The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

Welcome one and all to the first semi-annual, fully manual Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards. Thank you for being here, wherever that may be.

These awards were created by me as a way to recognize a handful of Washingtonians who deserve a few extra hand-claps for the way their work and their way of life contributed to positive change in 2017.

The judging process was stringent and unscientific. I created the categories to suit my fancies, and I’ve awarded fake awards to whatever number of people I please. By the end, I’ll have failed to mention just about everyone, so if you find you've been omitted, don’t despair. The pool of nominees was limited to people I know about and managed to think of while writing this, and as a periodic shut-in, that’s not as long a list of names as you might think. For instance, I only finally discovered a few months ago that Chance the Rapper is amazing, if that gives you some idea. So, if you or someone you know has been egregiously overlooked, please get in touch with me and I’m sure I’d be happy to make up some new awards in the near future.

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Seattle's opportunity gaps are as wide as ever. What will we do now?

Seattle's opportunity gaps are as wide as ever. What will we do now?

So, I know I just spent yesterday writing about Seattle’s beauty, our state’s courageous progress, and activism as love... but now it’s back to reality.

The opportunity gaps in Seattle Public Schools are not closing. We’ve known about them for too long for this to be true. The leaders of our public school system have acknowledged these gaps for too long for the needle to be staying so firmly put.

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Seattle Public Schools' Advanced Learning Programs 'magnify inequity'

A white student in Seattle Public Schools is 20 times more likely to qualify for “gifted” or “advanced learning” programs than a Black student.

The problem is so bad that last year at Cascadia Elementary School in North Seattle, all 529 white students had tested into the “highly capable cohort” -- the school’s advanced learning program. The school had just 49 Black students to begin with. Only two of them were part of the cohort.

That’s right: All 529 white kids at Cascadia were considered “highly capable,” and every Black student but two was not.

Seattle Public Schools’ Advanced Learning department was set up to support top-performing students. Just as opportunity gaps exist across racial and socioeconomic lines throughout our public school system, Advanced Learning in Seattle Public Schools disproportionately serves privileged students.

Contributing to this is a policy that lets students who do not pass the school-administered test pay hundreds of dollars for a psychologist to administer a private test, giving wealthier students even greater access.

Brian Terry is a parent of two Thurgood Marshall students, and he’s also part of a committee working to change this inequitable system. He said that by fifth grade the majority of white students in Seattle’s “Highly Capable Cohort” program (also known as HCC) got there by paying for one of these tests.

“In effect, the program magnifies inequity,” Terry said.

I’m a white parent with two biracial kids, and I was labeled as “gifted” by two different school districts in the late ‘80s. I was part of the magnifying glass that makes today’s system so likely to exclude my own kids.

But what does it even mean to be an “advanced learner?” What did it mean to be “gifted?”

I can tell you that in my case, I had many gifts, but none of them were about me being some kind of rare intellect. I had two college-educated parents, including a mother taking a break from her career teaching elementary school to stay at home with me and my sisters. That was a gift. Plus, I took standardized tests written by white people for white kids. I had white teachers with reasonably high expectations for white students. I had just about every advantage.

And it turns out I’m living proof that being an early reader doesn’t necessarily translate into lifelong scholarly prowess. I was a top prospect, but I never blossomed into an academic Hall-of-Famer. I did fine.

My kids, meanwhile, will still get some of the same privilege I enjoyed at home, but they aren’t likely to get the benefit of the doubt from the system.

Think about it: my kids are twenty times less likely to be identified as "gifted" than they would be if their mother was white. That is staggering.

Claudia Rowe of the Seattle Times wrote a thorough, much-needed examination of this advanced-learning gap across the Puget Sound, and it’s worth reading to get an even fuller picture. When she touches on the private testing phenomenon in Seattle, she explained how the district recognizes the inequity in its system but has so far responded only with a hollow gesture:

[State officials] flat-out reject the kind of private intelligence testing that is popular as a gateway to gifted-and-talented programs in Seattle.

“When students are privately tested, they’re getting a completely different experience from the usual Saturday morning cattle call,” said Jody Hess, who supervises programs for the gifted at the state education department. “It’s just far more likely that a child is going to do better on that kind of test than they might in a group, and that’s a built-in advantage only available to families of means. It’s a privilege of wealth.”

Recognizing the inequity, Seattle offered to cover the cost of private testing for low-income students this year. But its list of suggested evaluators includes none in the city’s low-income neighborhoods.


As often happens in Seattle Public Schools, we know that district officials know about this inequity.

In fact, the official committee I mentioned was formed as a result of that knowledge. The district awarded an Equity Grant to Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, so this committee has been working since then toward their goal “that the composition of the HCC (Highly Capable Cohort) program reflects the district’s racial and socioeconomic diversity.”

