Seattle's kids desperately need strong candidates for school board this year. Are you one of them?

Seattle's kids desperately need strong candidates for school board this year. Are you one of them?

Critics of the current school board note that it spends too much time focused on issues that don’t improve student achievement and don’t resolve opportunity gaps. In fact, actions the board has taken in the past have made those gaps worse. And though it made an impressive hire, appointing Denise Juneau as superintendent last summer, it has also hampered her and the professional educators that she leads in addressing these issues.

So, could you do better?

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Here's the real reason people oppose charter schools in Washington State

Here's the real reason people oppose charter schools in Washington State

Yet again, charter schools and the principle of school choice prevailed this week in Washington’s courts.

Great, wonderful, fine, etc. This is important, but at the same time, we’ve had this conversation before. It’s time to dig deeper.

Why has all this been happening? Moving beyond talking points and rhetoric, why have people and organizations really been fighting charter schools so vehemently?

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Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

By the time we reached the first floor and the elevator doors slid open, I was pretty sure I was standing next to Bob Ferguson, Washington State's attorney general. So, I asked him.

"Excuse me," I said. "Are you Bob Ferguson?"

"Yes, I am," he said.

Okay. Mystery solved. I told him my name and shook his hand.

What now?

"Thanks for doing what you're doing," I said. "You've made me feel proud to live in Seattle."

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SOAR Academy in Tacoma ‘blows the roof off the myths’ about charter schools

SOAR Dancers Get Up
SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

Walk through the front doors of SOAR Academy these days and you’ll find the building teeming with life and energy, like a dream realized.

In many ways, that’s what the public elementary school in Tacoma represents: the manifestation of a set of beliefs and ideas about what’s possible in public education.

SOAR Academy’s founders sought from the outset to design a public school that would reach students being neglected by the larger system, those who are typically on the wrong end of the opportunity and achievement gaps. 

Just two years after first opening its doors to students, those ideas have become a way of life at SOAR Academy, and the dreams of a nurturing, equitable school open to all have become reality for an engaged, grateful community of students and families.

“Here at SOAR we’ve seen tremendous growth and a fulfillment of the whole concept and vision of the alternatives and options that charter schools can provide in a publicly funded setting,” said Dr. Thelma Jackson, chair of the SOAR Academy Board of Directors. “Those of us that have been with SOAR from the very beginning, we’re just pleased as punch to see the school, to see the full classrooms, the waiting list. As I was driving up, just the smiles on the children’s and parents’ faces — they’re glad to be here! They’re here by choice.”

In many ways and from many angles, that’s the key word here: choice.

More than 70 percent of SOAR students identify as students of color, and Black students make up 56 percent of the student body. Fourteen percent receive special education services, and at least 12 percent are homeless or housing insecure. They all chose SOAR Academy, and they did so despite the hyper-political climate that surrounds the charter school sector.

School choice can be an especially foggy issue in Washington, where propaganda and repeated legal attacks led by the Washington Education Association — the state’s teachers union — have attempted to undermine the ability of schools like SOAR to work hard and innovate in an earnest effort to close the gaps created by our traditional public school system. In spite of that, many parents are seeing SOAR for what it is: an ambitious, free, public alternative that just might work for their student where other schools have fallen short.

“We’ve been up against so much ‘fake news’ about what charters are and aren’t, and we’re defying all of that,” Jackson said. “Anytime they say, ‘Oh, they won’t take kids of color; oh, they won’t take special needs kids; oh, they’ll cream the crop,’ [SOAR Academy] just blows the roof off of all those myths. And against all those odds, SOAR is thriving. The kids are thriving.”

Far from creaming, SOAR’S school leader Jessica Stryczek readily acknowledges that many of the school’s students arrived having already experienced such significant trauma as abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Yet thanks to a trauma-informed approach to restorative justice, not a single SOAR student was suspended or expelled last year.

In Seattle Public Schools, on the other hand, disproportionate discipline rates show up from the very beginning, as even kindergarteners of color are suspended and expelled (yes, expelled from kindergarten!) at a rate far beyond their white peers.

Seventy-seven percent of the student body at SOAR is eligible for free or reduced lunch as well, so community meals are available to all students through the community eligibility pool.

SOAR’s staff, meanwhile, reflects the diversity of its student body. More than half the staff at SOAR are people of color, Jackson says, upending yet another myth.

“The traditional line is, ‘Oh, we’d like to hire them, but we can’t find them.’ So, where are the charter schools finding [teachers of color]?” Jackson asks. “And again, they are here by choice. They’re not here through involuntary transfers and the dance of the lemons and all that stuff.”

