This Mom's Letter to Her Son Starting Middle School Is All You Need

This Mom's Letter to Her Son Starting Middle School Is All You Need

"Remember that we will always love you. Dad and I are here for you anytime you need us and there is nothing you can say or do that will make us stop loving you. If you have questions, we will find answers. If you are unsure how to handle a situation, we will gladly give you guidance. If your heart is breaking, we will dry your tears. If you have made a mistake, we will help you amend it. If you are about to explode with joy, we will share your happiness. All you have to do is talk to us. We are NEVER too busy for you, and your 'problems' are NEVER too small or too big. All you have to do is talk. We will listen. I promise."

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Get a firsthand look this week at Summit Atlas, Seattle's newest public charter school

Get a firsthand look this week at Summit Atlas, Seattle's newest public charter school

Summit Public Schools is inviting the entire community to join them in celebrating the official opening of Summit Atlas, their new public charter school in West Seattle.

In addition to a tour of the building, students and families will be on-hand to discuss why they chose Summit Atlas, and the new school's founding principal will be there to answer questions as well.

Lots of folks with lots of different opinions about charters have never actually been inside of one. I think it's a great opportunity for folks to get a firsthand look at what a charter school really looks like and to hear from the real people involved in making it what it is.

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An Eckstein Middle School parent asks: 'What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?'

An Eckstein Middle School parent asks: 'What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?'

"This sounds a lot like nitpicking from the sidelines. It’s all too easy and all too common for folks to stand by, knowing something is unjust -- such as the unjustified and unpunished murders of Black men and women by police officers, or the violent danger that comes with branding Black teenagers as criminals, or the unfair treatment Black kids are receiving in our schools and courtrooms -- and then judge the particulars of the people who chose to take action.

Supporting Black Lives Matter helps all gaps because it acknowledges injustice and seeks to change it. Nitpicking Black Lives Matter supports injustice by taking the side of the oppressor.

Remember, there is nothing violent hidden in the phrase 'Black Lives Matter.' There is nothing inherently threatening about it. It doesn’t suggest that Black Lives Matter more than any other lives, or that they matter at anyone’s expense."

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Guest Post: What Seattle can learn from the L.A. parents who 'spoke up' and got a school board that puts kids first

Guest Post: What Seattle can learn from the L.A. parents who 'spoke up' and got a school board that puts kids first

"School board leaders have ignored parents, we argued, because parents rarely hold them accountable for their actions by showing up to vote. The way to change that, we suggested, was for parents to get educated about the issues, get organized and to make our voices heard loud and clear at the ballot box.

And that’s exactly what we did."

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Kids get hurt when the adults can’t stop playing with their double-edged swords

This in-fighting has no end in sight.

While we all agree that our kids are not being treated equally, that our systems do not value us all equally, we labor and argue over exactly how and when and what to change, continuing along each day in the same systems we talk about changing, perpetuating them by our presence.

Along the way, we get distracted. We form opinions and positions. Sides and factions develop. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a little mini-struggle that most people don’t know much about. We in education are debating about the everyday lives and futures of American kids and families, and the in-fighting is costing us time and energy and money that we can’t afford to waste on each other.

For instance, some say that charter schools undermine our public education system. Randi Weingarten, head of our nation’s teachers union, actually said recently that school choice is a “polite cousin” to segregation.

Others of us contend that our public school system has already been undermined by its own failure to adapt, and that we need new and different kinds of public schools. And we remind folks that school choice really just means a belief that parents should be allowed to choose what’s best for their kids.

Things have gotten so twisted up that some folks oppose charter schools for literally the same reasons people open them. It’s weird. It would be funny, actually, except that it’s no laughing matter.

We only first started trying to force schools to integrate in 1954. That’s only 63 years ago. Think of the change in demands on the system between now and 1950. We've needed to find ways to change with it, but we’ve tended to be inflexible, rigid, afraid. Those with privilege have clung to it, resulting in a mostly white teaching force, achievement and opportunity gaps along racial lines, and generations of kids who have grown up in schools that treat them unfairly.

I see charters offering that opportunity to innovate, to consider alternatives, to serve long-neglected students (and when I say charters, I only mean public charters. For-profit charters are corporate nonsense). If we limit our schools only to operating within the same framework they always have, how can we expect them to produce different results?

We can't.

Some decry charter schools as an attempt to privatize our public education system. I suppose that’s got a twisted legitimacy to it, in its way. People are basically asking, why should Bill Gates have so much influence over things?

Well, he shouldn’t — none of us should, unless it happens organically as opposed to financially.

But they’re missing the point: this isn’t Bill Gates’ influence. It’s the influence of many, many advocates and parents and students concentrated and magnified through Gates’ extraordinary wealth and power.

And here’s the extra-twisted-up part: limiting public charter schools actually does more to privatize our system of education as a whole, because you’re working to limit school choice only to those parents who can afford to exercise it. You’re setting up a profitable private school sector to thrive unchecked, and to entice a larger percentage of students than it would if there were more free public school options available.

If you want to keep as many kids in public education as possible, then you have to expand the options. Too many parents are already choosing out for us to pretend this isn’t the case.

Speaking of choosing out, we find another double-sided coin in the debate over standardized tests known as the “opt-out movement.”

Some parents say standardized tests put too great a burden on students. Others say the tests are inherently biased, written and administered in such ways that favor white students and perpetuate gaps.

They might have a point. The creator of the standardized tests himself said, “These tests are too cruel and should be abandoned.”

And on the one hand, yes! We grade and evaluate students from the very beginning as if they are products, conditioning them to judge and compare themselves to each other. We consider whether or not kids have hit our invented benchmarks at the “appropriate” times. We subject kids to hours of monotonous testing that is for the edification of adults, not the kids themselves.

Yet without those tests, we would never have had the evidence we now have of the opportunity and achievement gaps. And how do we measure progress without them? How will we know if those gaps are closing if we do away with the tests? How will we be able to prove (to skeptical white folks, mainly) what most low-income families and families of color already know from experience?

There’s no single solution. Charters, Montessori, home school, traditional public school, outdoor education, project-based learning, whatever. Families need freedom. They need high-quality, free options for their children’s education.

In the end, all the arguments about education are two sides of the same coin. So, maybe it’s something to do with the coin, you know?

Let's be clear: 'Brown v. Board' was about school choice as a civil rights issue

Evidently “school choice” is a complicated idea.

I thought it was pretty simple. Parents should be able to choose a good school for their child. Seems it’s easily misunderstood though.

For instance, members of an NAACP task force wrote this week about being "concerned that the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education victory that promised a quality education for all was at risk” because of charter schools and the expansion of school choice.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, even went so far recently as to suggest that school choice’s roots are in racial segregation.

Brown v. Board of Education was not about saving Black children from inferior schools, as Malcolm Gladwell discussed recently on his Revisionist History podcast, even though that’s the version of history we were all taught in our traditional public schooling.

Brown v. Board was about school choice as a civil rights issue. It was also a case of Black children being left on the front lines during a fight between the adults.

 

Act I: Meet the Browns

In the early 1950s, Oliver and Leola Brown’s daughter, Linda, was a student at Monroe Elementary, an all-Black school in segregated Topeka, Kansas. To get to school each morning, Linda had to walk seven blocks and cross a busy street, often in cold winter weather, and then take a bus from there to Monroe. An all-white school, meanwhile, was four easy blocks away.

Some of these details are probably familiar.

At the urging of the NAACP, Oliver Brown walked into that white elementary school one day and tried to enroll his daughter. But it wasn’t, despite the popular narrative, because the all-Black school with its all-Black faculty was sub-standard in some way.

“We didn’t have any bone to pick with our school as far as education was concerned,” said Leola Brown in a 1991 interview, “nor with the teachers, because they were qualified and did what they were supposed to do.”

