A lot has changed in Seattle in the last 20 years. One thing that hasn’t changed is the science curriculum at Seattle Public Schools. If our students are going to succeed, we’ve got to make sure we are preparing them the best we can for the future they will face.
Today, students in Seattle Public Schools lag behind students in other large school districts in our area. Only 53 percent of Seattle students meet grade-level science standards. Compared to nearby Bellevue and Lake Washington school districts, Seattle is underperforming by significant margins.
This statistic and others like it don’t capture the whole story. The achievement gap between higher- and lower-performing schools remains significant in Seattle. Our failures to address inequity have dramatic impacts on the lives of real kids, many of them students of color, whose parents are less likely to engage with our city’s power structure or follow online blog debates.
Our school board — and every community member in our city — needs to fight for these kids. We will never be a truly great city unless we are each accountable for turning much discussed progressive values into actual progressive outcomes.
The school board took the right step in its recently approved strategic plan by voting to prioritize the interests of students “furthest from education justice.” The current debate about whether to adopt a new science curriculum is a test of how serious the board is in implementing its strategy.
Over a year ago, Seattle Public Schools embarked on a community-informed and deliberative process to update the system’s science curriculum. But that work is threatened by a small number of activists who are pushing the board to ignore the recommendations of the educators, parents and community members who engaged in a thorough process.
In moving forward with such an important part of the curriculum, the school district established clear goals, including aligning the curriculum with new standards and student needs, ensuring assessment tools would provide meaningful feedback on student progress, making the curriculum accessible to different types of learners, and providing educators with training and support.
The preferred K-8 curriculum that emerged was Amplify Science, a widely acclaimed state-of-the-art curriculum in which students assume the roles of scientists and engineers.
Of the three programs that made it to the final consideration phase, Amplify Science for grades 6-8 is the only one that an independent curriculum review organization gave their highest rating to and met all the goals of the state’s curriculum alignment expectations. The other two programs under consideration either didn’t meet or only partly met those expectations.
There is also real-world data that demonstrates the success of the Amplify model. A recent study of Washington state fifth-graders showed that students using Amplify Science during the 2017-2018 school year had better performance on the new state tests by an average of 3.47% over a control group of fifth-grade students who did not use Amplify Science.
Now, using trumped-up data that includes test scores of students who didn’t even use Amplify Science, former Seattle school board member Sue Peters and current board member Rick Burke are leading the effort to kill the adoption of the new curriculum. Some are concerned that Burke is trying to get his colleagues to adopt a curriculum by one of the other providers that has already been found deficient.
It’s unclear why Peters and Burke are doing this, but they worked to overturn the results of a similar process on behalf of the same company a few years ago with the math curriculum adoption.
The result? Schools don’t have a cohesive math curriculum and Seattle still lags behind the Bellevue and Lake Washington school districts in math performance.
Our kids deserve better. They deserve a school board and a community that prioritizes “students furthest from educational justice.” The school board can show it is serious about its values by approving the recommended science curriculum.