Enough people have chosen SOAR now that the school’s journey from vision to reality is all but complete, and the early results are showing that the young charter school is delivering on its promise.

In addition to a joyful atmosphere in a building full of well-cared-for elementary students, the school is home to impressive academic rigor as well. Just last year, more than 70 percent of students showed accelerated growth, testing beyond national grade-level expectations on the STAR Early Literacy assessment.

“The concept has taken on a life of its own,” Jackson said. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Thank you, Nate Bowling, for cutting right to the heart of the perpetual argument over charter schools

Nate Bowling wrote everything you need to know to put an end to the exhausting point-missing debate pitting charter public schools versus traditional public schools.

For those unfamiliar, Nate is a public school teacher in Tacoma who, as far as I can tell, has been kicking ass for a long time now. In the last few years, he's really started to get noticed for it, too. He was a National Teacher of the Year finalist in 2016 after being named Washington State's Teacher of the Year, but he's much more than just an effective classroom teacher. He's also the kind of activist for racial justice and the rights of his marginalized students that I dream of every teacher aspiring to be.

Plus, he writes about nuanced issues with the kind of clarity that my overly wordy rants find themselves dreaming about at night (in overly wordy dreams).

In fact, if I was more internetty, I might have made this about myself and started this diatribe like this:

"TFW you write and write and write about charter schools and then someone else says everything you were trying to say much more simply and effectively than you ever have. SMH LOL!"

Obviously I'm not convincingly internetty, but you get the idea. Nate Bowling has written something important about the mind-numbing debate pitting charter schools vs. traditional public schools. He begins by acknowledging that many parents of students of color are choosing charter schools, and that this is a valid choice. Then he gives three critical pieces of advice for well-meaning folks who are still actively opposing charter schools:

First, Nate says, "you must address [the] concerns and motivations" of people of color who are choosing charter schools, because those concerns are real and warranted.

"The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment," Bowling writes. "In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential."

Yes! I couldn't agree more. A failure or unwillingness to acknowledge this truth is the foundation of most misunderstandings over charter schools.

Second, he says we must "improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools," and I'm convinced he's right about this, too. If we don't, we're essentially telling those parents to accept the unacceptable for their children. That's pretty cruel.

Finally, Nate says, "you can be right on the issue and still be wrong." This is so blisteringly important that I can't believe it hasn't been said this way before. Opportunity gaps and disproportionate discipline and teacher bias and segregation are not just abstract concepts and theories. They create realities that have intense, long-term impacts on real-life kids. So it's one thing to value public education, to see it as a great equalizer and a pillar of our society, and to view charter schools as an infiltration of private money and control, but it's quite another thing to keep people from accessing alternatives to the system when it's not working for them.

If we don't acknowledge our current gap between theory and reality, between the ideals of education in a vacuum and the realities of biased schooling in present-day America, we're leaving a lot of kids to the wolves in the name of incremental progress and education theory -- including mine. My oldest son goes to Emerson Elementary in Seattle's Rainier Beach, meaning he's literally a student of color in one of the "low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools" that Nate is describing. And I can tell you first-hand, it's not okay. We're demanding change, we're exploring all of our options, and if a charter elementary school opened up in the area, we'd probably look into switching schools.

Anyway, I'll stop now. Please read what Nate Bowling has to say. He's a smart man.

 

 

