Friday, April 18, 2014

Is This Progress?

So, Port Angeles High School is trumpeting that they've received an "award" from the Washington Board of Education. Gosh, that sounds good, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, out of about 1650 schools that were eligible for awards, 413 got one. So that's a pretty big percentage who are "winners" in one way or another. It's hardly some small, select group.

Second, the award was in the category of "High Progress." According to the state's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction website, this means: High Progress - Schools qualify for recognition if they are in the top 10% of schools making the most progress in the performance of the all students groups over three years. That sounds like undeniably good news, and it is. But it also means that in previous years our local high school students were so far down below their peers that they left plenty of room for improvement.

But what does that improvement mean at the end of the day? Does it mean we're graduating well educated young adults, ready to face the 21st century? Not exactly.

Looking at the OSPI website again, at the most recent numbers available for Port Angeles High School, you get a very different - and less hopeful - picture of the ultimate outcomes there. (See more for yourself at - then hit the dropdown for Port Angeles High School on the right.)  

First, you'll see that they tested 311 local students, of whom 119 were low income. That's a huge percentage of low income students in PAHS. Of those students, 26 were classified as having a disability, while none - zero - were classified as gifted.

The OSPI rates school on a scale from 1 (Struggling) to 7 (Exemplary). For the 2011-2012 school year, PAHS rates an overall 4.60 (Good) - right in the middle. Here's how that rating breaks down, though:

Reading: 5.00
Writing: 5.50
Math: 5.75
Science: 4.00
Grad Rate: 2.75

Yes, PAHS students may be charting a middle course, even an improving middle course, academically, but a huge, huge proportion of them don't make it to the finish line of graduation. Looking back a few years, in 2009-2010, that rate was at 4.25, and in 2010-2011 it dropped to 4.00. Now the even steeper drop to 2.75. That's scary, people. This is the 21st century, the Information Age, and people who don't even graduate from high school are at a severe disadvantage by just about every measure.

Does this bode well for Port Angeles in your opinion? Should we be content to see our students doing better in school before they drop out and call it good? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this - especially if you have kids in one of our local schools.

Hey, Rough Riders - Your future beckons...


  1. Port Angeles: Zero gifted students.

    That kind of says it all, doesn't it?

  2. SO MANY of the problems that get discussed here are a result of poor education. We're not turning out critical thinkers, which means we're not turning out informed voters, which means we're electing people who aim low, instead of those who aim high.

    This also hinders us greatly in terms of our local economy. These people drop out and go on the dole. Then they have kids of their own, perpetuating the cycle. Meanwhile, potential employers or investors in Port Angeles see the high dropout rates and the uneducated workforce here and take a pass on us.

    Want to fix Port Angeles? A big part of that is fixing the schools.

    1. One thing that would help is to dismantle the welfare state that encourages so many of these kids to drop out, get pregnant, get on food stamps, etc. If we built a society that wasn't so lined with "safety nets" then more people might realize they have to take care of themselves, and act in a more responsible fashion. If they didn't, then they'd have to learn some of life's lessons the hard way.

    2. I saw an interesting statistic the other day. The US spends over $600 billion a year on its' defense budget. The next biggest spender in the world? China, at $144 billion.

      But it isn't a straight across the board comparison, is it? The population of the US is 300 million. Chinas is 1.3 billion.

      So, we're spending 8 times more on "defense" than the next biggest spender, of ALL the countries in the world.

      Obviously, our priorities are NOT in providing for our citizenry. If you look at the global statistics, you will find the US far from being the leader in many catagories.

      But, the US will be the world's number one EXPORTER of gas and oil this year. All those billions spent on wars in Iraq and elsewhere are paying off for somebody.

      Do you think all of this is lost on our youth? You think they don't see the rampant corporate welfare? You think they don't see the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer?

      You wonder why they give up trying?

    3. The last time I checked, the U.S. was Number One of the industrialized western countries in illegal drug use. I think we do pretty "well" with prescription drug abuse, too. I think we're also still Number One in teen pregnancies.

      And now it's not uncommon for high schools to have day care centers for students with kids of their own, pot is legal and easily available, and happy days are here again.

      So, I agree that I wish our federal government didn't spend (waste) so much money on defense. But I also wish more people took personal responsibility and weren't so enthusiastic about spending (wasting) their money on booze, drugs and other unhealthy bullshit.

      There is a connection, folks. If we're not willing as individuals to act responsibly and make smart, informed choices, why on earth would we expect our government (local or national) to be any different?

  3. This sounds like typical Port Angeles. Take whatever grain of truth is fairly legitimate and spin it into gold, and ignore any downsides.