Leola Brown had attended Monroe herself as a child, so she knew what she was talking about. She gave her supposedly inferior elementary school rave reviews — not only for the quality of the education, but also for the quality of care she received:

“I loved it. I loved it. The teachers were fantastic. We got a fantastic education there. This case wasn’t based on that, because we learned. We learned a lot and they were good to us. More like mothers. They took an interest in you.”

She felt seen and valued by her teachers, which makes all the difference. She also felt they knew their stuff, and history tells us she was probably right. Because most professions were fully closed off to Black people in those days regardless of their qualifications, a huge number of highly educated Black folks became teachers.

The lawsuit, then, was fully a matter of principle. The Browns weren’t trying to escape some ghetto-school nightmare. They just thought they should be able to choose the school they felt was best for their daughter. They thought the school board, which the white principal blamed as objecting to integrated enrollment, shouldn’t be limiting their daughter’s options, especially based on the color of her skin.

The Supreme Court reached the same conclusion. Sort of.

The Court agreed that the Browns should be able to enroll Linda wherever they saw fit, but its reasoning gave birth to a whole host of unintended consequences. Or at least, the Browns didn’t intend for any of them. It’s not clear what anybody else expected.

See, the judicial branch of the U.S. government concluded that segregation was inherently inequitable, but they claimed this was because it was deeply harmful to Black students to be educated separately. Continued segregation, per the government, would continue to “retard the educational and mental development of Negro children.”

That’s a galaxy away from Leola Brown saying, hey, Monroe was a good school, and the teachers were great, but as a matter of principle, we should be able to choose our daughter’s school.

Let’s act it out for effect.

 

The Man: Monroe is a bad school.

The Browns: Uh, no, not exactly. Monroe is a fine school. We just believe we’re entitled to choose our daughter’s school. It’s a matter of principle that we be allowed to decide what’s best for our own children.

The Man: No, you don’t know what you want. Your educational and mental development has been retarded by your inferior schooling. Someone get a gun and escort these poor Black kids into our hallowed white halls!

Narrator: And then they all watched as most of the Black teachers were fired and most of the Black schools were closed...

End of Act I


 

Act II: The Grass is Browner on the Other Side?

If we’re wondering where all the Black teachers went, well, they got fired in the wake of the Brown v. Board decision, and the profession hasn’t recovered. It hasn’t helped, though, that other reforms and so-called improvements have managed to escort more black teachers out of the profession along the way as well, seeming like a good idea at the time. A large number of Black teachers were replaced in New Orleans, for example, after Hurricane Katrina, primarily by young, well-meaning white folks.

Black teachers being squeezed out of schools is certainly problematic in its own right, but the real trouble here is that this isn’t just an issue of adult discrimination. Our children have been impacted by the ripples for decades. Studies and anecdotes alike indicate that Black students were often faring better academically prior to integration, which seems counter-intuitive. Kind of like how Massachusetts’ literacy rate was 96% in the year prior to compulsory public schooling, and has never been as high since. Is anything what it seems?

Anyway, getting more teachers of color into the classroom is widely known as one of the most effective ways to close the opportunity gap between students of color and their white peers. A study in North Carolina showed that Black male students were 39 percent more likely to finish high school if they had one Black teacher between third and fifth grade. That’s it.

It’s not usually intentional racism that produces these discrepancies. Teachers are often unwitting interpreters, an act that relies heavily on our implicit biases unless we are consciously self-monitoring. Was that kid’s behavior an act of menace or of innocent energy? Whose struggles are due to a lack of effort and whose come from a lack of potential? Which kids just need to be challenged and which kids just can’t handle more advanced coursework? Who gets your attention as opposed to your indifference? Whose culture is reflected in the curriculum and whose is othered? Whose is erased?

Through constant subjective decisions and interpretations like these, teachers have the subtle power to shape a child’s education — and often his or her future. Think about your own experience. We know when someone doesn’t believe in us, no matter what they say. We know when we’re being paid lip service. Having someone take a genuine interest in you as a student can have a profound impact on your outcomes. It’s not that this can only happen with same-race teachers, just that it’s statistically more likely.

“Once you grant this idea that a teacher is a gatekeeper and a child needs a teacher to take an interest in them, it changes integration,” said Celestine Porter during an interview as part of Duke University’s “Behind the Veil” project. “Teachers should have integrated first, then students. Instead, we sent all these Black students to white schools, fired the Black teachers and closed the Black schools.”

Instead, white folks interpreted and implemented integration.

Who, as a result, truly saw the sharp edges and dark corners of integration? Black children.

Who was coddled and allowed to continue in their privileged ignorance? White adults.

Ever since, we’ve had everyone, regardless of race, getting schooled in white, government-run institutions.

Everything is more complicated than it appears.

Let’s act it out again. I think you’ll like Act II. This is where we start to introduce the more fantastical elements of the drama.

Our cast of characters has expanded to include the representative for the white schools and white teachers, whom we’ll arbitrarily name 1950s Randi Weingarten, as well as ageless Al Sharpton as himself. Here we’ll also meet Time-Traveling Mr. T, a spirit being who leaps eternally throughout the web of time pitying the fools who perpetuate racism on the backs of innocent children and occasionally laying the smack down.

 

1950s Randi Weingarten: Well, Black children, ye whose development has been so unfortunately impacted by your perfectly capable and loving teachers and the ill-advised choices of your perfectly capable and loving parents, we have been instructed to allow you passage into our lily-white sanctuaries of learnedness. Black parents, please find an appropriately white manner in which to express your unquestioning gratitude.

Time-Traveling Mr. T: You are a fool. I pity you.

Al Sharpton: The note I wrote to myself on the back of this large check from the white teachers union says that I agree with Randy Wine Garden.

Time-Traveling Mr. T: Reverend Sharpton, I respectfully disagree with your purchased assessment. I’m going to lay the smack down now.

End of Act II

 

Act III: Back to the Future

More than 60 years after Oliver and Leola Brown decided they wanted to choose a different school for their daughter, genuine school integration remains elusive. We continue to battle the demons of opportunity gaps and structural racism. But perhaps most puzzling is the fact that we are still squabbling about school choice. If nothing else, shouldn’t Brown v. Board have put that issue to rest?

Last fall, the NAACP called for a moratorium on the expansion of school choice in the United States, viewing the charter sector as a threat to our hallowed system of public education — as though it’s ever been what it claims to be for Black students and families — and drawing an inexplicable line in the sand between two parts of itself. After all, more than 800,000 Black students attended charter schools in the United States this past school year. That’s more than 25 percent of charter students, even though Black children account for just 15 percent of the total student population nationally.

Let’s be clear about a few things: I am not advocating for segregated schools, by any means. My son attends our “low-performing” neighborhood public school specifically because of its exceptionally diverse student body. And I understand that schools, in our capitalist present, are often where people make connections and build social capital. Schools are power hubs, like it or not.

I’m also not strictly “pro-charter,” to be frank. I’m also perfectly opposed to for-profit charter schools, and I do not support charter schools that are just more of the same — schools that claim to be different, but are run by white adults who don’t understand what’s at stake and don’t genuinely know how to educate kids of all races.

Honestly, I’m not pro-charter any more than I’m anti-traditional public school. My bone to pick is with the status quo, the one that has been perpetuating discrimination against kids of color and, thus, has led to inequitable outcomes. The status quo the unions are paid to protect. I’m opposed to bad schools and the bad propaganda that perpetuates them. I’m opposed to dogma that limits dialogue and progress. I’m opposed to ignoring the truth about our public schools.

See, I’m not saying I have any answers, but goddamn do I have a lot of questions. And instead of sitting in our respective corners waiting for the next bell to ring so we can knock each other’s lights out over nothing, why not sit down and have a conversation about some of these big questions? Why not talk through some of these real issues and strange truths and move forward together?

