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Chicago Charter Puts Seattle Schools To Shame

March 8, 2010

Seattle Schools is applying for federal funding to target three failing schools with large minority populations.  Cleveland High, Hawthorne Elementary and West Seattle Elementary are on the state’s lowest-performing list, making them eligible for federal grants of up to $2 million a year.

At all three schools, the district plans to pilot a new evaluation system for teachers, in which teachers will be judged in part according to how much their students learn.

Should teachers be evaluated?  I think we need to know if a teacher is not effective in the classroom.  On the other hand, do teachers have all the resources to successfully teach students?

I know a few teachers in Seattle who say “no”.  Severe budget cuts the past ten years have stripped resources, materials and staff to unacceptable lows- yet the demands on teachers to reduce the education gap, get students to pass standardized tests, graduate to the next grade level and leave high school with a diploma continue to rise.

But Seattle Schools says it aims to prepare kids for the future.

And how exactly are they doing that?

School officials have spent years traveling the country looking at successful models of teaching minority students as successfully as their white counterparts, but they rarely ever pick one and stick to it long enough to see whether it really works.

An attempt to open charter schools in Seattle and across the state was met with almost irrational opposition. Voters were so convinced Black and other minority students would be mis-educated or taken advantage of, the battle was over before it was fought.  It didn’t help that Seattle’s failed African American Academy, well, failed.

It was supposed to successfully educate Black children where other schools couldn’t. It didn’t.  It was supposed to be a model for success.  Instead critics used it as an example of why schools targeting specific populations are a waste of tax dollars.

Even though Seattle continues to struggle, there are examples all over the country of successful charter models that do have success getting students past a diploma and into college.  That’s what public education should do- have every student college-bound.  We don’t send our kids to high school so they can leave with a diploma and find a random job making minimum wage.

Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy Charter High School made history when it opened in 2006 as the first all-boys charter school in the nation, determined to take African-American boys from “tough backgrounds” and get them into college.

Four years ago, every member of the freshman class was given a wrist watch and told they had no excuse to be late for class.

Now those students are seniors in Urban Prep’s first graduating class.  They are the true test.  Did a new model of teaching and a new level of rigor get at least some of these kids into college?

Of the 107 students, how many do you think have been accepted to a 4 year college?

None?  Half?  Half would be good, right, I mean, it is their very first graduating class.

But it isn’t half of the class.  It isn’t even two thirds.  It’s all of them.  Yes, all 107 students in the senior class and Urban Prep have been accepted to at least one, four year college.

In four years this college figured out what needed to be done to achieve student success.  Then they figured out how to do it.  Then they did it.

They have a recipe for success, while Seattle Schools can’t even find the kitchen.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. Aaron bossett permalink
    March 8, 2010 9:27 pm

    I have a 12 yr old in Seattle public schools, i watched his 5th yr class go from 22 kids to 38 kids simply put to me by the principal of the school, because there was not enough kids! I agree that teachers are fighting improbable odds, but at the sametime I do think they need to be evaluated on thier teaching skills! In my opinion Seattle public schools suck, from the management on down to the teachers!

  2. Andre Andre Helmstetter permalink
    March 8, 2010 9:52 pm

    Yes we need change in Seattle schools. No charters are not the answer. We can have the same success with public schools. And we can have it with transparency and no corporate control. Someone give me one reason we can’t do the things that make (a few) charters work. For every successful charters there are many failures. And there are plenty of public programs that work. With corporate controls come a corporate agenda. Our kids deserve better. Remember, for corporations the bottom line is the almighty dollar. Be careful what you ask for. They are trying to woo us now. The reality is not so pleasant. 

  3. Goodloe's Sweet Ride permalink
    March 9, 2010 1:44 pm

    The African American Academy failed due to lack of support from the district and restrictions that would not allow innovative measures to be implemented. Charter schools work because they do not have a prescribed program that they must adhere to and they have parent committment. In order for the children to be successful the adults in the building have to be unified. The in-fighting and the crab cliques at the African American Academy were debilitating to any progress that could have been made. The district sabotaged the Academy through multiple smoke screens and diversions. Just as a broken arm needs more than a bandaid, children struggling with more than one issue need a multidisciplinary staff to prescribe an academic program that works. .

