Brandon Hersey is our new school board rep in Southeast Seattle

Brandon Hersey is our new school board rep in Southeast Seattle

The Seattle School Board appointed Brandon Hersey as the new representative for District VII in Southeast Seattle.

Whether or not Hersey was a good choice, what I expected to happen is exactly what ended up happening: rather than listening to the people, the board chose the candidate they wanted. In other words, the candidate who would have been elected was not the candidate who was chosen. That’s tough to grapple with.

Read More

Catching systemic racism in the act in Seattle Public Schools

Catching systemic racism in the act in Seattle Public Schools

Systemic racism is often hard to see in action.

It’s easy to look back and wonder, how did we get here? How do we have such deep-rooted opportunity gaps in our schools? How do we have so few Black teachers? How can there be such a thing as a “school-to-prison” pipeline? How do we have so few women of color in positions of elected leadership?

These systemic issues are not necessarily carried out by people of malicious intent. They are carried out by all of us every day as we make seemingly reasonable decisions, and through polices and processes that masquerade as neutral.

We are in the eleventh hour of one such process, but it’s not too late! Today — this very evening — we have a chance to catch the system in the act. So let’s do it.

Read More

Stephan Blanford: Seattle students, lagging behind other districts, deserve a new science curriculum

Stephan Blanford: Seattle students, lagging behind other districts, deserve a new science curriculum

Our kids deserve better. They deserve a school board and a community that prioritizes “students furthest from educational justice.” The school board can show it is serious about its values by approving the recommended science curriculum.

Read More

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?

Read More

Wait, you mean you're not crazy? You must not be paying attention.

Wait, you mean you're not crazy? You must not be paying attention.

Good day, friends.

I’m just writing to give you a heads-up that I’m crazy now.

I had been hovering right on the edge for quite a while, obviously, but I think Neal Morton's recent Seattle Times article officially pushed me off the deep end. He pointed out that we’ve been talking about the opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines in Seattle Public Schools since the ‘50s — and that today, they’re worse than ever.

In other words, we’ve been acknowledging that things need to change for 70 years now without actually making any changes.

Tell me that’s not enough to drive you crazy.

Read More

Seven decades of lip service is more than enough. When will Seattle Public Schools actually do something about closing racial opportunity gaps?

Have you read Neal Morton’s article in the Seattle Times about racial inequity in Seattle Public Schools? I’ve got plenty of thoughts, but honestly, the facts laid out in the article speak for themselves.

In fact, the headline alone speaks for itself:

Racial equity in Seattle schools has a long, frustrating history — and it’s getting worse

Just to drive the point home, here’s the sub-headline:

“For at least seven decades, Seattle Public Schools has pledged to eliminate the gaps in achievement between students of color and their white peers. But even as district leaders swear their latest efforts are more than just another round of rhetoric, the gaps continue to grow.”

Seven decades!

Think about that. This conversation about racial inequity in Seattle Public Schools is older than most current students' grandparents. There can’t possibly be anything new to add, anything worth saying that hasn't already been said and ignored.

It really gives a sense of how endlessly we are able to confuse well-intentioned spinning wheels for progress.

Seattle Public Schools have always produced wide opportunity gaps. This institutional racism continues to produce wide, unacceptable opportunity gaps. If that’s not a clear and accepted truth by now, then it might never be.

There is no time left to debate this truth. The gaps exist. We know that. Next.

We have long since moved past the time when simply acknowledging our inequity was enough, if such a time ever existed. Measuring the gaps, describing them as appalling, and continuing to go about your business as usual is not enough.

Words are not enough unless they are backed up by action. Believing the opportunity gaps are unacceptable is not enough until we stop accepting them.

Our thoughts about these gaps exist only in our own minds unless we are very conscious about living out our ideas. Your set of beliefs and values about what’s right and wrong are not enough unless they are given life by your actions.

To everyone working in our schools: if you’re not here to do something about these gaps — and if you're not prepared to be accountable for what you do and what you leave undone — then your time is past.