We’ve not only been wasting our time and money and resources in a fruitless argument, but we’ve been gambling with kids’ lives in the name of this intellectual debate about the minuscule difference between public charter schools and traditional public schools.

Enough already.

I’m calling for a moratorium on petty bullshit, on self-righteous adult egos getting in the way of what’s long been settled as a fundamental right for children and their families.

Let’s act it out one more time.

 

Matt Halvorson: Dear government and your compulsory schools. Dear teachers unions and your compulsory memberships. Dear NAACP and your pointless bought-and-paid-for squabbles. First do no harm. Then I will be open to your opinions.

Crickets: Chirp.

End of Act III

 

Why does skin color matter, asks a white Laurelhurst Elementary parent. Let's discuss.

KUOW’s Isolde Raftery wrote something recently that Seattle needs to hear. Maybe all “liberals” need to hear it.

Please just give it a quick read. I’ll wait.

 

 

Done? Thanks.

So, you just read Raftery describing the backlash in some of Seattle’s “whitest, most affluent corners” to the day last fall when a couple thousand of the city’s teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school. She shares snippets of emails from parents expressing fear and anger to their school leaders, and it paints a pretty intense picture of what is actually happening inside the minds of so many “good” liberal parents.

Seattle is plagued by the privileged white moderate, the wolf in liberal clothing who has all the right yard signs and claims all the most inclusive beliefs, but whose actions reflect fear, privilege and an urgent need to not feel upset. Stephan Blanford, the only true voice for equity on the Seattle school board, calls it “Seattle’s passive progressiveness.”

“We vote the right way on issues,” Blanford told Raftery. “We believe the right way. But the second you challenge their privilege, you see the response.”

Honestly, reading the emails, most of these parents just sound scared and confused. They genuinely don’t understand the impetus and the meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I’m going to do my best to answer their questions, starting today with this one:

 

Wrote a parent at Laurelhurst Elementary: “Can you please address … why skin color is so important? I remember a guy that had a dream. Do you remember that too? I doubt it. Please show me the content of your character if you do.”

 

Dear Laurelhurst Parent,

Skin color is important because our weird society -- yours and mine -- has made it so. People who cannot pass for white, which is itself a social construct and not an actual race, have always been treated differently in America. Always, up to and including today. Slavery was replaced by Jim Crow, which was replaced after the Civil Rights Movement by the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of our Black brothers and sisters.

Did you know that Native Americans were not legally allowed to practice their traditional religious ceremonies in the U.S. until the ‘80s? We’ve been doing our best as a nation to eradicate their culture from this land as well as their bodies, from the genocide of “manifest destiny” to the shame of our state-sanctioned brutality at Standing Rock.

We have a president now who is encouraging hate and discrimination against immigrants of any origin, but especially against Mexicans and Muslims. Did you know that a mass grave filled with bodies of immigrants was found in Texas a few miles from the Mexico border? The state said it found “no evidence” of wrongdoing.

On a level that is super local to you, Seattle Public Schools discipline Black students at a disproportionate rate -- so much so that the federal government had to come down on them a few years back. The district still shamefully boasts the nation’s fifth-worst achievement gap between Black and white students, and similar gaps exist for all non-white student populations as well as for low-income students regardless of race.

The Black Lives Matter movement started after a teenage boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white guy for the crime of wearing a hoodie while Black. It has been sustained by continued police violence against innocent Black men and women, with police officers continually acquitted.

So, because it sure seems like our society doesn’t actually believe that Black Lives Matter, people felt the need to say it. It’s not that white lives don’t matter. America already obviously values white lives. White lives and white safety are not particularly at stake here. Black Lives Matter mentions color because it has to.

The next time you invoke Martin Luther King, Jr., I suggest you better familiarize yourself with his beliefs and his non-whitewashed legacy. Start here: Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Have you ever read it?

Please do. If you have anything you’d like me to read up on, please pass it along. Then let’s talk. What do you say?

 

Best,

Matt

 

Up next, from Eckstein Middle School in Wedgwood:

“What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?”

Stay tuned.

Dear fellow fragile white folks: Sorry I'm not sorry for occasionally making you uncomfortable

Josh Barro published an article this week in Business Insider contending that liberals will regain political power if they can just stop being so annoying and morally overbearing. Basically, according to Barro, liberals seem worried about — and critical of — just about everything.

As in, oh, you’re going to have some chicken for dinner with your family tonight? Well, that’s not cool because the chicken was factory farmed.

Oh, you’re going to drive somewhere? Using gas? Don’t you know what oil drilling is doing to the planet? You can see fracking sites from outer space.

Oh, you’re banking with a for-profit big bank? Don’t you know what awful things they support? Don’t you know about credit unions?

Oh, you’re sending your kid to private school? Or a charter school? Or a public school? Or whatever? Don’t you know about the opportunity gap? Don’t you know that you’re gentrifying the neighborhood? Don’t you know you’re the problem? Don’t you know we’re critical of your choices?

Typical voters, according to Barro, “do not like being told to feel guilty about personal choices.”

Well, sure. I get it. That's not a thrilling experience for anybody. But here’s the problem with all of this: all these things deserve to be criticized. In fact, marginalized communities often urgently needs us to be critical of the status quo. Nothing we're talking about here is beyond reproach, yet we find it unbearably annoying to be reminded of why reproach might actually be appropriate.

Why? How did we get here?

For one thing, our egos are fragile and we don’t like feeling criticized, let alone being told that our decisions and actions are having a negative impact on groups of people, on the environment, on anything. We don't like being asked to consider that we might be the villain, at least in some ways or from some perspectives.

But it runs deeper than that. We’re not irrational creatures. When we make destructive choices, we’re not usually making them simply for the sake of destruction. We tend to behave in ways that we believe will reward us. When we instead act in ways that run counter to our overall best interests — when we make decisions that are unhealthy, or short-sighted, or dangerous, let’s say — or when we act in ways that hurt our neighbors, or that go against what’s best for ourselves or the community or the Earth, there must be a reason.

So, the question is this: why, right now, are we acting against our own self-interest, both personally and planetarily? Why, in other words, are liberals feeling the need to be so annoying to folks like Josh Barro?

I think it’s because the society we’ve constructed is based around one fundamental question: can I make money doing that? That’s the crux of capitalism. The man-made economic system around which we base our entire everything doesn’t care if something is “good,” so it doesn’t necessarily reward it. It doesn’t care if something is “bad” either. It doesn't care about fairness or equity or love. Something only needs to be profitable to be encouraged into existence.

That means that when someone comes up with a way to more efficiently harvest living animals, for instance, it doesn’t matter that the animals are suffering — not to the system, not if it’s a moneymaker. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, that the more-efficient process will do damage to the atmosphere and the Earth. It doesn’t matter that most frozen chicken breasts are injected with water before they’re sold to increase the weight and the price. It doesn’t matter that this water almost always has measurable amounts of feces in it. It’s profitable, so it continues. And it’s cheap, or it’s convenient, or it’s available, or something, and so we continue to consume it.

Similarly, we’ll dismiss potentially innovative ideas in education because we can’t fund them, or more often — and more subtly — because they will upset the status quo that is paying so many, many salaries.

You don’t have to reach far for examples of all shapes and sizes. For-profit prisons, for instance. Anything made of plastic or styrofoam that wasn’t utterly necessary. Just about all advertising. The fact that we’re quickly emptying the Earth of its bees, fish and buffalo, to name a few. The factions that continue to withhold school choice from families who can’t afford it, forcing them instead to send their children into schools that will discriminate against them.