Stop Berating Black and Brown Parents Over Charters (and Give Your Twitter Fingers a Rest)
By Nate Bowling
I read too many edu arguments for my own good. It’s a known issue in my household.
The argument I find most cringe-inducing is the fight over charter schools. With the news that Secretary DeVos is coming to Seattle, I’d like to put this out there for folks.
If there's one lesson that I have learned over the last few years, it’s that you're never going to convince a black or brown mother to change her mind about where to send her child by demonizing her choices, calling her a “neo-liberal,” or labeling her a “tool of privatizers.” And since black and brown parents are the primary target of most charter operators, this presents a conundrum I want to help my (mainly white) progressive friends work through.
Before I go further, a few caveats: I’ve worked in public schools since 2006. This is by choice. I have been offered roles in teaching, as a principal, and on the board of charter operators in my state. I have declined. I consider myself a “charter agnostic.” I believe the traditional public school is the right venue for the kind of work I want to do and the student population I desire to work with. But, I don’t begrudge the choices others make for their own children.
Now that my cards are on the table, I want to give y’all some advice:
You must address their concerns and motivations: The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment. In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential.
The ed establishment has a lot to answer for. Folks in educational spaces systematically silence, marginalize, and awfulize parents of color and their children. We can cite example, after example, after example, after (local) example. Add to this report-after-report about disproportionate discipline practices and persistent Opportunity Gaps, it shouldn’t surprise us that parents of color are looking for options and not in the mood for finger-waggy lectures on privatization. For activists this is a long-term societal-philosophical-cultural-political issue; for parents it’s an immediate, pragmatic what-is-best-for-my-child issue. You have to approach them through that lens. 
Work to improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools:In urban areas, students of color are the bread and butter of charter schools. If these students received the quality of education they deserve and were treated with the dignity afforded to white, suburban, and wealthy students, charter schools wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t attract families of color at the rates they do. If you truly oppose charter schools, the most impactful thing you can do is work to make public schools places where students of color, particularly low-income black and Latinx students, feel valued, welcomed, and loved. 
Every time a parent of color enrolls their child in a charter school it's a vote of no confidence in the traditional K-12 public school system. Sooner or later we have to reckon with that.
You can be right on the issue and still be wrong: Here’s the deal, friends. You’re right about neo-liberalism and the decaying of public goods, but ain’t nobody trying to hear that from you when it comes to their child’s well-being. We all know there are awful schools and school systems out there in desperate need of transformation. The folks who are supposed to send their kids to these schools deserve better.
Whether intentional or not, sometimes it seems activists value the “institution of public education” more than they value the "outcomes of the kids within it." I don’t think this is actually the case, but this is a rhetorical misstep that parents of color see and that school choice advocates seize on.  
Screeds, hot take FB rants, and 300 word newspaper comments berating folks may feel good, but they also turn potential allies into actual enemies. If you really care about public education, you’re better off standing shoulder-to-shoulder with parents of color in pursuit of fair treatment, (non-test based) accountability for teachers, better instruction, and funding equity than you are berating them in FB threads and with your Twitter fingers.
That's the real work.
Dedicated to my friends Sheree, Keith, and Korbett for putting up with more nonsense than you should ever have to about what’s best for your own children

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.

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.

 

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

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

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.

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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?

SPS has already hired Erin Rasmussen to be Emerson's new principal

My oldest son is a student at Emerson Elementary School in South Seattle. Our current principal -- Dr. Andrea Drake -- announced her resignation last month effective at the end of the school year.

Larry Nyland, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, sent an email to Emerson parents and families last night announcing that they had already filled the vacant position. Erin Rasmussen, currently an assistant principal at Aki Kurose, will be Emerson's new principal -- the school's fourth in four years.

I've heard nothing but good things so far about Ms. Rasmussen and her commitment to equity, and I look forward to the prospect of lasting change at a school that needs it most. Here's hoping this is the beginning of the end of institutional neglect at Emerson.

Here also is the full message from Superintendent Nyland:

Dear Emerson Elementary School community,
I am pleased to announce that Erin Rasmussen has been selected to be the new principal of Emerson Elementary. 
Ms. Rasmussen was selected because of her demonstrated commitment to racial equity, her impact in closing opportunity gaps, her outstanding administrative experience as an assistant principal at Aki Kurose Middle School, her knowledge and skills around teaching and learning, and her passion for building positive relationships with staff, students and families. The interview team, made up of staff, parents, and central office administrators, was particularly impressed with her focus on empowering student voice, her commitment to increasing the numbers of students of color in honors classes, and her belief that every child is brilliant. 
As an assistant principal at Aki Kurose Middle School for the past three years, Ms. Rasmussen oversaw the math and science departments. She led professional development at the school in areas such as cultural competency, standards-based grading, and supporting students who qualify for special education in the general education classroom. She has also led professional development around Multi-Tiered Systems of Support at the school and district level.
Ms. Rasmussen earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Whitworth University, and her Master of Education degree at Seattle University. Ms. Rasmussen is also a National Board Certified Teacher.   
Principal Rasmussen is excited to be continuing her work in southeast Seattle and is looking forward to partnering with the students, staff, and families of the Emerson community to make a difference for every student. Her official start date will be July 1, 2017. We will be scheduling opportunities for staff, families and students to meet Ms. Rasmussen before the end of the school year.
I would like to extend my thanks to Principal Andrea Drake for serving as principal for the past two years. Her deep commitment to the Emerson community is greatly appreciated. We look forward to having her come to district office this coming year to help design culturally responsive school supports in service of eliminating opportunity gaps across the entire system.
Thank you Dr. Drake, and welcome Principal Rasmussen to Emerson!
Sincerely,
Dr. Larry Nyland
Superintendent

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.

We know the Trump administration doesn't care about education. Will Washington State step up to save our kids?