    Heck yes, we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on HarborWorks - but it created local jobs (for Jeff Lincoln and his secretary). Heck yes, PAHS won an award - but never mind those dropout rates. Nothing to see, move along, move along...

    Always the tidbit of good news, but never the whole TRUTH. That's Port Angeles. Why upset when you can obscure?

    1. This will be more happy horse hockey distributed by the school board. Meanwhile some kid will be walking out the doors of the school never to return, and they won't give a damn.

  4. It is too easy to blame schools and teachers for circumstances outside their control that affect students' ability to learn. Students who come to school from disadvantaged economic backgrounds have many strikes against them when it comes to academic success. Hungry children are distracted learners. Children who arrive at kindergarten never having had a parent read them a bed-time story or sing them the A-B-C song require extra help to catch up with peers who have attended pre-school or whose parents started them on the Baby Einstein track at birth. Children who come to school suffering the after-effects of fetal alcohol syndrome (and there are unfortunately many in Port Angeles) require years of costly special education services to deal with their cognitive and behavioral problems.
    Get a clue, public school critics, and see that the trashing of public schools (leading to the under-funding of them) is part of an ultra-right wing plan to undermine the democratic goal of free education and the opportunity of upward mobility for all.
    Many organized trashers of public education have the hidden agenda of trying to funnel public money into their private, religious-based or money-making organizations. "The public schools are failing! Send those children and their per capita state aid to us and we will succeed -- but gawd forbid that you tie any accountability strings to that parochi-aid! And, by they way, we demand the right to pick and chose the children we admit to our private-but-publicly funded schools. No open door policy here: disabled and special education students need not apply."
    CK - I'm disappointed that you have not seen through and instead have become a part of the wider conspiracy to undermine public education when you create a forum for people to jump on the bandwagon of blaming the teachers and local public schools.
    I personally think that the Port Angeles schools have done well with what they have to work with. (No, I am not a teacher or related to any PA school employee.) As you point out, a high percentage of the students come from poverty-stricken backgrounds. An equally high or greater number come from homes where no one in their family has ever gone on to college or skilled training; they have few role models demonstrating or encouraging the benefits of academic success.
    Yes, on a personal level we sent our kids to Port Angeles schools; we felt they received a good education. They graduated, went on to college and graduate school, and, like so many of their college-educated friends, will probably never permanently return to the Olympic Peninsula. The area does not support the careers they have chosen.

    1. Whoa, whoa, whoa! I'm not necessarily part of "the wider conspiracy to undermine public education" or jumping on "the bandwagon of blaming the teachers and local public schools." But clearly our schools here aren't doing their job, and clearly that's a problem for Clallam County in the long and short term. And yes, school performance is tied together with all sorts of other (personal and social) factors. I'm just trying to get a discussion started - not advance some conspiracy. Really.

    2. Hi, CK. As a parent and a voter, I appreciate your efforts to prod people a bit and get them to get off their asses and actually DO SOMETHING. I don't always agree with what you say, but I think you're having some impact at breaking up the ossified brains around here. Blow out the cobwebs, people! If you're not angry, you're not paying attention. As a parent, it's my job to make sure my child is staying on top of their work at school, hitting benchmarks, etc. But it really is the responsibility of the whole community to keep the school administration focused on academic success for all, because not every child has parents (or even a parent) who is tracking their progress, or gives a damn. Maybe if some of the PDN commenters and blog trolls got out of their houses and volunteered at a school, or went to a school board meeting, we'd see even more forward motion. But if all these jerks do is sit at home and post bitchy comments, well, that only gets us so far. Like, maybe to the seventh grade. Then it just gets old. Really old.

    3. What conspiracy was it that made all these immature people have kids of their own in the first place? I know so many people around here who have their grown kids, plus their boy/girlfriends and grandkids, all still living at home. It's like everybody, all generations, abdicated responsibility for their own lives, or curiosity about the world they live in. For way too many people, a future spent playing xbox in mom's basement is just fine with them.

  5. The sad state of our local schools is coupled with a poor population, and is further impacted by the high number of kids that are home schooled locally. Many factors come together to produce a community that seems, at best, apathetic about serious education, and often openly hostile to it. "Book learning" is still an insult here, unless that book is the Bible.

    Needless to say, the Bible doesn't really help prepare you for the modern world. But so many of these Bible-thumpers seem content with the status quo of drop outs and unmarried kids having kids while still living at home. They never grow up and go out to explore the world, and neither does Port Angeles.