We wouldn’t do these things if we weren’t being tricked into it by a faulty reward system. Imagine a world in which it is just not profitable to sell chicken breasts that have been augmented with shit water. It wouldn’t be done. It wouldn’t happen. People don’t tend to love letting raw meat soak up poopy water for the inherent value of the activity, I don’t think. But when watering down those chicken breasts will be rewarded with extra money in a system built on fear and perceived scarcity, suddenly we can convince ourselves it’s a reasonable idea.

We’re locked into a system that truly judges an idea’s merit solely on its potential to get you paid or to get itself funded. We have to look around and be willing to change our minds. America’s collective consciousness has to shift such that we look at the same world and reach different conclusions, that we are given the same opportunities and start to take different actions.

We can’t just legislate our way out of this. Not within our current parameters. Our values have to change — and not just what we say we value, but what we show that we value. We have to change what we do as a society. We have to change the structure through which we function.

That’s why liberals, I think — as well as those of us who find ourselves much further left than liberal, or maybe not on this linear spectrum at all — are finding themselves backed into this role of being moral police. It’s not illegal to factory farm chickens under truly horrific conditions, and it’s going to be really damn hard to make it illegal. So we find ourselves trying to encourage you to not want it, even though it’s out there fitting all the criteria. That's no easy task. We have to try to convince you to act against your own self-interest within the game of capitalism. I want you to not seek the reward we’ve been conditioned to seek. I want you to make up your own rules and your own game instead of chasing the money all the way to hell, but I can’t coerce it.

There’s an old idiom that says you don’t change a racist’s mind by calling him a racist. Michael Petrilli’s version was to tweet that “The ‘check your privilege’ stuff doesn't work.” Sort of like how a person doesn’t immediately become less of a butthole after you point out that he’s being a butthole. We're more likely to get defensive. It's natural.

But at the same time, if you’re perpetuating racism, you might not know it until someone tells you. We all need to be reminded from time to time. Sometimes we need someone to wake us up and tell us we’re being a huge ass, even if it’s not super fun to hear it. Even if it takes years for the message to sink in.

So, that’s why I do my best to call out inequity without pulling any punches. That’s why I keep ranting about capitalism: because I have to convince you that the reward you’re chasing isn’t worth it. That it’s not even real to begin with.

I can’t make it illegal to eat bad chicken. I just want you to not want to buy it. I can’t seem to force anyone to change the name of the NFL team in Washington DC, or the baseball team in Cleveland. I can only hope folks change their minds and do my part to encourage them to do so. I can’t make it illegal, it seems, to turn a blind eye to the discrimination and inequity in our schools, so I just have to keep pestering you to pay attention. If I don’t, through my silence and inaction I’m part of the problem, and nothing will change. And we’ll all just keep eating chicken shit.

Sorry I’m not sorry if that’s annoying.

Tukwila Public Schools hope a new resolution will force the unions to take 'reasonable, publicly defendable positions'

There’s no not-boring way to put this, but the Tukwila School District will now conduct future labor-management contract negotiations in meetings open to the public.

Basically, thanks to a resolution passed by the school board, if you want to go watch the Tukwila Schools go through collective bargaining with the Tukwila teachers union, now you can.

I know, I know. You don’t want to. Neither do I, particularly. But as boring as it all sounds, I am extremely interested in anything that demands more transparency out of our teachers unions. This does that.

A press release about the resolution from the Tukwila School District says, “By opening the collective bargaining process to public view, the District will provide an incentive for both parties (management and labor) to take timely, reasonable, publicly defendable positions that allow the community to better understand the budget and other implications of collective bargaining contracts.”

I like this. Teachers unions don’t always “take publicly defendable positions,” frankly, so it is pretty refreshing to see a school district saying as much in an official capacity.

Tukwila is one of the first western Washington school districts to make their collective bargaining negotiations transparent and open to the public. The timing of the change is based on changes resulting from HB 2242 (the new state education budget), but it certainly seems geared more broadly beyond short-term specifics toward creating greater union accountability.

I don't know how this will all play out, of course, but I'm optimistic. I hope it works out and that other districts will end up following suit. The new budget is bringing with it a slew of changes, and by opening the doors to collective bargaining meetings, parents in Tukwila will be allowed to interpret the new legislation as a community alongside the unions and districts instead of hearing about it after the fact.

Good.

So, that’s that, right?

Almost.

Check out this beautiful nugget from the board resolution itself:

WHEREAS since 1971, it is the declared policy of the State at RCW 42.30.010:

That all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

 

I love this. We do not yield our sovereignty to our schools. They are here to serve us, as are all other public agencies. As is literally the entire government. Don't forget it. This should be the platform of a national political party. It’s gorgeous.

Ok, now that’s really that.

Should Seattle Public Schools have an ethnic studies curriculum?

Should Seattle Public Schools have an ethnic studies curriculum?

That’s the question facing the Seattle School Board right now as it considers a resolution that would embed ethnic studies throughout the city’s K-12 education system.

Many of us have already moved beyond wondering about this question. In fact, Seattle Public Schools already has an ethnic studies task force working to make recommendations for teaching ethnic studies at the high school level by October 2017. I was chosen to be a part of that task force, and so far it’s been an encouraging experience.

Our schools should absolutely include a rich ethnic studies curriculum. This is a concrete way for the Seattle School Board to improve student achievement while providing a more well-rounded, honest education. It’s also a genuine investment in closing the opportunity gap. Multiple studies have shown improved academic outcomes for students of color who participate in ethnic studies courses.

See, in acknowledging the need for ethnic studies in the first place, you subtly acknowledge a deep-seated, rarely mentioned truth of our education system: in our schools, and in our country, white is officially considered “non-ethnic.” The board resolution takes the subtle but important step of acknowledging the current white-centric reality of our schools, and how white students will benefit academically as well.

From Paige Cornwell of the Seattle Times:

 

The Seattle School Board, the resolution says, acknowledges that textbooks, curriculum and instruction overwhelmingly include a European-American perspective.
It also states that the board “recognizes that students whose history and heritage is taught, understood and celebrated will learn better, be more successful and develop positive aspects of identity,” and that ethnic studies helps white students better appreciate the “democratic ideal of equity and justice that the United States was founded upon.”

 

Instead of leaving that truth hidden and unspoken, the the task force has explicitly said that our schools and all their building blocks are very white-centric to begin with. It’s out there. Those words have power, just as there’s power in publicly acknowledging the truth — even if it is a truth that to many sounds like old news. The school board will follow suit if it adopts this resolution.

So, good onya for starting to discuss ethnic studies in a good way in 2017.

But … what took so long? It's not like the district hasn’t known there was a problem. We’ve been talking about Seattle’s appalling achievement gap and the segregation within our schools and programs for years now. As recently as last year, a study showed that Seattle’s Black students are on average three and a half grade levels behind white students. We’ve also known about the positive effects of culturally relevant curriculum for quite some time — there are scholarly articles about it dating back to the 90s — and Washington adopted a statewide Native American curriculum in 2015 for the same reasons.

"that's the tricky thing about accountability. You can't just talk about it, you have to act on it." Seattle Public Schools has known about this issue for some time without acting on it. Now we have to make sure they follow through on what they’re saying they’ll do.

Let’s be clear: Ethnic studies is a band-aid, in this situation. It’s a much needed band-aid over a gushing wound, yes, but it’s only the beginning of solving this problem. It’s not the solution itself. It’s maybe the second inning in a long game. Let’s make sure we get this right, and then keep going—all nine innings—until we have an equitable system that helps all students thrive.

 

8 Key Insights from 'The Only Black Man on the Seattle School Board'

Stephan Blanford is the outgoing school board rep for District 5, and as he leaves the post, we bid farewell to our strongest, most consistent voice for equity on the otherwise disastrous Seattle School Board.