Each state is currently in the process of establishing a comprehensive education and accountability plan under ESSA, which they'll submit to the federal government for approval.

These plans will determine, among other things, how each state will address its opportunity gaps, how they'll measure progress toward closing those gaps, and how they will help struggling schools.

Our nation has been built on a sturdy framework of systemic racism, and that reality is quite evident in our public school system. If we want to close gaps and change outcomes for low-income students and students of color, this is where it begins.

States don't have a great track record of upholding human rights when they don't "have to," however. The federal government has been more likely to carve out new protections for human and civil rights than the states. Of course, those protections are always gradual and reluctant, but it's still typically the federal government leading the way with policy that leads to implemented changes at the state level.

Examples do exist, though, of states going out on a limb in the name of equity, and those bold moves have a way of impacting the nation. Washington State did that for marriage equality earlier this decade. We have a chance to do the same for educational equity if our leadership makes brave, potentially unpopular decisions during this critical time.

The state superintendent's office in Washington (OSPI) has convened an Accountability System Workgroup to work on these issues. Under the direct leadership of Michaela Miller and Ben Rarick, the committee currently consists of a whopping 39 members.

As I understand, OSPI promised to reduce the size of the workgroup, but this promise was then broken. This is especially problematic because many members of the group are redundant in their role and voting interests, allowing the WASA/AWSP/WSSDA contingent to largely vote as a bloc, effectively negating any diversity of opinion or perspective in terms of outcomes.

In the end it will mean district staff are unchecked in designing a system for holding themselves accountable to student outcomes.

Our state has appalling opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines, and it is time we held our education system to a substantially higher standard than the level of systemic oppression it's currently operating.

We know the current fascist-leaning federal administration doesn’t care about public education. We need OSPI to refuse to participate in perpetuating the failure of our kids. The time is now or never.

Principal Drake is leaving Emerson Elementary

Dr. Andrea Drake will be resigning as principal at Emerson Elementary at the end of the school year to take another position with Seattle Public Schools. Her two years at Emerson were marked by high staff turnover and a leave of absence last fall that sparked controversy.

Here is the letter that went out by email to Emerson parents:

Dear Emerson Elementary Staff and Families,
I am writing to let you know that after much consideration, I have accepted a position in the Seattle Public Schools district office to support the Eliminating Opportunity Gaps work. It was a difficult decision because I have enjoyed serving as your principal so much and I am proud of the progress we have made together; but I am excited to approach this new chapter. I will still be a part of Seattle Public Schools, as I take on a body of work that I am personally passionate about. In my new role, I will have the opportunity to help design culturally responsive school supports and aid the entire district in eliminating  opportunity gaps. My start date will be July 1, 2017.
Leaving Emerson staff, students, and families will be difficult. In a short time, we have made great progress in implementing our vision and goal to maximize daily instruction, reengage our families and community, and improve student attendance, in an effort to accelerate the academic achievement of our scholars. Emerson Elementary is an amazing learning community that prides itself on working together to make a difference in the lives of students, and I have valued being a part of it.
As we work together to finish out the school year, the district office will begin the process of working with staff and families to identify the qualities the school community is looking for in its next leader. Staff and families will both be represented on the hiring team to ensure a good fit. I am confident that Emerson Elementary will be in good hands. I will finish out this year and work closely with staff to ensure a smooth transition to the 2017-18 year; I know our staff will also continue on the path we have laid together.
Thank you for embracing and supporting me these past years. Emerson Elementary will always have a very special place in my heart. I know Emerson Elementary Eagles will continue to SOAR higher because of families and staff like you. I will truly miss you and wish you all the best and look forward to supporting you in my new role.
Sincerely,
Andrea Drake, Ed.D.
Principal, Emerson Elementary School
 

I wish Dr. Drake all the best in her new role, and I look forward to hearing about the progress she and the district are able to make in closing our persistently appalling opportunity gaps. This is all about the principle, not the principal.

Dr. Drake stepped in less than two years ago as principal of a school long suffering from systemic neglect. That's not exactly an easy job. She also took a mysterious and much-discussed leave of absence last fall. In the end, her tenure as Emerson's principal was short and tumultuous, just like all of her recent predecessors. She wasn't able to beat a broken system.

Drake's replacement will (if you count Barbara Moore, Drake's temporary replacement last fall who has remained on staff) be Emerson's fourth principal in four years. Think about that. My son will, as a third grader, have his fourth different principal at the helm next fall.

