After a lengthy meeting with a lot of debate Wednesday night, the Seattle School Board voted to approve new science curriculum that some community members and one former board director urged them to reject.
Many teachers had spoken in favor of the adoption, and they erupted in cheers and applause after the board approved purchases of new science materials and investment in professional development for educators. The total price tag for all of the K-12 materials and training spread out over nine years is more than $10 million.
The science curriculum adoption was closely watched and had generated controversy, in part because 20 schools already were using materials called Amplify Science through a waiver process. Former Board Director Sue Peters said the waivers bypassed board approval and gave Amplify an unfair advantage in the curriculum selection process. She and a retired teacher, Robert Femiano, have asked the state auditor to examine whether the district followed competitive bidding procedure.
Teachers who took part on the adoption committees said the process was fair and painstaking and that they recommended Amplify because it was the best product. That’s the one the board ultimately approved for middle- and elementary-school students. Teachers said the district is overdue for more up-to-date curriculum aligned with new science standards adopted by the state.
Board Director Jill Geary said it was important to listen to the recommendations of the teachers who devoted many hours to evaluating different materials.
“We have to trust them,” Geary said. “If we don’t, how would you feel? How would you feel as a professional who’s put all that work in?”
The board unanimously approved spending $1 million to cover nine years of licensing for the high school curriculum choice, which includes materials called Carbon TIME for biology classes and PEER for physics instruction.
But the board was divided on the middle- and elementary-school adoption of Amplify Science. The vote for the middle-school curriculum was 5-2, and the vote for the elementary-level materials was 4-3.
Director Scott Pinkham said he was concerned that the curriculum relies too much on computers. The company has said the curriculum involves hands-on activities as well as digital tools such as computer simulations, but that students in younger grades have little instruction online and that middle-schoolers spend about 15 percent of their time on computer-based instruction. Director Rick Burke said he hadn’t yet seen evidence that the materials have helped improve students’ academic outcomes.
Director Eden Mack struggled with the expense. Mack voted in favor of the middle-school adoption but against the elementary-school curriculum and professional development, which had a combined price tag of $7.4 million over nine years. The district’s finance chief, JoLynn Berge, said the district has set aside $1.1 million for that, but would have to identify the additional funds later on.
“The question in front of us is voting to spend and adopt a specific curriculum for nine years, long commitment, and spend a bunch of money when we’re underfunded,” Mack said, adding that the board was being asked to make that long-term commitment on the hope that the materials will help close gaps in test scores between different groups of students.
The board added language to require that the district’s research and evaluation department do a “comprehensive analysis of outcomes” across different assessments for K-12 students after the fourth year of using the new science materials.