. The state’s teachers’ unions were a huge driving force in helping to enact a new funding formula that gives a heavy weight to students in poverty. It would have been a lot harder to gin up union support for the change if the state education agency had been tusseling with them over teacher evaluation, Zeiger said.

Maybe even more importantly, he said, the shift to new standards has been relatively painless for California. “We’ve had very little contention around the common core and the shift to the new testing system” in part because it’s happened separately from the types of teacher-evaluation changes called for in the waivers, Zeiger said. “The comments we’ve gotten on common core are: This is how I always wanted to teach.”

Other states say the waiver is working, the case made in an AP story this week. The story goes into some explanation as to what’s happening here in this state.

A brief NPR story goes a little bit into what is happening in Oregon and Idaho.


Is your child ready for kindergarten?

Monday, July 28th, 2014

As a follow-up to our story today on efforts to promote learning among preschool children, I share with you here the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills. This state-endorsed list (attached below) shows 22 skills that children should have mostly under their belts by the time they finish kindergarten.

Children are assessed in the fall (by October 31) through observation and looking at samples of students’ work. Schools that receive state funding for all-day kindergarten are required to to the WaKIDS assessment, which is used by teachers to figure out where individual students need help and by state and local policy makers, who study the aggregate data. Other schools can voluntarily participate in WaKIDS.

The state is phasing in fully-funded, all-day kindergarten, starting with the most impoverished schools. Because there are more schools added each year, you can’t compare data from one year to the next.

The assessment used by WaKIDS evaluates proficiency in 22 skills in six areas of learning: social and emotional, physical, language and cognitive development, literacy and math. Under social-emotional, for example, one question asks if the student “regulates own emotions and behaviors.” Under mathematics, you’ll find, “explores and describes spatial relationships and shapes.” Problem solving, the ability to carry on a conversation, identify letters, sounds and words … there’s a lot on the list. And, experts say, children entering kindergarten should have been working on these skills long before they’re enrolled in public school.

On the Kitsap Sun’s Facebook link to our story, “Districts start early to ready students for kindergarten,” there was a debate among readers about whether this push for early acquisition of skills is positive for children or just too much pressure.

While current policy on early childhood education (including the value of all-day kindergarten) remains open to debate, the importance of a richly stimulating environment during each developmental stage has been well documented, including by the Children’s Reading Foundation, a Kennewick organization that hosts the national Ready! for Kindergarten program. The program, in which South Kitsap, Bremerton and Central Kitsap take part, educates parents on ways to foster intellectual and social growth from birth on up.

The WaKIDS data from the 2013-2014 school year shows that 80 percent of the 38,443 kindergartners assessed already had physical skills that are “widely expected” by the end of kindergarten. In literacy, too, roughly 80 percent already had a good grasp. Social-emotional confidence and cognitive skills had been mostly mastered by about 75 percent. About 70 percent had good proficiency in language skills, but only 50 percent were end-of-kindergarten skilled in math.

One school official I talked to said kindergarten teachers must address the needs of children with a wide range of skills, from those who are able to do some things typical of an 8-year-old, while others are struggling at a 3-year-old level.

Let me repeat that these are skills tested on children at the beginning of the school year that experts say they should have fully mastered by the end of kindergarten.

If you are the parent of a child entering kindergarten, you may want to take a look at this list (below). The big take-away that I heard from teachers and early childhood experts while researching the story is that “each child develops at his or her own pace,” so don’t panic if they’re not hitting it out of the park in all categories. Read “Leo the Late Bloomer,” for a pick-me-up, if this is the case.

Finally, I’d love to hear how you take advantage of opportunities to foster learning in your preschooler, toddler or infant… what they call those “teachable moments.”
Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 6.31.05 PM

P.S. This is a picture of my son Alex, who turns 30 on Friday, proof that time flies. This photo is not available for copying or reproduction. Thank you.

WaKIDS Assessment


For your education edification

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Once in a while I come across a few stories I think some of you education-minded readers would appreciate. Usually I sit on them, because it seems like a lot to offer commentary on all of them. So this time I’m just the links with brief explanations.

The first is from someone who believes we should get rid of middle school. That piques my interest a bit, because my own memories of junior high school was of two years in a high school waiting room. Looking back it was the least satisfying two years of my educational experience during K-12, though some of my teachers in the other schools might differ. What the writer seems to be proposing is a Klahowya model.