So, clearly this is nothing new. It's no surprise, then, that my questions are also recycled (from my Oct. 24, 2016 post):

"It seems clear that our [last] state superintendent (Dorn), our region’s ED with SPS (Aramaki) and our locally elected school board rep (Patu) are all well aware of the problems at Emerson.
Our leaders know that our school is failing us. This is, in theory, why we elected them, why our taxes pay their salaries. They are our advocates, a mouthpiece for the students and families in the communities they serve. And they know that our kids are being treated inequitably.
So, what’s going to be different this time? What will be done to change Emerson’s future and give our kids access to the education they deserve from their neighborhood school?"

Of course, if we keep asking the same questions, we can expect to keep getting the same answers. I don't expect the broken system that created and perpetuates this inequitable environment to magically turn around and start working in Emerson's favor.

This is why school accountability is so important. Our leaders know that Emerson's needs are not being met, that it is struggling with intense staff turnover and operating on scant resources, all while trying to serve a high-need population of students.

Our system is failing to hold our schools and districts accountable, and we as parents and community members have no true levers to force change.

So, in the end, it comes back to hope. To searching as parents for a reason to believe that this is the time things will be different. We will have a new principal at Emerson again next fall. Hopefully he or she will be a transformational leader who will guide Emerson all the way into some new and brighter days. It can be done, that much I know. But history tells us not to hold our breath.

I suppose the real question is whether or not it's worth more years of our children's lives to find out whether Emerson can turn around. For now, we just keep hoping for the best. At what point does hope become willful ignorance?

Finally, an update from OSPI about ESSA accountability plans

The Washington superintendent's office (OSPI) finally shared some updates last week about its plan for accountability under ESSA.

What does that mean? Here's some background from the press release released last week.

"The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which passed in December 2015, requires every state to submit a Consolidated Plan to the U.S. Department of Education. In part, Washington’s Plan details how school and district success will be measured and accounted for, as well as how the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) will support success."

Okay, why is that important? Well, this plan will determine what happens when schools are failing to close achievement gaps and/or to safely and effectively prepare all kids for life. It's the only mechanism we have to know how our schools are doing and to hold our government accountable to the promises they've made when it comes to the compulsory education of our kids.

Here's a quick summary (plus green bubbles):

WashingtonESSATimeline.jpg

So, there's a timeline. What else?

They are not currently accepting public comment. There are also very few details about the actual plan itself. It's more of a plan for making a plan. Like scheduling a meeting to decide when to meet.

Read the PR buzzwords for yourself:

An accountability framework was developed in 2016 using input and recommendations from the ESSA Accountability System Workgroup (ASW). Reykdal reconvened the ASW to continue its review of some requirements in the Accountability, Support, and Improvement section of the Consolidated Plan.
In addition to reconvening the ASW, Reykdal has created a new Accountability Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). The TAC will analyze state assessment and accountability data and research-based best practices to provide recommendations or options to the ASW based on the analysis. The ASW can then make recommendations to Superintendent Reykdal.
OSPI will continue to collaborate with the State Board of Education to produce one statewide accountability framework. Also, to continue building foundations for data-informed decision-making, OSPI will align the ESSA indicators and other performance indicators to ensure a high-quality system of accountability for our schools.
“ESSA ushers in an opportunity to look at how we are supporting the needs of all students in all schools in Washington state,” said Deputy Superintendent Michaela Miller, who is leading the ESSA work. “OSPI is looking forward to developing a continuum of support that elevates a focus on equity, closing opportunity gaps, and continuous growth and improvement.”
Reykdal is also reconvening the ESSA Federal Programs Team. This workgroup will continue to:
  • align all ESEA/ESSA programs with the goal of supporting students in mastering the knowledge and skills necessary for success in career, college, and life;
  • encourage greater coordination, planning, and service delivery among programs; and
  • enhance the integration of programs under this ESEA/ESSA with state and local programs.

 

The press release does mention equity and opportunity gaps, but it does so in the same vague way the gaps are always mentioned in Seattle and across Washington State. Racial and socioeconomic inequities are baked into our schools, creating and perpetuating a shameful opportunity gap. Our leaders talk about how it must and will be closed! And then we carry on with business as usual.

This all sounds like more of the same so far: lots of frameworks and alignment and collaboration and enhancement and coordination and integration and continuua of support. A beehive of words, but none to inspire hope that Chris Reykdal and company will be able to solve the problems they're admitting exist.

Washington is a notoriously progressive state, and Seattle is calling itself a sanctuary city. Our education leadership needs to follow suit by making decisions and implementing policies that are unapologetically equitable. We need to be willing to make white folks uncomfortable, to risk unpopularity by doing the right thing.