Now the district is reviewing its advanced learning programs, and Terry said the committee “wants to send the school board and district staff a clear message: We are holding them accountable for equity in advanced learning.”

All in all, this all gets a little weird, and it shows the dysfunctional approach to resolving inequity in Seattle Public Schools.

The district knows about the inequity in its Advanced Learning programs. That much is clear.

The district has chosen to act on that knowledge mainly by offering to pay for private tests in inconvenient locations for low-income students, and by forming a parent committee to apply pressure back on itself to force the district to change its own inequitable practices. So, they’ve done a lot, but they haven’t gotten much done.

We can help bring this charade to an end. The committee is asking people in the community to step up and attend at least one of the remaining four SPS board meetings to either give two minutes of testimony or simply fill a seat and hold a sign.

Sign up here to select a specific date to stand up for equal access to advanced learning opportunities for students of color in Seattle Public Schools.

The next meeting is Wednesday, May 17 at 5:15 p.m. at the Seattle Public Schools office in SODO.

Seattle just keeps ignoring racism at Garfield High School

Garfield High School is segregated by race. Still. We've known for years and we've done nothing to force change.

Students of color -- especially black students -- are disproportionately disciplined and under-represented in rigorous courses. Still.

And still, their graduation and college acceptance rates lag behind Garfield's white students.

Claudia Rowe wrote an excellent, in-depth piece for the Seattle Times about Garfield this week, painting a sad picture of a school whose hallways, opportunities and outcomes are segregated by race, and of a principal who feels forced to decide between following the rules or doing right by his students:

On paper, Garfield looks like a liberal utopia, a majestic, Federalist-style building in the center of the city with a broad mix of students and long history of academic and athletic success under Principal Ted Howard, a black man.  Yet students of different races inhabit separate worlds. The school’s advanced-track classes are mostly white, as is its well-heeled parent fundraising group, and its annual crop of National Merit Scholars.

Meanwhile, on this year’s list of problem kids permanently removed from campus, 21 of 24 are black.

Garfield, in other words, is Seattle: a place of high achievement and deep divides, progressive ideals sitting atop uncomfortable realities.

This isn't the first time the Seattle Times has unearthed this fault line, though. Back in 2004, the Times ran this article about Garfield: "Decades of effort fail to close gap in student achievement."

It talked of "paper integration and a school whose hallways, opportunities and outcomes were divided between black and white:

      Perhaps in no other Seattle school have parents and teachers struggled for so long to achieve integration's promise of racial equality -- and been so stymied.

Of course, we already knew about it then, too. 

In 2000, The Stranger told us "A Tale of Two Schools: At Garfield High School, the Education You Get Depends on Your Color:"

A former Black Panther, Dixon [a Garfield High security guard] says black kids at Garfield are being neglected and left behind while white kids excel. (I look around and the only white kids I see in the vicinity are a cluster in the hallway, reading Shakespeare to one another.) The Seattle school district, Dixon says, has "built a white, racist program starting with busing. Black kids aren't getting what they need. They're watching the white kids get everything."
Dixon's not the first to point out that Garfield exists as a school within a school. The numbers speak for themselves. On one hand, Garfield boasts the best academic reputation of any high school in the city. It has the most merit scholars in the state and nearly half the Advanced Placement students in the Seattle school district. Yet, there is a second, less-than-world-class school within Garfield. During last year's round of Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests -- which rank students according to skills in reading, writing, math, and listening -- the school fell far below state standards in two categories. Garfield officials claim that many students didn't show up to take the test, accounting for the low scores. But even fancy tests aside, nearly one third of all Garfield students are failing or getting a D in at least one course required for graduation.
To make matters worse, the students who are doing well tend to be white, while the students who are doing poorly tend to be black. The student population at Garfield -- situated in the heart of the Central District -- is estimated by the school district to be 47 percent white, 35 percent black, 13 percent Asian, 4 percent Latino, and 1 percent Native American. Yet, 73 percent of students in the advanced classes at Garfield are white, while 19 percent are Asian and only 4 percent are black (Latinos and Native Americans together make up 4 percent of Advanced Placement classes). On the other end of the scale, 62 percent of all African American students at the school are on the "D and E list" (which is, itself, made up of mostly black students), meaning they are in danger of flunking out.
Excuses for the disparity range from complaints that black students don't want to excel and show up at Garfield unprepared for advanced classes to accusations that the school has set up purposeful barriers to keep black kids at a disadvantage. Ironically, as one of the more diverse inner-city high schools in Seattle, Garfield was once lauded by students as a "model for integration success." These days, it's considered a failure. "The first floor is black people, the second floor is white, and the third floor, I don't know," says junior EunJean Song, who's part white and part Asian. "We see it every day and nobody's doing anything about it."

