SEATTLE – The Seattle schools improving the most in recent years are nearly all in neighborhoods north of Interstate 90, away from the areas where most poor children in Washington’s largest school district live, a new analysis of district data reveals.
The University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education reports this week that south-end neighborhoods have 75 percent of the lowest-performing schools, and most of their high-achieving schools are in the more affluent areas of West Seattle.
Only one in seven Seattle schools are both high growth and high achieving, and none of these are high schools, the researchers found when they took a closer look at the data released to the public earlier this month by Seattle Public Schools.
“I think the district really deserves some credit for daylighting their data,” said the lead researcher on the report, Christine Campbell. “I really would love for Seattle to use this as a chance to really do something.”
District spokeswoman Patti Spencer said the district has been targeting schools with extra help and guidance throughout this research process and some of the schools exhibiting the most growth were those getting the most help.
“We feel that this is just a really critical step forward for us and for the community to publish this information,” she said. “When we focus our attention and the community’s attention on data that is easy to understand and accessible ... we know that performance will improve.”
Spencer noted, however, that in other school systems successfully turning around schools, such as Boston, it has taken at least five years for school data to show real progress and 10 years to finish the process.
Campbell, who lives in Seattle’s south end, encouraged the community to not be overly patient about seeing progress in the most needy schools.
“We have to really set a short time frame on what it looks like to have turnaround there,” she said.
In sharing this information with the public, Seattle is following a trend started by Denver about four years. Other big districts like Los Angeles and New York spread the idea and now others around the nation are joining the movement at a progressively faster pace.
Campbell gave credit for this trend to Rich Wenning, who developed the growth method for Denver Public Schools and then was hired by the state of Colorado to refine and expand it statewide. His computer model can be used for free by anyone.
“All the places that are doing it are really happy with their ability to compare apples to apples,” she said, adding that the most difficult part is making sure the district or the state has the necessary data to plug into the formulas.
In addition to giving the general public more information about how their local school is doing and where it falls within the district, Campbell speculated this may also be the first time Seattle Public Schools has looked at student and school information in this way.
Some people were grouchy about the district spending money to analyze data and come to conclusions that nearly everyone knew, Campbell said, but it’s important for the district to move beyond hearsay and into real information to direct its next moves.
One of the most interesting things Seattle officials uncovered during their data analysis is that two schools in some of its poorest neighborhoods are doing better than expected, she noted.
Both South Park’s Concord International Elementary School and Beacon Hill’s Mercer Middle School have demographics similar to the 13 schools doing the poorest, but they dramatically outscore them in both absolute achievement and growth.
Spencer said both schools have excellent leaders, extra dollars and a district-directed plan for improvement.
“I think that’s really good news for Seattle. There are places right here that we need to look at and see what’s going on,” Campbell said.