Can we count on Chris Reykdal, a politician who surely hopes to get elected to some further office in another few years, to take those bold actions? To take those bold risks?

I'm not holding my breath. If it's going to happen, though, this would be a good jumping-off point. Let's start backing up our empty words about closing gaps by making our accountability plan the loudest, boldest, most unapologetic promise of equity that any state submits.

Please help our kids get the school board leadership they deserve

I'd like to point your attention toward the dysfunction of the Seattle School Board. Many of the directors on the board have consistently shown a troubling lack of racial awareness, and it's been having a seriously negative impact on the kids in our district for many years.

Dir. Leslie Harris described a Cedar Park school full of low-income students of color as "a ghetto school."

It's time for things to change.

I wrote a blog post Sunday about Dir. Leslie Harris, the recently appointed board vice president who used the term "ghetto school" during a board meeting last November. It sparked a particularly inspiring response from one former principal.

This earlier post also gives some more background on the problematic dynamics on the board:

 

A grassroots coalition just stopped the Seattle School Board from adding $11 million to the deficit

 

These are just a couple examples, of course. I'll also be writing this week about Dir. Rick Burke's troubling take on integration and about more racially sleepy comments from Dir. Harris.

Seattle Public Schools has documented problems with disproportionate discipline of Black students, and the district is home to the fifth-worst opportunity gap in the nation. These are more than just politically incorrect slips of the tongue from a well-intentioned board of directors. Each microagression and each offensive phrase represents the pattern of thinking that still guides our schools. 

The West Coast is leading the resistance against the Trump-led Republicans, and Washington State has been at the forefront of that movement in a very real way. On a local level, however, we still have elected officials making oppressive decisions -- especially when it comes to education. It's time that our local politics better reflect our bold commitment to equity.

If you have more stories illustrating our problematic school board in Seattle -- and I'm sure you do -- please share them with me. We need the voters in our city to know who is representing their kids and their schools.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for everything you're doing to create better schools and a better world for our kids. They need us to rise up now more than ever.

'Still I look to find a reason to believe' in Seattle Public Schools

Seattle Public Schools announced recently that it will face a $74 million budget shortfall if the state legislature does not "fully fund education." Since that phrase has been so overused in Washington that it's lost all meaning, it seems safe to assume SPS will have to make some pretty enormous cuts.

Stephan Blanford, our strongest and often lone voice for equity and reason on the incessantly dysfunctional Seattle School Board, wrote in a piece for the South Seattle Emerald about his fears that our more-voiceless south-end schools will bear the greater burden of these looming cuts:

"I know I am motivated more by fear — fear of the kinds of cuts that we will need to make in December and January as the board grapples with a deficit that has grown to $74 million. I am deeply troubled by the ramifications these cuts will have in classrooms across the city and the uneven impact we could have on schools serving low income students and students of color. And I am motivated by my knowledge of what has happened in the past.
First, the uneven impact. Academic research demonstrates that seniority-based teacher layoffs disproportionately impact schools serving low income and students of color. This is because those schools tend to be staffed with newer teachers having less seniority – the last hired is often the first fired. Many of our principals will tell you that they’ve finally gotten a good mix of older/experienced and younger/energetic teachers in their buildings. As a result, many are optimistic for the first time in their careers about the chances of closing our achievement/opportunity gaps — unacceptable gaps that are larger than nearly every big city school district in the nation.
Secondly, based on recent history, I have come to believe that the school board that I serve on is not sufficiently oriented to or motivated by the need to eliminate the gap, in spite of the fact that the majority of students (53%) served by Seattle Public Schools are students of color. Obviously, not every student of color is in the gap – in fact, many students of color outperform their peers. But for those that don’t, there was very little outrage or even discussion when the board learned of our national ranking in a story that was reported back in May. I’ve frequently seen members of the board disregard advice from the staff and parents when it conflicts with the narrow interests of some of their constituents. During the months when we first learned of a possible budget deficit, some of my colleagues were much more interested in how to spend last year’s $10 million surplus, which could have made a sizable dent in the projected deficit. Many of the choices that were made during that exercise only make our achievement/opportunity gaps worse.
Why does this matter?
If you have a child in Seattle Public Schools, or are troubled by the growing gaps based on family income, race and ethnicity, gentrification, the school-to-prison pipeline or any number of societal ills confronting our city, region and nation, you too should be concerned! At the root of each of these problems is society’s failure to adequately prepare our children to reach their awesome potential. IT IS CRITICAL THAT WE STEP UP NOW."