  6. Good news, bad news. I don't think it's surprising to want to focus on the good news.

  7. I was raised in countries other than the United States. Decades ago, before the current understanding of cognitive deficiencies created by a long list of factors. In places where children lived in refugee camps, had literally nothing, and who had to make an effort to advance from their state od being. Most in the US have no idea what serious poverty, serious malnutrition, lack of opportunity, or "making an effort" looks like.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm no right-winger, or supporter of that "conspiracy" to defund the public schools. But I also am a bit cynical about all the reasons we in the United States give for our failures. It is all too often somebody elses' fault. We do not take responsibility for what needs to be done.

    In reality, our children are so privileged, born into one of the richest and most powerful counties the world has ever seen. Even those amoungst our most under privileged are SOO better off, have soo many more opportunities and services than the vast majority of the worlds' population.

    But, we are not in rural India, China, Pakistan or most of Africa. In Port Angeles, it isn't so much about opportunity, as it is about culture. The culture that says alternately you will be paid huge sums for being a sports or entertainment star at an early age, or that there is no hope because of Climate Change. That you can succeed by coming up with some clever idea in your garage, or that despite all you do, nothing will ever change.

    That if you get pregnant as a teen, all kinds of government services and programmes will take care of you and your child. And, that's what a woman is supposed to do, anyways, isn't it? Raise children? Why bother trying for anything else, right?

    The messages that our children get are all over the place. It isn't that the opportunity to show up for class, study hard, get good grades and graduate isn't there. No one is preventing them from showing up. But, as the statistics show, far too many children have decided that it just isn't that important for them.

    1. Now you have hit the nail n the head. Getting a good education, when it is available to be had (like it is here in P.A.) requires a Teacher who cares, a Parent who cares and a Student who cares. If you have all three, the P.A. student gets a great education, goes to a major (even Ivy League) University. If you have any two out of the three who really care, and they work at it, great sucess can still be had. If you only have one out of the three who cares (like happens a lot around here) you get a drop out more often than not.

    2. Given the demographics of Port Angeles where 40% of the population is receiving some sort of public/government assistance, we should not be surprised that a substantial number of our students struggle, regardless of the quality of the educational system. We have one of the highest dropout rates in the state. Our local school system is fighting an uphill battle - they deserve our support and help - not ridicule. Clearly, there are many students who go through the school system and do fine in college and beyond. But there is a larger picture here that we may not have much control over.

    3. Let me make it clear: Any ridicule from your host here is aimed directly at those who enable or even embrace having a dysfunctional educational system. People like that deserve our scorn and ridicule. But said scorn is certainly not directed at any of the good teachers, administrators and/or students in the world. Teachers can change lives, and thus can change the world. There's no denying that.

    4. Please explain, CK: What about the Port Angeles School System is "dysfunctional"?

    5. ALERT ALERT ALERT - TOO BITCHY FOR PUBLICATION - Here's a thought, ask any gay person, who used to reside in PA, what is wrong with the schools.

    6. Anonymous 6:06PM - At the risk of making this about what I think...I don't think it's a real stretch to describe a situation in which our own State Government rates our graduation rate as 2.75 out of a possible 7 as dysfunctional. As in, not functioning to its highest possible level.

      Anonymous 9:44PM adds another angle that is, sadly, not just confined to Port Angeles, but may be more pronounced here than many places: Homophobia. Just wait until next month when Esprit comes to town to hear the homophobic remarks start flying - even though probably 95% of the people attending Esprit are not gay, they're just crossdressers or transgendered. But the local rednecks aren't too good with nuance, are they?

    7. Homophobia has got to stop! Its the no. one issue affecting drop outs and graduation. I love the Esprit ladies and welcome them to town, but am so sad they have to endure abuse while here.

    8. Are dentists "dysfunctional" and "not doing their jobs" if fewer than 100% of their patients have tooth decay? Are county auditors "dysfunctional" or "not doing their jobs" if fewer than 100% of registered voters vote in every election? If so, then let's rant about their derelictions of duty and demand better performance. Let's make sure, too, not to praise incremental improvements along the way. We will stand for nothing less than perfection!
      I continue to be troubled by the superficial and simplistic tendency by some critics to lay direct blame upon schools for students' imperfect outcomes. It plays right into the hands of those who want to weaken the political clout of public school teachers and their unions (ex: Scott Walker, Wisconsin).

    9. Anonymous 10:27 - Ya might wanna read that first sentence of your again. Reads like the product of the Port Angeles schools - saying one thing, but really meaning the other. Sorry to have to point out the "dysfunction" in your message.