That's 16 years ago! If we've been collectively aware of this publicly funded racism and systemic oppression for at least 16 years (and I don't imagine it would take much digging to prove we've known about it even longer than that), by now we're collectively complicit. We've given a segregated Garfield High School the blind-eye stamp of public approval.

So, we still know that Garfield is segregated. Meanwhile, its teachers have been more focused on urging students to opt out of standardized tests in the past few years than on teaching, let alone standing up and forcing equitable change.

Garfield is still segregated. Are Garfield's teachers and administrators, its school board representatives and legislators going to do nothing about it? 

Are we still going to do nothing but talk about it once every 10 years?


Photo by  Jesse Hagopian

Why is Massachusetts top dog in education while Washington is in the doghouse?

By Tracy Dell'Angela

The Seattle Times’ Education Lab just published the second of a two-part series that should be a wake-up call to all the self-congratulatory states and school districts who think they are doing all they can to prepare students for success.

The series, artfully authored by reporter Claudia Rowe, opened with two provocative questions:

Massachusetts is a lot like us, so why are its schools so much better?
For a decade, Massachusetts has led the nation in student performance, ranking high internationally, too. What are they doing that we aren’t?

The us, in this case, is the state of Washington, which is strikingly similar in the kind of demographics that make this a fair apples-to-apples comparison: They are about the same size (around 7 million people); both are about 80 percent white, with similar rates of homeownership and non-English speakers. Both boast household incomes well above the national average, yet both see their schools filled with increasing numbers of low-income kids.

So what is Massachusetts doing? A whole bunch of common-sense things, which the stories lay out in compelling detail. But what is really comes down to is this:

Massachusetts is not happy with the status quo. It is not resting on its laurels. It is not crowing about tiny bumps in graduation indicators and ignoring its mediocrity (as Washington is). Rather it is bemoaning its stubbornly high achievement gaps between middle-class and low-income children and re-upping its commitment. As the quoted experts say:

“One of the most notable aspects of education in Massachusetts is the constant push to improve, even when indicators look good.”
“I’ve always praised Massachusetts for their work on education, but they never want to be praised. They want to know where they’re weak.”

So what is Massachusetts doing? Here are the tangible factors identified by the stories:

  • Spending more money overall on their schools, about $4,000 per pupil more.
  • Devoting more resources and money to schools with higher percentages of low-income and high-risk students.
  • Beefing up preschool.
  • Investing in higher pay and more training for teachers.
  • Re-inventing vocational high schools and career preparation.

This windfall of resources was welcomed by reformers and union leaders alike, but it came with big strings:

  • More stringent standards for teacher preparation and licensing
  • Higher standards and a demanding accountability structure that require exit exams for high-school graduation.
  • The threat of state takeover for failure to meet accountability requirements, which has happened to three districts.
  • Exemptions from hiring rules that allow senior educators to bump newer teachers at will.
  • Redefining the structure and length of the traditional school day from the typical six hours up to eight hours—in a way that recognized how kids learn and not by tacking an hour or two of math and English tutoring to the end of the day.
  • Opening up honors classes to all students, not just those preselected by teachers.

Not surprisingly, union leaders now want to cut those strings while still enjoying a funding windfall that teachers in other states can only dream about.

Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, complained in this article that her members are living under “a hyper-accountability system.” And she groused about Massachusetts’ standing as a national leader on nearly every metric of success, a big smack in the face to her members who are training harder, working longer and rejecting the status quo in the interest of student success:

“The premise that Massachusetts is somehow doing so well, based on testing data, is suspect for me. We’re a wealthy white state, relative to others, so lo and behold, we get these scores.”
Massachusetts’ “Grand Bargain” lays bare the myth that reformers are pushing a magic-bullet, overnight-miracle solution — and that reformers don’t acknowledge the pernicious effects of poverty on school outcomes.

It also gives lie to the idea that only failure—not success—should be rewarded with more resources and the freedom to innovate.

Massachusetts’ Grand Bargain is more than two decades old at this point, and the cracks are starting to show. The school funding formula hasn’t kept up with costs, achievement gaps remain unacceptably high, and the introduction of the Common Core standards and assessments have revealed shortcomings in the once-revered Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

And that’s where that relentless self-reflection comes to bear. Because when you’re at the top of heap—not only on national and international exams, but also in access to early education, high-school graduation, college enrollment and adult employment—it would be so tempting to crow about your success and stick your head in the sand about what’s not working.

In the end, what happened in Massachusetts could have happened in Washington. The same set of reforms started two decades ago, but the big promises around funding and accountability shifted and faded. Massachusetts, in contrast, struggled with setbacks but stayed the course.
Determination and grit. It is what we value in our students. Now we have to figure out how to elect state leaders and union officials who possess the same qualities.


This piece was originally published on March 21, 2016, on the Head in the Sand Blog.

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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago and are now paying two college tuitions. She currently works as the managing editor of Education Post and formerly explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.