  4. Goodloe's Sweet Ride permalink
    March 9, 2010 1:45 pm

    Seattle schools has also failed to acknowledge and remedy the lack of preparation for school from the home front. Teachers can not be expected to produce grade A fruit when no seeds have been sown for them to fertilize. They must first fallow the ground and the time it takes to do that is not taken into consideration. All children can learn, each has his own inner genius, but the birthing of that genius does not follow a predetermined timeline, especially if other issues have to be conquered before learning can take place. Hold parents, teachers and the superintendent accountable for all student's academic progress. Everyone's salary should be affected if there is no progress in a school , the superintendet should not walk away unscathed when her schools perform poorly. Doesn't that mean she is failing also?? Stop blaming the teachers and ask them what they need to make the expected impact

  5. March 9, 2010 3:26 pm

    (continued from above)

    A charter school can expel any student that it doesn't believe fits within its standards or meets its level of expectation in terms of test scores. If the student is dropped off the rolls of the charter school, the money that was allotted for that student may or may not be returned to the district at the beginning of the next year. That is dependent upon the contract that is established by each district.

    Also, according to a recent (June 15, 2009) study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), charter schools do not necessarily perform any better than public schools. In fact, 37 percent performed worse. Forty-six percent demonstrated "no significant difference" from public schools. Only 17 percent of charter schools performed better than public schools.

  6. Safe Schools My Ass permalink
    March 9, 2010 3:36 pm

    Here we go again with people casting charter schools as evil entities that have no morals, no accountability, and no compassion for kids all while bilking our tax dollars.

    So with all of that taken into account- HOW IS IT ALL OF THESE KIDS ARE GOING TO COLLEGE THEN?

    Sable, I guess some people just HAVE to be right- even when they are SO DAMN WRONG.

    As for charters being the "answer", I didn't see that in your post- but, I guess since you're talking about big bad charter schools people are bound to put words in your mouth.

  7. PrivateSchoolKid permalink
    March 9, 2010 3:38 pm

    "In Seattle we have a successful system of alternative schools that provide the highest quality of education available and would rival any charter school."

    That is total and utter crap. We're not talking about token programs for SOME kids.

  8. PublicSchoolParent permalink
    March 9, 2010 3:41 pm

    Sable, why is it people get on your site and pretend to comment when they're really blogging in the comment section. We don't need "what I think of charters 101" in the comment section. That doesn't have a whole hell of a lot to do with the content of the article. We aren't talking about, as another commenter put it, Seattle's well known token schools, we're talking about THREE FAILING SCHOOLS who cannot successfully teach brown and black kids, while at the very same time, a program which just so happens to be a charter program is putting public edu to shame.

    Stay on topic people.

  9. BlackDad permalink
    March 9, 2010 3:42 pm

    It never fails. The mere mention of charter schools brings out the irrational in poeple.

  10. PublicEDUfailsagain permalink
    March 9, 2010 3:48 pm

    This is exactly what's gunna happen when Obama takes on edu reform. People will irrationally characterize charter schools as if they're death panels, which they aren't. Fear mongering only gets you so far people.

    Typically I like reading the comments on here SV, but some of these comments remind me of the comments that people put on the Times or PI; fear, half truths, blatant lies, misinformation, red herrings and rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric.

    Can we please just bask in the glow and happiness that 107 young Black men are going to college because of this particular program? WTF is wrong with people that they can't support that? I thnk THAT says a lot. Maybe charters really ARE successful with African American kids, and that's why "some people" hate them so much- education prevents THEM from keeping US down.

  11. Educate My Kid! permalink
    March 9, 2010 4:22 pm

    OMG some charter schools get more money per pupil than public schools? Clutch the pearls! They should be drawn and quartered for investing MORE money into kids. Such a travesty!