Stephan talked with KUOW's Ann Dornfeld for about half an hour recently: "On being the only black man on the Seattle school board." They touched on race and equity in Seattle's schools from just about every angle. The entire conversation is absolutely worth listening to. I can't possibly share every detail here, as much as I wish I could. Still, here are eight key insights from their chat (I originally planned to do five, but I couldn't contain myself):

 

1. The dysfunction of our school board continues to drive good people away from Seattle Public Schools.

Stephan Blanford: “I’ve come to realize that you get the opportunity to put a brick in the wall. You don’t get the opportunity to just totally transform systems. That said, I’ve struggled with the fact that I’ve been on the losing end of way too many votes on issues that affect our achievement and opportunity gaps, and that’s part of the reason that I chose not to run again.”

 

2. Seattle’s “unconscionable” opportunity gaps are not closing yet.

SB: "It’s hard to know what the baseline was, but I do know the study that came out last year from Stanford that said that we are the fifth-worst large urban school district in the nation in terms of our achievement and opportunity gaps between our white students and our African-American students. And I believe the numbers are similar for the other subgroups of students. I believe really strongly that in this community, that is as wealthy as it is, and as committed to public education as it is, and as educated as it is, that is a pretty unconscionable metric, that we would have such large opportunity gaps for a school system that serves all of the city."

Ann Dornfeld: "And, of course, it’s hard to know what the current status is, right? Because the Stanford data was looking back only to 2012 and earlier."

SB: "Right. But I would believe that number hasn’t changed significantly because, again, it’s difficult to all-of-a-sudden make huge change happen."

 

3. Some teachers are on a mission for equity, while others aren’t. The district’s cultural pendulum needs to swing toward the teachers focused on closing the opportunity gap.

SB: "In my three-and-a-half years on the board I have seen very excellent teachers who care very deeply about the achievement and opportunity gaps, many of them were inspired to go into the classroom because they saw the disparities. We also have teachers that that’s not their primary concern, so trying to figure out ways to make it part of the culture of the entire school is the work of those racial equity teams inside of schools. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many of them, and I see them as catalysts for moving that conversation forward and then making sure that it changes the culture of the school. I would argue that we’re not moving fast enough on that issue, but I also recognize that it takes time."

 

4. Seattle is home to the same latent white fear as all other U.S. cities. We need to air this out.

AD: "Of course, it could be argued that part of the quality of the school is, in fact, how diverse it is. It’s not just who’s teaching and what’s being taught."

SB: “I would agree wholeheartedly to that notion. I wonder sometimes, though, if our community as a whole doesn’t recognize how important that is. That part of education, particularly in the 21st century, is going to be the ability to work across culture, work with people who are not like you. Many of our schools are not very diverse, and many of our constituents are pushing toward efforts to ensure that that is happening. When we try to promote the idea that a diverse school and classroom is beneficial, we actually get pushback from folks and communities.”

 

5. Our own individual decisions must reflect our principles. White parents in Seattle in particular are making decisions that perpetuate segregation and opportunity gaps.

SB: “I hope i don’t get myself into trouble, but I believe that in many ways, for our parents — many of our white parents — there is a disconnect between what they believe in their heart of hearts and how they act. And, you know, as  parent myself, I know that my first and primary responsibility is to advocate for the best possible situations for my child, and I believe that is what all parents do all of the time. There is a fundamental dissonance between if you have a preconceived notion that black and brown kids can’t learn at the same rate as white and Asian kids, then I think there is automatic default to wanting your child to be in a diverse class, but not too diverse.

 

6. Segregation and discrimination aren’t always easy to spot from the outside looking in.

AD: “Do you see issues of segregation within school buildings that on paper would appear to be diverse schools?”

SB: "Yes. There are three schools in the district that I represent, and I would believe that probably in every district in Seattle, there are a number of schools where the teachers have come to me and said, ‘There is rampant segregation in our building. When we line up all of our kids and we send the highly capable kids in one direction and we send the general ed kids in a different direction, you can see the racial segregation play out just by kids lining up.' That has played out in several of the schools in my district, and so again, I believe that probably plays out in most districts. Where it’s profound, and it’s right in your face, where you see all the black and brown kids on one side, and all the white and Asian kids on the other side."

 

7. We have to look at every issue through an equity lens.

SB: "In school board meetings, in the email campaigns that go on, and in lots of other ways, parents articulate and advocate for their individual school, but sometimes at the detriment of other schools. And I try to figure out ways to get folks to see the big picture, and that if we pit one school versus another, eventually those who lose are those parents who are not organized.

"There are winners and losers with every decision that we make, and if you are truly an advocate for educational equity, you have to factor that into your advocacy."

 

8. Our only African-American school board member experienced a long line of racial microaggressions during his tenure. We all have to do the personal work if we want our community and our country to change.

SB: "There have been racial microaggressions manifested by board members on other board members and on staff and on community members who’ve come to testify. Those have been well-documented. It’s not very hard to find. But I think they highlight the fact that there’s a need for the board — and I think for the boards of most communities, so not singling out Seattle specifically — but there’s a need for us to do lots of personal work in order to fulfill our role on the top of the org chart of a billion-dollar organization that impacts the lives of 54,000 students. And because we are a district that has more students of color than we do white students, there is some sense of urgency around that. It’s not something that we should do at some point in the future. There is, in my mind, because of the huge disparities that we have, there’s a requirement that we do that soon."


I just want to reiterate that if you have even a passing interest in Seattle’s schools, it’s important that you listen to this entire interview. We need more and more conversations like this, and we need our actions to start reflecting our words and our thoughts.

Thanks, Stephan, for your time and energy on behalf of all kids over the past four years. You must be exhausted.

Laying Bare the Must-Ignore List

It used to be each day the sun
Just rose up in the sky
And after arcing gracefully
Just fell back down at night
But slowly we’ve replaced our lives
With numbers signifying
Every moment, every breath
The judgment magnifying
Till without ever really trying
We'd digitized in code
Every second of our lives
A dam where time once flowed
A burned-out car to block the road
But we don’t notice we’re confined
What’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine
It messes with your mind
Fear will keep the local systems in line
Convinced that there’s not enough
Until we lilies of the field
Are twisted ‘round our neighbor’s trunk
Each groping for the sunlight hung
Like a carrot out before us
Hoarding, hating, guarding, waiting
Our anxious angel chorus
Before long our must-ignore list
Has grown several light-years long
And we’ve fully convinced ourselves
That nothing’s really wrong
So, I’ve annotated each complaint
In a format organized
To be quite quickly understood
By human and snake alike

Number 1:
Too many lies
That keep us all in prison
Birth to school to work to death
The dream of capitalism
(But far from honest living)

Number 2:
See Number 1

See?
It’s a flaw in the very system
Nothing within it to be done
We’ve been set up to run and run
And run and run and run
And run and run
And run
Until our days are done

What to the conscious American is the 4th of July?

 

My heart is full of love, but I feel no peace.

My mind finds hope, but little comfort.

The world I grew up knowing does not exist. How bizarre!

We are told that the 4th of July is a celebration of our independence.

Independence from what? From ourselves? From each other? From the beauty of community and connection to the spirit of the Earth?

That’s not independence, it’s disconnection. It’s theft.

Happy Disconnection Day. Did you notice they’d stolen something from you?

We are told that the 4th of July is a celebration of freedom, of liberty. In God We Trust, we are told.

But the word liberty has been hollowed out and left meaningless through its continued celebration without true consideration of the reality of the present.

That's the hypocrisy of the founding fathers, the yin and yang of our nation's birth. While writing about the need for life and liberty, our forefathers supported, in theory and practice, the enslavement of people of African descent. They were condoning the genocide of the indigenous people of this continent, labeling them "merciless Indian savages" in the Declaration of Independence itself. They were embedding classism and a disdain for people from low-income backgrounds into the DNA of our “new” country.

We perpetuate our capacity to ignore by denying the common threads between historical and current events, threads that could remind us, if we're listening, that oppression undergirds everything around us, from our systems, structures, and institutions to our ways of relating with one another and to ourselves. 