    10. Anon 10:41
      Got it. Glad you were paying attention.

    11. Its not just homophobia, but overt racism in our schools, and in the area. But, that is another subject. Seems to me that we need to create some trade schools (not rip offs, designed to garner more student loans) for the non-college bound high school kids to get funneled into. What happened to apprenticeships? We need to have a way to teach kids carpentry, plumbing, electrical, welding, steamfitting, and so-on, instead of trying to put them on a college track. Meanwhile, for the last 20 years, why has the student body had such a barrier to birth control (and eduction). I doubt that in the last two decades that less than 40 girls gave birth while in high school. This contributes to a further decay of society. Babies should not have babies.

  8. I wasn't able to view your OSPI link. It gives an error and the homepage of that site seems to require a login.

    I looked up OPSI and found If you click on K-12 data and reports then you can look at Quick Views and compare PASD and PAHS data to state averages.

    It shows PAHS dropout rates consistently under the state average except for 2006 and 2007 where they are just slightly above.

    It shows graduation rates for PAHS took a bigger hit compared to the state average in 2006 and 2007 but there's been an upward trend since then and the last, most recent data point is actually slightly higher than the state average at 86.7%.

    I don't know where that 2.75 grad rate rating comes from but it doesn't seem to match the data I found.

    1. I fixed the information for the link I used in the text above (the "dropdown" was throwing off your ability to link to it - sorry). For ease of access, I'll put it here, too: - then hit the dropdown for Port Angeles High School on the right.
      Again, sorry for the poor linkage.

    2. I just went to the OSPI website this morning and read their press release about these awards, and found the info you referred to CK. And I think the whole thrust of your piece (and the OSPI's ratings) is that there is still a LOT of work to do with our local schools. I don't know who would disagree with that, or why. (Unless you're a right-wing crank like Susan Blevins.)

      No doubt we have some students here who do fine and go onto college, etc. But far too many of our kids here still seem to see dropping out as a legitimate decision. I think in a lot of ways it's a holdover from the many years historically that you could drop out, work in a mill, and do alright for yourself. Needless to say, those days are long, long gone, but the mentality lingers on. You even see it in our elected reps, who bend over backwards to prop up the dying mills that are left. Too bad these same people don't spend as much time working on schools as they do on making sure Nippon has access to city hall and tax breaks from the state. I guess they all have kids who are either through school, or go to private schools.

    3. Graduation rates and drop-out rates are notoriously hard to measure, and can be misleading for purposes of gauging a school's performance.
      Simplified calculations of drop-out/graduation rates depend upon using a fixed figure for the Freshman class (say 500 students) and then comparing it with the number of students who graduate four years later. (Say, 475). But it cannot be assumed that the 25 students missing from the original cohort "dropped out" of school. Maybe they moved out of the district or left to attend a private school? Or maybe 25 new students also moved into the district over the four-year period, making the true number of non-graduates from the original cohort actually 50?
      Also: Just because some students don't graduate in the usual four years doesn't necessarily make them "drop-outs". Maybe they needed an extra semester to finish their credits, but did ultimately graduate - just not "on time". Maybe some were also taking advanced placement studies at Peninsula College while dually enrolled at PAHS, and stayed in school longer so they could earn an AB degree at the same time as their HS diploma? (This happens here!)
      To accurately measure a "drop out" rate one would have to track each individual student from his/her freshman year until a few years after their expected graduation date to see whether they completed their education, and then do the math as to how many actually failed to earn a diploma.
      So - it's best not to put too much stock in drop out rates or graduation rates to make the case for a "good" or "dysfunctional" school system.

    4. CK
      The prolification (yeah, may be spelled wrong) of stories and comments shows that there's a lot going on, and a lot to try and keep up with.
      That said, as a reader, how about a section that is not tied to a CK article, but just exhibits comments from all?
      Getting tired off searching for new commentary, too many stories.
      Trying to be helpful,
      Just a thought.

    5. Nationwide, from everything I've read, a large minority of first year college students have to take remedial classes - to teach them the things they were supposed to learn in high school, but didn't.

      In my business, we get kids (16 up) coming in and asking for jobs and dropping of resumes. Nine out of ten of the resumes are pathetic - illiterate, seemingly random print outs of their personal information, or, God forbid, an honest to goodness job application form. Those are almost always impossible to decipher, and they look like they were scrawled by someone in low single digits, not someone who is approaching being old enough to vote.

      A friend of mine teaches at Peninsula College, and he generally gets real quiet when I ask about the quality of students he's seeing these days. He's getting near enough to retirement age, and just wants to finish his time their quietly, and not make waves.