  12. March 9, 2010 3:25 pm

    The basic difference between a traditional public school and a privately run charter school is that with a charter school there is complete control of the school by a private enterprise within a public school district. Although taxpayer-funded, charters operate without the same degree of public and district oversight of a standard public school.

    Most charter schools do not hire union teachers which means that they can demand the teacher work longer hours including weekends at the school site and pay less than union wages. Charter schools take the school district's allotment of money provided for each student within the public school system and use it to develop their programs. In many systems, they receive that allotment without having to pay for other costs such as transportation for students to and from the school. Some states, such as Minnesota, actually allocate more than what is granted to public school students.

  13. March 9, 2010 3:32 pm


    In Seattle we have a successful system of alternative schools that provide the highest quality of education available and would rival any charter school. I know because my daughter attends one of these schools. The best part is that if a student is not "performing" well, they don't get expelled, they are supported and have every opportunity to succeed.

    This Saturday, March 13th, there will be a Parent to Parent Option/Alternative School Fair at the Stanford Center from 10:00 AM to Noon. All are invited. There will be an activities' table for the younger siblings to create architectural wonders while their older brothers and sisters have an opportunity to see what programs are available

  14. Sahila permalink
    March 10, 2010 1:15 am

    I dont know what the hang up is about getting all kids to go to college… face it, there are not enough jobs for all the kids going to college now, and they're graduating with debt millstones around their necks having to do one, two or three minimum wage jobs in what is now a 3rd world service economy just to pay the rent and utilities… where are they going to get the money to buy houses and raise families… this stuff isnt about education, its about raising the next generation of slave workers and consumers – Mike Milken of the Milken (education) Foundations said as much…. wake up people – we're being led like lambs to the slaughter of public education by a bunch of capitalist wolves (Eli Broad, Bill Gates et al) in sheeps clothing….

  15. Charlie Mas permalink
    March 10, 2010 9:51 pm

    The District's solution to Cleveland High School's chronic under-performance is to keep the principal and teachers and to replace the students. I suppose it will be good for the few hundred self-selected students who will accept the more stringent graduation requirements (at least four years of math through at least calculus, four years of science, two years of world language, etc.), but they won't be the students who have historically attended Cleveland. Right now, CHS is 46% African-American. Let's check the demographics in three years. Fewer than 10% of those at the STEM Open House have been Black.

  16. March 10, 2010 10:08 pm


    Excellent points. If you'd ever like to guest-post about that, we'd love to publish it!

  17. barb permalink
    March 11, 2010 2:57 pm

    Only three? The worst schools are not getting their due here. The middle schools, Aki, Denny, Mercer are ATROCIOUS. Everyone should Volunteer at a Seattle School. Then spend a week there seeing exactly what is going on. I can't go into detail or specifics but I can assure you that start there and really see what kind of discipline, instruction and more importantly student interaction and general behavior. You would move out of Seattle for your own safety and security. The state needs to step up and actually take the schools and see what they can do with them. I think its a desperately needed wake up call that must happen.

  18. westello permalink
    March 11, 2010 5:20 pm

    Well, she did bring up charters so I would think we get to weigh in.Look, the issue is that, overall, charters do no better than regular public schools. (You can check.) There are dazzling charters like the one referenced in the thread that do well. There are public schools that do well, too. I don't think it's by saying charters are the only answer. They don't have to take all comers nor provide special education services as public schools do. So, you have to take them with a grain of salt.The big, overriding question is: How do we duplicate these successes? What makes them successful? And, what are parents (the third rail of public education) needing to bring to the table to help that success happen?

  19. SolvayGirl permalink
    March 11, 2010 6:20 pm

    Charter schools are basically private schools funded with public money. Did the Chicago school do something wonderful? Absolutely! But how many Charter schools would Seattle need to accommodate all of the students? Note that the graduating class was 107—that makes for a high school of approx. 400 students. And my guess is these 400+ kids (and their parents) were more motivated than their peers who stayed back in the public system.I agree that SPS is a total mess, and needs a major overhaul to make it successful. But I don't know if allowing/encouraging charters is the answer. I believe that charters may help the small percentage of students who can attend, but the remainder of the students in the public system will continue to suffer the results of underfunding, standardization and inequity that is SPS.