Seattle families have been banging their heads against the same wall for seventy years now. We’ve been perpetuating racism through our acceptance of an intolerable status quo for that entire time as well.

It’s awfully hard to convince myself it's a good idea to wake up Tuesday morning and send my son, who is not white, back to Emerson Elementary, our long-neglected neighborhood school in the Seattle district. In what way have Seattle Public Schools earned my son’s presence? We know, based on 70 years of meaningful inaction, that they cannot promise to treat my son the same as they’ll treat the white kids. We know, based on 70 years of failure to change, that all of our current advocacy efforts will not work in time to make a difference for my son.

We know that talk is cheap and that timid, tepid plans are not going to lead us where we need to go. I’ll say it again: Believing the opportunity gaps in Seattle’s schools are unacceptable is not enough until we stop accepting them.

I’m determined to do more than talk, to do more than just complain about the status quo while supporting it with my actions and inactions.

So, how do we move beyond words and take action to truly disrupt a system that has been openly racist for 70 years?

For me, as a parent writing about inequity in Seattle schools while raising kids of color, at what point does that look like pulling my kids out of public school? At what point does it look like students and families boycotting an institution with a documented history of racism stretching as far back into the past as we can see? When do we stop voluntarily participating in this form of oppression?

 

James 2:14-17

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

In case you missed it, I had an op-ed published in the Seattle Times, and the comments illustrate well our city's education issues

I am humbled to share that the Seattle Times published an op-ed that I wrote recently. I'm happy to report it's been quite well-received by people who already know and like me.

A week later, the digital version has more than 150 comments, and I appreciate all the discourse and discussion it has spurred. However, I'm disappointed (but not surprised) to read the number of comments (including from teachers!) blaming parents and families.

We claim to believe that public education is the great equalizer, but that idea rings very hollow when we start down this line of thinking. Essentially, that would be admitting that only the kids lucky enough to have a stable, loving home life with plenty of food and resources are expected to succeed. Others might make it, but it's up to them, as kids, to overcome their own hurdles -- to overcome whatever difficulty they happened to be born into. So, if a kid doesn't arrive at school in pristine learning condition, we just throw our hands up? If we try intervention after intervention, as someone described in one comment, we eventually just give up?

When is it up to the adults to meet the students where they're at as opposed to the other way around? This is the kind of adult-centered thinking about our schools that leaves our kids so high and dry.

Implicit in these comments is that we're talking about kids of color when describing the lower-income kids with the crazier home lives. You know, the home lives that can't possibly be overcome by the poor adult teachers even though they were hired to do exactly the job of teaching all the kids in the class -- not just the ones they find easy to teach. So, if many of these commenters are telling us that families of color are more chaotic than the typical white family, I would ask why they believe that to be true. Is it inherently true that white parents are more stable and loving and involved in their kids' education? Are those just virtues that tend to accompany whiteness? Easy answer: No! That's super racist.

Could you consider with me, on the other hand, that racial inequity in Seattle (and the rest of the country) is a function of a society and a government that has given different opportunities to different groups of people for hundreds of years? We know it's not driven by DNA. The gaps in all sectors must have originated someplace. But you want to blame individual parents?

I would have liked to find more collaboration in these comments in pursuit of solutions. Instead, I've largely read resignation, denial, blame, and plenty of criticism of my word choices. I'm not a teacher. I've never been a principal or a superintendent, and frankly, I don't want to be. I spent four years working in a high school in Oregon with a huge opportunity gap, though, and I've got kids in Seattle. I've volunteered repeatedly in my son's classrooms (although not yet this year) and in others throughout the city, and unlike many of the sector's most vocal critics I've visited just about every charter school in the Puget Sound. But like I said, I'm not the person the School Board should hire to chart our new course. I'm just someone who knows there are deep inequities at play in our schools. Should we wait to call out problems until we have all the answers? 