The next story posits that one reason poorer schools will never do well on standardized tests is they can’t afford the updated materials needed to know what’s going to be on the tests. Test makers are also book publishers.

The third story shows that long before the youngsters learn to talk the brain activity shows they are working on figuring out how. Awesome picture in there, too.

The final story is one I read a couple weeks ago, one that suggests that even pre-kindergarten is too late. Good education starts way earlier.


Summer Education Opp: Tough Love

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

We’ve written a lot about the Washington Youth Academy, a publicly funded residential high school intervention program for students who have dropped out or been expelled.

We heard from the Bremerton branch of the academy, which is a statewide program, when we asked for “Summer Education opportunities” for children and teens.

We did not include the listing in our Summer Ed Opps list, because the upcoming session, in which students/cadets can earn up to eight credits toward high school graduation, runs July 19 through Dec. 20. I call it to your attention here, because it is a great opportunity for youth who need help getting their lives in order and who need academic credit recovery.

Note the deadline to apply is June 20.

Washington Youth Academy
Ages: 16-18
Where: 1207 Carver Street, Bremerton
Description: At-risk youth can earn up to eight credits toward a high school diploma in five-and-a-half weeks. Next session runs July 19 through Dec. 20; applications are due by June 20.
Eligibility criteria: Students must be a high school dropout or expellee, a U.S. citizen and resident of Washington State, never convicted of a felony and have no legal action pending, free of illegal drugs at time of enrollment, and physically and mentally able to complete the program.
Program incorporates a highly structured quasi-military format emphasizing self-discipline, personal responsibility and positive motivation.
Cost: No cost for qualified candidates. The program is run through a cooperative agreement between the National Guard Bureau and Washington State.
Contact Kasie Roach at Kassondra.roach@mil.wa.gov or 360-473-2629, http://mil.wa.gov/WYA/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/NGYCP-Washington-Youth-Academy/71515853230.


A Common Core materials scramble

Monday, June 9th, 2014

One of the key elements in a story we ran (subscription required) in early May on Common Core was how students will take Common Core standardized tests next year, even though few districts have educational materials that completely teach to the new standards.

NPR goes into great depth about what that means in a two-part series. A portion of the first part details how some educational book publishers came out with substandard materials they sold as Common Core-ready. There was one problem, according to Amber Northern, vice president for research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank that supports the Common Core:

“There’s no way they could have gone back and actually re-evaluated, re-assessed their materials, and truly made a good-faith effort to align those materials that quickly. It just was simply impossible.”

The second part shows how districts are either doing nothing to adjust, buying new materials that may or may not be good enough, or adapting on their own to get next year’s curriculum in line with the new standards. Based on my experience, most local districts are doing some form of the latter. The NPR piece goes into some good detail about what a few districts are doing to be ready.

Over at Education Week a blog entry details a national survey showing that educator generally favor Common Core, but are highly concerned about how it’s being implemented. Again, much of the concern is materials and curriculum.


Get a quick snapshot of how your child’s school measures up

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

On Saturday, we will run a story about struggling schools in Kitsap and North Mason counties, as identified by the State Board of Education.

The schools, identified in the Washington State Board of Education’s achievement index among the state’s lowest performing schools, are Cedar Heights Junior High School in South Kitsap School District, Hawkins Middle School in North Mason School District, Fairview Junior High School in Central Kitsap School District and Central Kitsap’s Off Campus Program.

The good news is that these schools have made some progress over the past three years with financial help and professional guidance from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. And they’ll continue to get that help, despite Washington State’s loss of a waiver under No Child Left Behind.

In the course of researching this story, I found a handy, dandy tool that every parent of a school-age child can find useful.

Low (and high) performing schools in Washington State are identified through data evaluated in the achievement index. About a year ago, the SBE complied the data (available in a jahonking Exel file if that’s your preference) into a user-friendly dashboard data tool that gives a visual snapshot of each school in the state.

I don’t think this data tool was widely publicized. At least I never saw a press release about it. So they may have given it a “soft rollout” as the saying goes. But maybe I’ve just been behind the curve. I do know that the state is moving toward better public access and transparency of data.

OSPI’s school and district report card, which offers a wealth of information, has been available for a long time. I use it regularly.

Find the achievement index here. From the main drop down window, select your district of choice, then your child’s school to view data on academic proficiency and growth among all students and subgroups of students who have historically lagged behind their grade level peers.