 

If you want to lose hope altogether, read the comments on Blanford's article. He's met with defensiveness, privilege and skepticism, often admittedly from the north end residents (and from Charlie Mas, who loves chiming in on our issues from wherever he's at).

This isn't about dividing the city into a north and south end. That's already been done. We are already the have-nots. It's not that there are no low-income families in the north end, or that there is no money in the south. It's that these are two very different places, home to two very distinct populations. Our city has been largely segregated for ages.

Blanford's fears are based in reality, and part of that reality is that schools like Emerson exist in a different realm of Seattle Public Schools than their north-end counterparts. At Emerson, we are already operating with two long-term substitutes where we should have full-time teachers. We are one of the only schools in the city with such a high percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch that it's just given to everyone. We've had four principals in four years.

This is, by definition, a high-need school, but it's serving mostly low-privilege students and families, which means it gets ignored. Then when someone tries to speak up about it, the overwhelming response is defensiveness.

But we should just keep plugging away, believing things will change. I'm trying.

We're progressive in lots of ways in Seattle, but that doesn't give us a pass on all the ways we're still way behind the times. We have the fifth-highest achievement gap along racial lines in the country. It persists because comfortable, privileged white moderates dominate the conversation about education locally.

We will keep speaking up from the south end, from the other sides of all the borders and barriers. The question becomes, when will people listen? I'm looking for a reason to believe that will happen soon. It needs to, because my kids won't be kids forever.

 

Tacoma’s Charter Public Schools to Host Open House Tour for New Families

SOAR AcademyGreen Dot Destiny Middle School and Summit Olympus High School will host a tour of open houses on Thursday, July 28, for Tacoma families exploring their public school options for the upcoming 2016-17 school year.

The tour of open houses will give potential students, parents and caregivers the opportunity to tour each school building, ask questions and meet school leaders and teachers, and hear the experiences of founding families and students who are returning to Tacoma’s charter public schools for the second year.

As all three of Tacoma’s small, personalized and academically rigorous charter public schools head into their second year of operation, each school is growing to serve new grade levels in Fall 2016.

SOAR Academy, which eventually will serve K-8, served K-1 in its first year and will grow to serve K-2 in Fall 2016. Green Dot Destiny Middle School, which served sixth grade in its founding year and will serve grades 6-8 at capacity, is enrolling sixth and seventh grade for Fall 2016. And Summit Olympus High School, which opened to ninth graders in its founding year, is enrolling ninth and tenth graders for this coming school year.

Enrollment is open for Fall 2016 at Tacoma’s charter public schools. All schools are tuition-free and open to all students. For more information: http://wacharters.org/enroll/tacoma/.

WHAT: Tacoma Charter Public Schools Open House Tour

WHEN: Thursday, July 28, 5 – 8:15 p.m.

LOGISTICS:
The open house tour begins at SOAR Academy and then travels to Summit Olympus and Destiny Charter Middle School. Bus transportation will be provided for those attending the full three-school tour, and will return to SOAR Academy at the end of the tour.

5:00 pm: Meet at SOAR Academy, 2136 MLK Jr. Way, Tacoma, WA 98405
5:30—6pm: Tour SOAR Academy
6:30—7pm: Tour Summit Olympus, 409 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, WA 98421
7:30—8pm: Tour Destiny Middle School, 1301 E 34th St, Tacoma, WA 98404
8:00 pm: After the Destiny Middle School tour, participants will be dropped back off at SOAR Academy.

RSVP here. View the Facebook event here.

About Washington’s Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are state-authorized public schools. Like all public schools, they do not charge tuition, they are open to all students, and they are publicly funded. However, charter schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. In exchange for greater accountability, teachers and principals are given more flexibility to customize their teaching methods and curriculum to improve student learning.

Washington’s charter public schools are helping to close the education equity gap. More than 67 percent of charter public school students in Washington are students of color, as compared to 43 percent statewide. Two-thirds of charter public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, as compared to 45 percent statewide. At four of Washington’s charter public schools, this number exceeds 70 percent.

Q&A with State Superintendent Candidate Erin Jones

Erin Jones has spent her career working for equity in education, and her track record as an educator and as an advocate for all students has few peers in our state.

Erin was selected as a Milken Educator of the Year for Washington state in 2007, as one of 10 White House Champions of Change for Educational Excellence for African Americans in 2013 for her work promoting educational excellence for African-Americans in the community, and in 2015 as the Washington state PTA Educator of the Year.

In three years as the Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement in the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), her work centered around developing policy recommendations and promoting instructional best practices for diverse student groups.

Erin is now running to be our next state superintendent, and I had a chance to ask her a few questions about her campaign and her vision for our schools.