  20. sableverityblog permalink*
    March 11, 2010 6:37 pm

    *whispers* not pushing charter schools…. 😉

  21. sableverityblog permalink*
    March 11, 2010 6:42 pm

    Don't I know it. Used to work in the district 😉

  22. maureen permalink
    March 11, 2010 6:45 pm

    It's fantastic that all 107 of the grads are going to college! I do want to point out though that the class started with 150 students (Chicago Tribune). That is a graduation rate of 71%. (I'm not saying that all of the others dropped out of HS–just that they aren't graduating from this particular charter school and we don't know if they are going to college.) It would be interesting to me to see if the graduation rates at the surrounding public HSs went down over the same period–that might mean that the charter just skimmed off the college bound kids from the other schools. This article doesn't give us enough information to judge. Charters can make all of the difference for some kids, but they do have the luxury of enrolling only the most motivated kids from the most involved families.

  23. sableverityblog permalink*
    March 11, 2010 7:05 pm

    Goodness! I reeeeeally wasn't expecting this big of a response- or this passionate! Good points on all sides. I just want to say for the record I am not a charter school proponent. I support effective education for EVERYONE, lol, EVERYWHERE- period. This was an example of effective education, no matter if it was 107 or 7 or 1 or 700. if it were numbers alone that allowed them to accomplish this- then what' the excuse of one of Seattle's smaller high schools (rhetorical question)?Seattle's dilemma cannot be fixed by charters.Also, my kids attended Hawthorne for years- many in my family did, actually. Based on it's history, the current state of things is just pathetic- but that is the case for many of Seattle's schools.

  24. March 12, 2010 6:49 am

    The question isn't charter or not charter. The question is what can we do – or what can Seattle Public Schools do – to improve the quality of education that our children receive. The federal government is willing to throw money at this problem at up to three of Seattle's schools.Now, what can be done with this money to improve outcomes for the students at these schools?We already know that the money won't do anything to improve outcomes for students at Cleveland since the District is swapping out those students for a more motivated set.So what can the District do with the money to improve the outcomes for students at Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary? We know that they aren't going to alter the curriculum – they are promoting the idea of teaching the same content at every school. We know that they aren't going to alter the textbooks – they are equally committed to using the same materials at every school. They aren't going to just hire more teachers and reduce class size because the Superintendent has said that class size doesn't matter. So what is left for them to do?

  25. PUBLICschoolsupporter permalink
    March 12, 2010 7:28 pm

    Sable,Charlie's comment about the district replacing the students mirrors what happens with some charter schools. I don't know the situation in Chicago, at that school, but I can imagine that the 107 scholars CHOSE (or their parents did) to be there. I can also imagine that some didn't make the cut. I can also imagine that some just chose not to, and go to some other public school that is not a charter. So these sorts of “magnet” schools draw students who are interested, or parents who are invested, but not ALL students who live in the neighborhood.What happens to those kids who aren't in these magnet schools? Can we make a bunch of magnet schools to attract ALL sorts of learning styles, serve ALL sorts of kids (kids with interested parents, kids without, etc)Lastly, what about kids in rural areas? Few schools – if they become “opt-in” magnet schools, who will educate the students who don't opt in, or get kicked out?Thanks for article, tho, I'm interested in learning more about what makes this school successful.

  26. Bird permalink
    March 12, 2010 10:00 pm

    Aren't there a 100+ academic “coaches” in the district. I know my kid's north-end school has one, and I don't think the coach will make one whit of difference to my kid's success in elementary school.Maybe the district should take the money spent on those coaches and put it where it's really needed — towards adding instructional time for kids who are already behind in school. How about offering fun, but educational, summer school free to anyone already falling behind?If we have money for 100 coaches, we have money for this.