I hear the 4th of July calling out to me to live like I know what I know. To listen to the strongest part of me that knows what’s right and what’s wrong, damn it. The part of me that demands that we stop using words without considering their meaning. In the education world, we throw around terms like “school-to-prison pipeline,” “opportunity gap,” and “disproportionate discipline,” attaching them to concepts that obscure the kids they represent.

We are condemning children every day to a life of imprisonment through legal discrimination that begins in our compulsory school system. We are every day condemning people of color to the possibility of legal execution at the hands of the police for any reason at any time. We are condemning people of color and all women to earn at least 30 percent less for their work than a white man would.

And I am complicit. You probably are, too. We all just carry on. We act like there’s no other way. Like we’re stuck.

We are not living like we know what we know. The 4th of July’s roots are in revolution, not complacency — in progress, not the status quo. Let those also be its lessons.

If you know you deserve freedom and that you are not free, this day invites you to act on that truth. 

If you know you are not living your best life, this day calls on you to strive for better.

If you know you are part of an oppressive system, this day reminds you that you are not fully alive.

If you know you are not free, this day reminds you that you deserve freedom.

If you know you are benefiting from privilege; if you are staggering under the burdens of racism, patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, capitalism, or the weight of any of the many other ways we have found to divide, label and fear each other; if you feel lost amid our destruction and domination of the Earth and everything on it; if you know the path you’re on is not taking you to the heights you’re capable of, then the 4th of July demands that you believe in the possibility of birth and new beginnings.

Re-examine everything. This is not the life you were meant for. Find a new way forward.

What to the conscious American is the 4th of July? 

What to the firefighter is the sound of the alarm? What to the good baserunner is a slow delivery? What to the climber is a new peak? What to the brave person is knowledge of oppression?

It's a call to action.

What are the fireworks and the flags but remnants of old convictions that have never fully been what they claimed to be? They’re the echoes of old battle cries reminding us that it takes uncommon bravery to stop living a lie.

What is this day? It's a reminder, exploding in the sky, that every moment is a new opportunity to declare our independence from a society we know confines us to racist, capitalist values that we don’t share.

Our schools, our police forces, our systems of banking and business and entertainment, everything in America is set up to favor the few at the expense of the many. The rich at the expense of anyone who can’t afford to compete. The white person at the expense of anyone different. Everything. And it has vicious results, living this way. It’s brutal.

I’m done living like I don’t know what I know.

What to the conscious American is the 4th of July?

It’s an alarm clock. It’s time to wake up.

We’ve never been who we dream of being as a nation. We've never lived the values we've claimed from the beginning. The aspiration is strong, but we were founded on injustices that we’ve never rectified and thus continue to perpetuate, confining us to the shadows of scarcity, difference and oppression. We will not be able to celebrate true freedom until we make reparations for the past, until we look in the mirror, examine our role in perpetuating injustice, and truly commit to living in new ways centered around peace, liberation, equity and inclusion.

We can design the world we want to live in. Our forefathers had a limited vision of freedom that we have never lived up to. What would a more expansive view allow us to create? What would it take for us to actually live up to our founding values, and what would it mean? To stop ignoring cognitive dissonance and atone? To move forward with conviction and a true commitment to humanity?

It’s a new day.

Who will you be, knowing what you know? What will you do?

Bree Newsome reminds us that modern activism demands 'radical faith' in confronting age-old problems

Two years ago this week, Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole on the South Carolina state house grounds and physically removed the Confederate flag that still flew more than 150 years after the end of legal slavery.

It was a brave thing to do, inspiring in its simplicity and its directness. I’ve thought of it many times since when problems have started to seem overwhelming. Is there a way to cut the crap, climb the flagpole and just take down the problem?

Newsome came and spoke at a UW event called “Tearing Hatred from the Sky: An Evening with Bree Newsome” back in February, and I was lucky to be in attendance. Here are three memorable lessons from that night:

 

“In the biography for social change-makers, you’ll find that there’s probably some moment in their life where they had a shift in their consciousness. If you’re an activist, you can probably point to that point in your life.”

 

I think this is an important, rarely discussed truth that most activists have in common. Something along the way wakes you up — a moment in time, an event or series of events that literally activates you. It’s a personal thing, an individual transformation on a fundamental, often spiritual level. Afterward, nothing is the same.

 

 

“I was on my sofa just trying to figure out, can I go down there and just hop the fence? I didn’t know how to climb. I had no climbing skill yet at that time. That’s just how strongly I felt that the statement needed to be made of how unacceptable it was for this flag to fly.”

 

This represents another universal truth of activism: that it’s often driven by an irrepressible urge to do something impossible. The key here is that Newsome knew what needed to be done. She knew that flag needed to come down, so she set about to figuring out how to do it. It’s within each of us to do what needs to be done. We just have to decide to do it.

 

 

“There was a time when the idea of a United States without slavery was inconceivable. You have to understand, that’s part of why our nation had a civil war over this issue because it was the economy. There were people who could not conceive of how you could have a prosperous United States without chattel slavery. And the only reason that we are sitting here today in this lovely space with all these lovely faces as we are, is because there were people at that time that had faith that things could be different. In order for the future to be better than it is now, we have to have that same kind of radical faith today.”

 

There was a time when not enslaving people for financial gain was a radical idea. What about our time will people look back on with disbelief?

The truth is that we may have to change everything to solve anything that’s plaguing our nation right now. But don’t lose hope. Remember that the economy is an idea, but people are real. Capitalism is a concept, but liberation is a state of being.

Be brave. Today’s radical is the leader whose courage we honor tomorrow. Have faith in your vision for the future.

Chris Reykdal wants to engage ‘our diverse community,’ so he scheduled a webinar

You’ve probably heard this story before. A folksy, man-of-the-people politician has a decision to make, and he needs to know what his constituents think about the matter. He needs to tap into the wisdom of the people so that his policies can “reflect the needs of our diverse community.”

So, the politician (in this case, let’s call him Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal) rolls up his sleeves and meets the people where they’re at, right? He needs to hear from us -- the people! -- so Reykdal reaches out and connects with us on our terms, not his. He listens without making assumptions.

He… schedules a series of informational webinars!

Gosh, Chris. As always, you really get me.

With Washington’s ESSA accountability plan due to the feds in September, Reykdal’s office has scheduled four webinars in August to share details, recent revisions, and ways to give feedback on the plan. I’ve already had to drink an extra cup of coffee just thinking about trying to stay awake through it.

But seriously, this is all real. That line about “reflecting the needs of our diverse community” is taken right from Reykdal’s recent press release announcing these webinars. The stated goal is to get some feedback from people like me and you on our state’s new education plan -- a federal requirement.

If Reykdal is actually listening, here’s what I want him to hear about me and my community:

If you’re not willing to turn things on their head, you can’t solve our problems. The opportunity gap didn’t just arise a few years ago. People of color have always been oppressed in this country, and that has always played out in our education system as well. If you think a few tweaks are all it will take to set our schools on a different path, we disagree. We need you to be bold, or else to sleep at night knowing that your time in this office is coming at the expense of our kids.

OSPI (the state superintendent’s office) will officially release the revised plan on Aug. 7, opening up a 30-day public comment period. They will ask for comment and approval from Gov. Jay Inslee, the state legislature and the state board of education at that time as well. All this feedback will be compiled for Reykdal to review before submission, who promises in the press release to “use our new flexibility to support all students and address gaps for students that have been historically underserved by our education system.”

Nice. But as always, they don’t tell us how they’re going to do it. They just tell us how they’re going to pay for it. So, Washington’s plan describes methods of financial support for struggling students and schools, but it does not outline significant practical changes that can be expected to actually help close our state’s opportunity gap, which is one of the worst in the nation.