I think we can do better. If we're so good, as some have pointed out, at educating white kids in Seattle, why rest on that laurel? This shows us a glimpse of our potential, but also the depth of our racism and, sadly, our apathy. The depth of our willingness to live in denial for the sake of our own comfort. Why celebrate that without demanding that the right to a high-quality education be extended to all kids?

Let me know what you think.

 

Halvorson Seattle Times Op-Ed

Highline Schools continue to blaze trails where Seattle's stand idle

Once upon a time back in 2011, Susan Enfield was the interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. Just when it looked like Seattle might hand her the job on a full-time basis, Enfield said she didn't want the gig. She withdrew her name from consideration -- not because she didn't want to be a superintendent, but because she didn't want to be a superintendent in Seattle.

Soon after, she was chosen to steer the ship for Highline Public Schools, a smaller district just outside Seattle with less-dysfunctional governance. Since that time, Highline Public Schools have repeatedly taken bold steps in the name of equity, addressing hard truths and implementing innovative programs and solutions in an earnest effort to make meaningful change.

The results so far have been remarkable. District-wide graduation rates grew from 62.5 percent in 2012 to 74.8 percent in 2016, but the graduation-rate gaps along racial lines have all but closed:

Highline's discipline rates have seen a similar trajectory, with out-of-school suspensions and expulsions dropping to 682 in 2017 from 2,117 in 2012. But again, even more impressive is that the disproportionality in the district's discipline rates is quickly disappearing:

 

Seattle's schools, meanwhile, have languished in the unacceptable status quo, which includes problems with disproportionate discipline along racial lines and the fifth-worst achievement gap in the nation. Jose Banda, who took over as superintendent after Enfield's departure, didn't last two years and could not have been more pointless. Larry Nyland has been fine but uninspiring.

How did we get here? How did "progressive" Seattle manage to lose a thrilling talent like Enfield to a formerly hole-in-the-wall district like Highline?

Neal Morton wrote a story recently for the Seattle Times about a new program in Highline aiming to get more bilingual teachers into classrooms that's getting well-deserved attention nationally. While primarily focused on the forward-thinking, equity-minded pathway to teaching that Enfield's district has created, Morton's article touches on a number of the deep-seated issues that have led to the strange, nuanced tapestry of disparities between Seattle and Highline.

For one thing, it's important to know that a primary reason Susan Enfield left Seattle Public Schools is the utter dysfunction of the Seattle School Board. She has never, to my knowledge, acknowledged this publicly, but it's the truth. Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, even said as much when Enfield announced she was leaving SPS nearly six years ago. Korsmo told the Seattle Times at the time that she knew Enfield might withdraw from the hiring process because "it was clear that the revamped School Board, which held its first meeting last week, would likely try to control more of district operations than Enfield may have been comfortable with."

That means Seattle schools' problems run so deep, and are so inexplicably supported by voters, that we can't even attract and retain the type of leader who might be able to help us solve them. And it's gone beyond just top-level leadership. Seattle has been hemorrhaging bold, equity-minded staff for years now. Many, not surprisingly, are ending up in Highline.

Take Jonathan Ruiz Velasco, for example, who's the focus of Morton's story for the Times. Ruiz Velasco worked for five years as a bilingual instructional aide at Bailey-Gatzert Elementary in Seattle's Central District. When he decided he wanted to become a teacher, however, Ruiz Velasco had to look outside of Seattle Public Schools to find an appropriate pathway into the classroom. He ended up as part of "a new program in Highline Public Schools, where bilingual paraeducators can tap state-funded scholarships to help them earn teaching certificates."

Seattle has fewer alternative pathway options for educators because the teachers unions, in conjunction with a misguided school board, have blocked the establishment of such pathways at every turn, working to discredit and disallow anything different than traditional teacher education and certification.

Teach For America's arrival in Seattle in 2011, for example, drew such fervent opposition that eager young teachers were targeted with vicious online attacks. Several had their personal information posted online, which led to a break-in and robbery for three teachers sharing a house, and to a dangerously compromised restraining order against a past abuser for another young woman.