 

Matt Halvorson: Hi Erin! Thanks for sharing a few minutes from your busy schedule with us.

First off, what motivates you? What drives your desire to work in education?

Erin Jones: I came to the US after being raised in the Netherlands with an expectation that I would get a law degree and return to the Netherlands to work as an international lawyer. After one year in the US, I became very aware that students who looked like me were not getting the same kind of education I had received in Europe. After my second year in the US, I knew I couldn't go home. I realized race, zip code and home language were the greatest predictors of the kind of school experience kids would get, and I wanted to be part of changing that.

After serving as a classroom teacher for 12 years and an administrator for 8, the desire to better serve all kids hasn't changed. I know this is the work I am called to for a lifetime. This is the greatest civil rights issue the 21st century!

 

Matt: What has it been like to transition from working in schools and administration to navigating the world of politics?

Erin: I absolutely must stay connected to schools in order to do the politics. The children and the teachers are in the reason I am running for election. In my opinion, when one becomes removed from school building and disconnected from the real work, one can no longer represent the people. We see evidence of this every day in the kinds of decisions legislators and other leaders make on behalf of people they don't know.

I am also still working as an administrator as I run for office... I will be resigning, however, at the end of my contract in June.

 

Matt: In what ways would you say the politics in our state and the political process for this role are contributing to the educational inequities in our state?

Erin: There are many ways the politics and political processes contribute to inequity in public service, whether that relates to healthcare, housing or education. There are many unspoken rules in the political process. There are ways that political insiders and those with money have an advantage - because they can take off work or not work at all, because they're connected to money and can get big donations. The challenge with political insiders and wealthy people getting elected over and over is that they cannot represent the voices of the most marginalized, so inequity is perpetuated. This is exactly how the Legislature could decide on opening day this year not to make a dent in McCleary. When the lack of funding doesn't impact your children, it's easy to push that decision off... so inequity continues.

 

Matt: Washington is one of a handful of states with a growing opportunity gap between students of color and white students, and between low-income students and their more affluent peers. In your opinion, what is contributing to those gaps in our state specifically?

Erin: 1. Inequity in funding and support. Who gets access to arts programming and electives? Who gets to take Advanced Placement or College in the High School classes? Who is able to benefit from Running Start? These things contribute to inequities in public education. Our poorest schools continue to struggle to pass levies and bonds, which means schools cannot be fixed and poor rural districts don't have the same ability to purchase FTE or access wi-fi.

2. Bias and prejudice. We all have it, but in the Northwest, we don't want to admit our issues with "others." Unfortunately, we have all been exposed to negative media and a culture that undervalues people of color, which shows up in our expectations for students and how they are provided (or not provided) with opportunities. We need to be willing to unpack our biases and the ways we have been trained to think about ourselves and others in order to better serve all students.

3. Lack of training and support. 20 years ago, our state was primarily white. Our teachers were trained to serve middle class white children. Now, suddenly, with an influx of students of color and recent immigrants, staff need to know how to more effectively communicate with and instruct a new demographic. It means we must begin to prepare students differently for the classroom. It means all teachers must know how to instruct students who don't show up in school with academic English.

 

Matt: What bold actions will you take for equity? What bold actions will you take for families?

Erin: Bold actions: I'm the first black woman to run for statewide office. That in itself is a bold move. I am aware of the power of modeling and the change I can create by rewriting the narrative about the potential of students of color or those "othered" for whatever reason.

I have a 4-step plan for addressing equity in our state:

  1. Recruit, hire, train and support staff to increase the number of educators of color in schools, AND better prepare support white teachers to serve students of color and students who enter classrooms without fluency in English.

  2. Create a model for authentic family and community engagement that recognizes the value of parent as first teacher and the need for schools to partner with community organizations to provide needed non-academic resources necessary to serve the Whole Child. Families are CRITICAL to the success of students, but we must listen and engage families in meaningful ways. OSPI used to have a family engagement office - CISL. That office must be reinstated. We find and promote what we believe has value. When there is no one at OSPI dedicated to family/community engagement, that sends a clear message.

  3. Address the needs of the Whole Child - the academic, social-emotional, physical and cultural needs of our children.

  4. Create a smooth pathway/pipeline for students to move from early childhood to post-high school. This pathway should help students and families navigate public education, help students connect early to their passions and then create a roadmap to ensure students develop the skills and have the experiences they need to be able to pursue their passions beyond high school (whether that requires 2/4-year college, tech school, apprenticeships, military).

Learn more about Erin Jones and her campaign at www.erinjones2016.org.
Follow her on Twitter: @Jones4WA.