That’s going to take bold, drastic, at-times-unpopular changes. Real, concrete changes involving new policies, expectations and repercussions. Instead, we’re getting a lot of people sincerely agreeing that we should close the opportunity gap, then shaking hands and moving on with business as usual.

Reykdal shared his vision for our schools earlier this month, and it was similarly vague when it comes to equity, acknowledging our gaps and our systemic discrimination without offering tangible solutions.

For what it’s worth, just about every state seems to be struggling with this same issue. Still, I question just how effectively Reykdal’s office is truly engaging stakeholders, because that’s where these answers can be found. A group of Seattle educators and NAACP members, for example, offered a “concrete plan to close intolerable opportunity gaps” in Seattle Public Schools just a couple days ago. The Campaign for Student Success has authored a detailed plan for equitable school funding in the state. Organic, community-based ideas and leadership are not in short supply. They’re just not always recognized.

The 30-day comment period that will open up in August is our last chance to impact the plan that will guide our schools into the next decade.

Registration information for the four webinars:

• Tuesday, August 15, 4–6 p.m. (register)

• Saturday, August 19, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. (register)

• Wednesday, August 23, 5–7 p.m. (register)

• Wednesday, August 30, 6–8 p.m. (register)

 

 

 

 

A public school with an opportunity gap is not a good school. Period.

What we do and what our institutions do matters. If we do not change our institutions to reflect our expressed attitude, our attitudes will change to reflect our institutions.
-John A. Powell 

 

Seattle has the fifth-worst opportunity gap in the nation.

I’ve mentioned that several times on this blog, but it’s still startling to really consider what it means.

In the entire United States, only four cities are doing a more discriminatory job than Seattle of schooling their kids. Only four cities are more oppressive than Seattle in their public education.

My kids are not white. Finding a good school, then, is about much more than just academics. It’s about navigating a minefield, knowing that we're dealing with an institution that systematically discriminates against kids like mine. We are forced to try to sleuth out pockets of safety within it.

But how? How do you figure out if the individual teachers and administrators at individual schools within the system will see my child as fully human? What are their biases? What are their discipline rates? Which kids are getting access to the most advanced classes and rigorous coursework?

It is a pressing need for my family to know about segregation and access within my kid’s school. I don’t just want to know about teacher biases, about discipline rates and opportunity gaps — it is so vitally important that it can cancel out everything else. If a school is teaching its white students really well and failing its students of color, that school’s overall “good” rating really means nothing to me. It might not apply to my child.

Parents of white kids have a similar investigative responsibility, I would argue, unless they want to put their children in the uncomfortable position of benefiting from a rigged system at the expense of their classmates.

Here’s what I mean: let’s say I’m a parent of a white student just looking for a “good,” academically rigorous elementary school for my kid. I might see the good rating of School A and choose it over the poorly rated School B, even though School A’s walls contain a big opportunity gap between white students and students of color. I probably have no way of knowing this is true, and I might play an accidentally active role in a discriminatory system by sending my white student into a segregated school environment.

But again, how is a parent to know any of this if we aren’t sharing vitally honest, nuanced information about our schools? If we want people to do things differently, to make the decisions that might lead to changed institutions, then we need to provide them with enough information to allow them to reach new conclusions.

The racial and social disparities in our schools are undermining the education of every student regardless of race. Unless our public school system reflects a total intolerance for discrimination and disproportionate outcomes, the racial and income-based disparities for our students will continue. We need to rethink what makes a “good” school.

A hitter who destroys right-handed pitching isn’t a “good” hitter unless he can hit lefties, too. If he can’t, he’s just a good hitter in certain situations, against certain pitchers. At best, he’s “good” with an asterisk.

A school that is really successful teaching white students isn’t “good” unless it is teaching its students of color just as well. Otherwise, it’s a good academic school for a select group of students, a bad school overall for many other groups, and a bad school for the social-emotional development of all students.

As Powell said, “what we do matters.” And what we do will determine what our institutions do.

In considering our schools, then, we need to remember that a failure of equity overwhelms any other positive factors. A school with an opportunity gap is not a good school. Period.

I Support Charter Schools Because This Incremental Change Is Too Effing Slow for My Kids

Can I just be honest for a minute?

I’m losing hope.

White kids in our schools are set up to succeed. Kids of color are set up to fail. Now, you get kids who find their way across the aisle in either direction, but statistically, the system will probably let you down unless you’re white.

That’s a hard truth to grapple with, especially when your kids are growing up much faster than the system can change.

A system as massive as public education is not going to change profoundly overnight. It’s not even likely to change profoundly over a decade. Its progress is likely to be incremental until such time that we abandon it altogether, and we are not particularly close, societally speaking, to jumping off that cliff yet.

My oldest son is about to finish second grade. That means he’ll be graduating from high school a decade from now. He’ll be done with his public education in less time than it could possibly take to “fix” the system.

Right now, he goes to our neighborhood school. It’s known as a low-performing school, and we’ve experienced some of those side effects — things like high teacher turnover and a non-rigorous academic environment.

The whole thing has me thinking, how can this possibly change in time to make a difference for my son?

It can’t. And so I start feeling hopeless. Depressed, even.

I’m not alone. In Seattle, something like 30 percent of school-age kids go to private schools. Does that mean that at least 30 percent of Seattle parents are even more hopelessly depressed about our public schools than me? Because for all my complaining (advocating, on my better days), my son still goes to our neighborhood public school. And we still wonder every day if we’re making the right decision sending him there.

Right now, school choice in America is like healthcare — it’s yours if you can afford it. That’s not right, but it’s reality for me and my family: We’re stuck with a neglected, failing neighborhood school, and the message Seattle is sending my son and his classmates is that they don’t deserve better unless their parents can afford it.

This is where I fail to understand the fierce opposition to charter schools. These are public schools, open to all kids equally, and many of them are making more of an effort to effectively educate kids of color than their traditional school peers.

I wish we didn’t need to talk about charter schools. I wish we didn’t need an alternative to a messed-up system. BUT WE DO. Flat out. And in more and more districts, charter schools are serving as that needed alternative for families whose only other choices are failing neighborhood schools—neglected outposts in a slow-to-change, historically discriminatory institution.

If you know how to turn every public school into a pillar of equity overnight, then I’ll drop the school choice advocacy. Otherwise, let’s compromise. We’ll work to build a scaffold of public schools to fully nurture, support and educate all students, and until we get there, we’ll do our best to give families as much agency as possible in finding a good school.

Chris Reykdal's vision for our schools is blurry at best

Have you read Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s “K-12 Education Vision and McCleary Framework?”

It’s an 11-page document that Reykdal describes as a “long-term” (six-year) plan for “transformational change” to Washington’s public schools.

But instead of outlining true change, I’m finding Reykdal pays lip service to closing the opportunity gap, using it like a buzzword without sharing any concrete plans to impact it except to reallocate money. He proposes tracking students toward different post-secondary options starting in 8th grade with no safeguards against the discrimination these practices will create in districts struggling to overcome racial bias. He talks of “system redesign” and “fundamental change,” but the crux of Reykdal’s “fundamental change” is to literally add more of the same by lengthening the existing school day, lengthening the existing school year, and offering universal preschool access.

Neal Morton of the Seattle Times summed up Reykdal’s six main proposed changes as:

  1. Provide preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
  2. Add 20 days to elementary and middle-school calendars, and make their school day 30-60 minutes longer.
  3. Start teaching students a second language in kindergarten.
  4. Pay for all high-school students to earn college credit before graduation — and no longer require them to pass state tests to get a diploma.
  5. Create post-high schools plans for every eighth-grader before they enter the ninth grade.
And, of course, 6: Finally resolve the landmark McCleary school-funding case — and Reykdal has some ideas about how to do that.