Notice that dark blue represents the highest tier, with dark green at the next level and light green in the middle. Orange and red signify the lowest tiers. Having orange or even red boxes doesn’t automatically raise a red flag, under the SBE’s high-low ID system, which takes into account data over past three years. The system also measures students’ relative academic growth rather than growth against a fixed standard, as under the federal No Child Left Behind standards.

In addition to struggling schools, the Board of Education also identified high performing schools, including 17 in Kitsap and North Mason, which were recognized by OSPI in April.


Guy rents billboard for prom-posal

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

When Jacob Ness was considering how to ask his girlfriend Abby King to Olympic High School’s prom he wanted to pull out all the stops.

Ness had seen messages of a personal nature on the Mentor billboard near the Warren Avenue Bridge in East Bremerton and, “I just thought that putting that up there would be the mother lode of everything that would be up there.”

He rented the billboard, $80 for three days over a weekend in late May, and roped Abby’s mom, Patti King, in as an accomplice. The two drove Abby to the sign blindfolded. Abby was understandably apprehensive. They spun her around and pulled off the blindfold to reveal the message. Abby was speechless with surprise.
prom

“It worked out perfect,” Jacob said. “I went over and touched her, and she grabbed onto me and started crying.”

In short, she said, “Yes.” Oly’s prom is Saturday. Jacob and Abby will wear outfits that match in what Jacob describes as “seafoamy green.”

Prom-posals, extravagant public displays of affection related to that all important dance, are nothing brand new (the first one that actually got media attention was in 2001, according to a recent article in Time). But the stakes have escalated within the past few years, as teens vie to come up with the most original and clever way to drop the question. And always there is the requisite posting on social media.

Prom-posals are delivered on footballs, vehicles and T-shirts. Guys write them on pets and on themselves. Food — and for some strange reason, chicken — seems to be a trend.
football

vehicle

Tshirt

catgroup

Someprom-posals are romantic in a quirky way, inappropriate way. One of my son’s friends last year pretended to get hurt while playing soccer. The girl he asked was in sports medicine and rushed to attend to him. He lifted his pant leg to show the word “Prom?” on his calf.

bathroom

Yet other other prom-posals, like sunburning the word “prom?” on your back, or reclining in your underwear with rose petals and a giant teddy bear, just seem like a bad idea out the gate.

sunburnbadidea


Live Blog NKSD Board meeting

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Those of you who have been around Kitsap a while might remember that live blogging was something we did a lot. It will continue to be something we do to provide you more opportunities to hear the news right away. For my own purposes I wanted to find an event to practice on, so I will be attending the North Kitsap School Board meeting Thursday and launching the live blog as the meeting starts at 6 p.m. Join us.

As I mentioned before this was something we used to do a lot. I went to a lot of port meetings and live blogged from those. I also recall live blogging the candidate speeches during the 2008 national political conventions and had nice conversations involving our Sound Board members.

It’s a little bit tricky because the blog ends up being my notes for the story that comes from the meeting. I don’t think I will be reporting from the NKSD board meeting, so it seemed like a good place to practice. Thanks to everyone who joins along.


Test your Common Core math skills

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

This weekend we moved Common Core discussion from a blog item here and here to a regular news item here. In the news story I mentioned that Smarter Balanced, one of the two companies states are using to develop standardized test, makes some sample questions available online. You can go see the questions students will see and try to answer them yourself. You can pick a grade level and choose between English Language Arts or Math. As far as I can tell, though, you won’t find out if you answered the questions correctly.

An alternative, one that takes far less time if you choose, is the Washington Post’s seven sample Common Core Math questions. It’s not exactly how students will see the questions, because they are all multiple choice. So you can guess.

On the Post test was able to get six of seven correct. Four of my correct answers really did represent what I knew about math before I started the test. I had to look something up to get one of the answers correct, but I did the work. On an another one I only got it right because it was multiple choice. I did some work to get to the right answer, but if it hadn’t been multiple choice I would not have been successful. On the other hand, though, I think if I had been willing to put in the time necessary to answer the one I got wrong the odds were 50/50 that I would have answered it correctly.

Just out of curiosity I did a search for “common core math test” and found several places offering sample tests. So if you have already hit the WP paywall, you can test your skills elsewhere.


Super Bowl XLIX

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