    6. I've seen resumes that have come in to where I work, too, and they just make me laugh. These kids often seem to misspell their own names - really, we got one that had the boy's name at the top and the bottom of his resume, and they were spelled two different ways. I see lots of crazy run-on sentences, too. All this with spell check and all sorts of other helpers on every computer. I guess these kids are just lazy as well as uneducated. Even working at Taco Bell seems a stretch for a lot of the young people I see around these days.

  9. When in doubt, write a letter to the PDN blaming Obama. It's sure to get printed!

    1. Or send in a nutball comment to a local blog, one that's desperate to print anything it can get. Present company excepted, CK...

  10. I can see several trends - local and national - coming together to produce the situation we have here with drop outs.

    One part is the local history of drop outs going to work logging and in mills. As someone else pointed out before, this is still a very much alive part of our local culture, even though those jobs are mostly gone.

    Two, like everywhere else, we are dealing with a coming generation that - in my opinion - truly is less mature than the ones that preceded it. The immaturity you see in these young adults is notable. But mature or not, they're still struggling with substance abuse on a wide scale.

    Finally, just because your kid knows how to work a cell phone or computer better than you, doesn't mean they're smarter than you, or smart at all. It's just that they grew up using these things; it's second nature to them. But I know a lot of adults/parents who really seem to think that kids facility with a few tech devices indicates a broader base of knowledge. It doesn't, but all that sort of praise can make kids think they know more than they do, that school's a waste of time, and away they go. Those undeveloped (and sometimes drug-clouded) minds get back ideas, unwarranted praise, and the only thing that really blossoms is their ego. This does not lead to good decision making.

  11. Remember Lauryn Last? She's kind of the local poster child for "Generation Xbox" to me. Her parents weren't together (in any sense of the word), her mom was checked out, Lauryn got shipped out, and she was at the mercy of predatory adult "guardians." All these factors seem pretty common today, and any one of them can do real damage. When they start piling up, well...

    Don't get me wrong: I'm as scared of the future with these screen-addicted dropouts as anyone. But I do have empathy for how they ended up that way, and I think the vast majority of the blame lies with their parents. Given how common deep, deep dysfunction is in so many homes, how the hell are schools supposed to be able to both teach and mitigate for all that damage? It's an impossible task, but one they get stuck with anyway. They also make a convenient target for blame, which often comes from the very parents who screwed their own kids up in the first place.

  12. Screen-addicted kids. No kidding. Kids that think they are SO much smarter than anyone before them, because they can push buttons on a screen. Parents that praise kids that can barely function.

    Are the drop out rates a result, or a symptom? Are the drop out rates showing a school system that is not able to teach willing children the basics? Or are the drop out rates a symptom of a culture that is so focused on consumerism that most all other things have fallen by the wayside?

    The companies, in their zeal to convince us to buy their widgets, spend lots of money showing us how cool we'll be when we use their products. So, the priority becomes video games, and the latest cell phone. What do you really do with a phone that can connect you with the world? Take "selfies" with them, and post pictures of yourself.

    I know a recent college graduate, who thinks they know it all. The distain in their voice is hardly tolerable. But can they spell? Any deductive reasoning? Problem solving skills? Not a chance.

    We have allowed ourselves to be dumbed down by a consumerist culture that only wants you to buy ever more.

    We have the community we create, and the government we allow.

    1. "I know a recent college graduate, who thinks they know it all. The distain in their voice is hardly tolerable. But can they spell? Any deductive reasoning? Problem solving skills? Not a chance."

      Exactly. I just read an article in the New York Times about a college student who was raped. When she got back to her dorm room in the middle of the night, did she call the police? Did she call her parents? Did she call a friend?

      No. She got online, and posted a generic plea on her Facebook page for "someone to call her." An extreme example, perhaps, but one that shows how these kids think social media and electronic devices are the answer for EVERYTHING.

      The future is getting scarier by the day - good schools, bad schools or no schools. Scarier.

    2. Every kid with a cellphone or a Facebook page thinks they're an "electronic media" genius. Most of them also seem to think they'll find work in that industry. Few of them seem to truly grasp that A) There are actually a limited number of jobs therein, and B) That said jobs still require such old fashioned skills as being able to read and write (well).

  13. Yeah, Blame our children for our mistakes.................................BR

  14. CK, Thought you would be interested in this article:

  15. Here we are, OVER THREE DAYS LATER, and I see that the PDN is covering this story today. Way to go, PDN - you can't rush quality, right?

    1. Thanks. But it's not hard to get a story out before the PDN does. Remember, they even got scooped recently by Peter Ripley's blog. Now THAT had to hurt.