  27. March 13, 2010 3:43 pm

    I know what I would do at Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary if I had money to improve the academic outcomes for under-performing students.I would institute an intensive, extended, and enriched program designed to quickly bring these students up to grade level.It would be intensive through a combination of small class sizes and accelerated curriculum. These students need to learn more and faster than students working at grade level because they need to catch up.It would be extended in every way starting with extended time on task. That means 90 minutes a day on each of the four core subjects: reading, writing, math and science. That's six hours of instruction right there. With time for lunch and recess that will take them from 8:00AM to 3:00PM. Since these four subjects alone do not constitute a well-rounded education, they will need an extended day. The day starts with breakfast served at the school and extends into the early evening, 5:00. The time between 3:00 and 5:00 would be used for art, music, social studies, structured study, and field trips. Lots and lots of field trips. There would be an extended week so the kids would get a half day of structured study (or field trips) on Saturday, and an extended year to help them get through all of the additional material and to keep them in school. Studies show that the academic achievement gap shrinks during the school year and grows during the summer. So lengthen the school year and shorten the summer.Finally, the enrichment. Art, music, and lots and lots of field trips: to the theater, to concerts, to museums, to libraries, to factories, to businesses. First because this is not a boot camp and it is not a punishment. Second because studies show that it is the lack of exactly this type of enrichment that contributes 30% of the academic achievement gap.All of this – the small classes, the extended day, week, and year and the enrichment – will cost money. It's worth it.

  28. March 14, 2010 4:56 pm

    I won't question the outcomes at Aki or Denny, but I'm pretty sure that we're going to start to see real improvement in the outcomes at Mercer. And when it happens I'm sure the folks at Mercer will get the credit for it. But will they deserve it? And do the folks at Denny and Aki Kurose deserve the blame for the results there?I think the outcomes at Mercer are going to improve because it will be drawing students from Beacon Hill, Kimball, Maple, Dearborn Park and Van Asselt, all of which are beating their benchmarks for student academic outcomes. Mercer will start graduating better prepared students because Mercer will start enrolling better prepared students.Aki Kurose, however, is drawing students from elementary schools that are under-performing. What is a reasonable expectation for Aki when many students arrive there working two or more grade levels behind? Is it something happening at Aki Kurose that contributes to their poor outcomes or is it simply a reflection of the poor preparation the students had before they arrived at Aki? What could Aki Kurose do for these students that they aren't already doing? What could anyone do for these students?

  29. SE Reader permalink
    March 16, 2010 2:01 pm

    I would send my child to Hawthorne if it had the program that Charlie Mas describes. As it is we were assigned to Hawthorne and we are in private school. As it stands today, Hawthorne is not a school that is an appropriate fit for my son. My son is already behind academically — he was my foster son before I adopted him. He didn't come to me until he was 4 years old. We have a lot of make up to do to get him on grade level. I cannot perpetuate his lack of early learning by sending him to my neighborhood school. He doesn't have anymore time to waste. When Hawthorne looks like that (what Charlie describes), we can take a serious look at it. Until then, I need to send my child to a school that will actually help him catch up and reach his potential. No criticism to SPS is needed, foster kids often need more than the public schools are able to provide.

  30. sableverityblog permalink*
    March 17, 2010 3:18 pm

    For those who need clarification; students at Urban Prep get in by lottery.

  31. March 21, 2010 1:44 am

    Actually, ANY student who is behind should have access to an intensive, extended and enriched program to quickly bring them up to grade level.Unfortunately, Seattle Public Schools doesn't see students, it only sees schools. So struggling students don't get help unless they are at a “struggling” school. But they don't get help even then because the District sends the help to the school – in the form of coaches – instead of sending the help to the students.The District cannot tell the difference between a struggling school and a school with a lot of struggling students. They are not the same. Some of these schools are doing amazing work. When we see the test scores and academic outcomes at Aki Kurose or Rainier Beach, we need to remember that students come to these schools under-prepared and working below grade level. On the flip side, when we see the test scores and academic outcomes at Eckstein and Roosevelt, those also more a reflection of the preparation those students had before they arrived than the work they did at those schools.The District needs to develop a systematic way of identifying students who are working below grade level and providing those students with an early and effective intervention that will quickly bring them up to grade level. So far, the District has not shown any interest in such an idea.

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