 

Let’s start with what I appreciate about Reykdal’s vision.

Universal preschool access is an excellent idea. Especially as Reykdal is guaranteeing access as opposed to making preschool compulsory, he would truly be giving families more choice and more affordable options. I like that.

I also like the idea of teaching a second language starting in kindergarten, and Reykdal says without saying it that the language taught would be Spanish. I wonder how that might play out, but it’s a nice idea, no doubt.

And to his credit, Reykdal’s first paragraph is his most inspiring, so his vision starts strong:

The goal of Washington’s public education system is to prepare every student who walks through our school doors for post-secondary aspirations, careers, and life. To do so, we must embrace an approach to education that encompasses the whole child. In the ongoing struggle to amply fund our schools, we have lost this larger vision. The challenge to amply fund schools to the satisfaction of the State Supreme Court is not the final goal – it is merely the first step in a much larger transformation that will propel Washington state’s K-12 public schools atop the national conversation in quality, outcomes, and equity. In our state’s history we have engaged in this transformative work only a few times. This is a once-in-a-generation moment to redesign our public schools to achieve our highest ideals.

 This could be the beginning of everything I’m looking for: preparing students not just for college/career but for life, embracing a whole-child approach, declaring equity to be a pillar, recognizing that McCleary is just a distraction, and acknowledging that transformational change is needed.

But instead of backing this up, it’s mostly milquetoast and money from here on out.

Reykdal considers a McCleary fix to be “the first step in a much larger transformation that will propel Washington state’s K-12 public schools atop the national conversation in quality, outcomes, and equity.” Unfortunately, it’s not often that more money is applied to an inequitable situation with greater equity as the result.

Meanwhile, throughout the document, Reykdal mentions the “opportunity gap” once. He mentions the “achievement gap” once. Here is the only concrete change Reykdal suggests toward closing these gaps, and it’s all about money:

“State-funded turnaround dollars should focus on the schools who experience large performance gaps and multiple gaps across several student demographics.”

So, basically, the monies will flow toward the students we’re failing from a demographic standpoint instead of more broadly to their low-performing schools. That seems good, but again, not an answer — or even anything particularly new. Just a slightly different method of distributing dollars.

I guess that’s not surprising. Reykdal’s vision for the future of education does not include community engagement. He gives no indication that OSPI will be listening to anyone but itself, or that he will be actively soliciting feedback from the students and families most impacted by systemic oppression. He even says as much about his current process: “In thinking about what this might look like, talking to experts, and researching what makes our students successful, I’ve put together this plan.”

He thought about it, he talked to “experts,” and he did research. He did not listen, apparently, to any actual students or families. Then he, a white male politician, wrote this plan to guide our schools from now until my eight-year-old is in eighth grade.

As a result, Reykdal is able to offer only the administrative perspective, and he never mentions any of the many innovative practices being shown nationally to impact opportunity gaps. In his “truly bold thinking,” as he calls it, culturally responsive teaching or ethnic studies never occur to him. He makes no mention of implicit bias testing for teachers, let alone training, or of diversity training for any staff. No mention of bringing more teachers of color into classrooms or of setting high standards for all students.

Instead, he talks about doubling down financially on a public school system we already know is broken, and about tracking kids in eighth grade based on standardized tests we already know produce inequitable results: “In the 8th grade, use the multiple state and local assessments to develop a High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP) for every student.”

A world exists where this could work out, but in a state like ours plagued by racial and socio-economic inequity in education, this will be executed inequitably. Unless we first provide intense DEI and implicit-bias training for all teachers, counselors and administrators, this will only amplify the disparate outcomes Reykdal claims to want to erase.

Even in the best-case scenario, it creates a culture where low expectations are allowed for some kids and not others. The kids are all capable. Yet Reykdal proposes to limit their future opportunities based on their past. That’s hardly cutting-edge.

My sense throughout last year’s campaign was that Reykdal was more interested in being a politician, in eventually being able to take credit for having fixed McCleary and fully funded our schools, and this vision of Reykdal’s seems to fit that profile.

He closes with this:

“We are in a highly competitive global economy and that means gleaning the best practices from around the world in our redesign. Success looks like a longer school day, a longer school year, substantially better compensation for our educators and support staff, and a completely new approach to developing globally successful students.”

That’s what success looks like? Based on what?

Is Reykdal really saying he’ll consider this a success if our kids spend more time in school, and the adults are better paid? Because he has not suggested anything resembling "a completely new approach" to education.

Shouldn't success look like empowering kids to grow faster and achieve more in school and in life? Shouldn't it be teachers that feel valued and push themselves to get better and better? You can lengthen the school days, but it doesn't guarantee students will learn more. You can raise teacher salaries, but it doesn't guarantee they'll teach better. Reykdal’s definition of success strikes me as one that doesn't move the needle. It’s certainly one that doesn’t take any risks.

How can we expect to close the opportunity gap without giving any kids any new opportunities? More instruction hours and more days in class will only produce more of the same if things haven’t fundamentally changed, and despite the number of times Reykdal tells us everything will be fundamentally different, his vision for the future is just more of the same, too.

That’s not good enough. Not when the status quo is already leaving so many kids high and dry.

 

Take a look at the Seattle Superintendent's 'equity analysis' of school calendar changes and tell me what you think

Seattle Public Schools are making changes to the school calendar again this year. They are proposing to extend the school day by 20 minutes, change the daily start and end times, and turn Wednesday into a weekly early-dismissal day, among other things.

The Seattle School Board will vote on this issue next week based on this School Board Action Report submitted by district superintendent Larry Nyland on April 20. In addition to many other things, Nyland's report includes the following on equity:

7. EQUITY ANALYSIS
This calendar incorporates additional student early release time that allows for more teacher collaboration time to address school improvement plans and work on ending opportunity gaps.

That’s it. To me, this sounds like a pretty halfhearted “analysis.”

So, I did a little digging and found that Seattle Public Schools are supposed to conduct an equity analysis in a case like this.

Back in 2012, the district adopted “Board Policy No. 0030: Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity.” It states that SPS is “focused on closing the opportunity gap,” and it lists certain things the district has to do differently, including:

Equitable Access—The district shall provide every student with equitable access to a high quality curriculum, support, facilities and other educational resources, even when this means differentiating resource allocation;
B. Racial Equity Analysis—The district shall review existing policies, programs, professional development and procedures to ensure the promotion of racial equity, and all applicable new policies, programs and procedures will be developed using a racial equity analysis tool;

(For what it's worth, here is the district’s official “Racial Equity Analysis Tool.”)

What happened here? If Nyland didn’t do any analysis at all, that’s problematic. If he did do a thorough analysis, and he is truly satisfied with “more teacher collaboration time” as a solution to the opportunity gap, that’s problematic, too. And it kind of misses the point of the equity analysis. Will this impact certain students, families or communities more than others? Will this perpetuate inequity?

I don't know whether the new school calendar Nyland is proposing will be equitable or not. This is the kind of thing that can quietly have disproportionate impact on certain groups, however, and we can’t be sure we’re implementing equitable procedures unless we do our due diligence. 

Paying lip service to racial inequity and then failing to follow through on the hard work of dismantling structural barriers to equity is exactly what has perpetuated our opportunity gap all this time. It needs to stop. Until our school leaders start making different decisions based on new information and diverse perspectives, nothing will change in our schools.

It’s been five years now under this new policy. Has the district followed through on its promise to review all the policies, programs, professional development opportunities and district procedures that have led to this inequity? If so, who completed the analyses, and what did they find?

If it hasn’t been done at all… well, why not?

And I have the same questions for Larry Nyland about his equity analysis for the proposed calendar changes. Did you follow through on your district’s promise to develop this new policy using a racial equity analysis tool? If so, you might need a sharper tool.

Or if it wasn’t done at all… well, why not?