The school board, too, made ridding Seattle of TFA one of its primary missions, and dealt aggressively and callously with the organization as it tried to make inroads. As a result, while TFA is flourishing in most of the state, especially in eastern Washington where politics and acknowledged needs are different, the organization does not currently place teachers in Seattle Public Schools because of the hostile climate -- meaning another alternative pathway to certification is unavailable in the state's largest district, and another potential partner was treated like an enemy.

Seattle is a "progressive" city in many ways. We can all gleefully smoke weed and marry whomever we like, but if you start talking about public education in a way that runs counter to the union propaganda, you're not going to stay popular for long.

And that just means our kids are just going to keep losing out on the progress they need us to make. What could our schools look like in Seattle if Susan Enfield had been our superintendent these past five years?

Until we are as committed to telling hard truths and making hard changes in our schools as we are to fighting to preserve the status quo, we'll never know. And our kids will keep getting left behind in the crosshairs.

Test results show Washington is making 'little progress' toward closing gaps

Test results show Washington is making 'little progress' toward closing gaps

The results of last spring’s Smarter Balanced tests are in, and Washington State’s students scored almost exactly the same as they had the year before on the standardized math and language arts tests.

Paige Cornwell dug into the uninspiring results recently for the Seattle Times. The only areas of statewide improvement over the previous year were sixth- and seventh-grade math, and seventh grade reading, which had the largest gain at 1.6 percent.

That’s it.

“What jumps out are the persistent achievement gaps and the fact that little progress is being made,” state superintendent Chris Reykdal said, “and it’s not enough.”

Read More

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.

 

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.

 

A Seattle parent has raised almost $30,000 to pay every student lunch debt in the district

A friend told an inspiring story recently about her reaction to transit police harassing a 15-year-old black boy on Seattle’s light rail. The officer would not let anyone nearby pay his $2.50 fee, though many offered, and instead called the sheriff.

My friend moved eventually and stood between the officer and the boy he was trying to intimidate, and she ended up being one of two adults -- two strangers -- who stayed and waited with the boy until the sheriff arrived.

They physically intervened on a potentially dangerous situation, even though it was inconvenient and a little scary -- my friend even had her young son with her.

They were paying attention and willing to go out on a limb.

Jeff Lew is a parent in Seattle and a graduate of Seattle Public Schools. He found out about this phenomenon of school lunch debt and the corresponding “lunch shaming” and decided to take action locally. He set up a GoFundMe page to first cover the lunch debt at his son’s school ($97.10), then the school lunch debt for all of Seattle Public Schools.

Paige Cornwell wrote about it for the Seattle Times:

 

In Seattle, about 3,700 students now owe the $21,468 for school meals. The majority are families who don’t qualify for the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program, said district spokesman Luke Duecy. Breakfast and lunch prices range from $2 to $3.25.

Once a student owes $15 or more, schools have the option of providing the modified meals, although some just give the full meal anyway.

‘Our policy is kids don’t go without a breakfast or lunch if they don’t have money at the time,’ Duecy said. ‘We feed them. We never shame any child like other districts might do.’

In the past, other Puget Sound school districts have been accused of lunch-shaming. In 2014, a Kent middle-school student’s lunch was taken from him and thrown out because his lunch account was 26 cents short. The district later apologized. For two weeks in 2008, the Edmonds School District took away hot lunches from students who owed $10 or more before the district suspended the policy.

In Seattle, Lew wanted to make sure all students get an equal lunch after reading stories about more recent — and more extreme — examples of lunch-shaming outside Washington.

 

Lew saw a problem, and he found a way to be of service.

Let him be an example we keep in mind. We’ve got no shortage of problems, it seems. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Let’s remember these inequitable systems are manifested on individual, person-to-person levels every day. Just as we need to be advocating for systemic change, we can be on the lookout for ways to intervene on inequity as it presents itself in person as well.

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 teachers vote against McCleary walkout

The Seattle teachers union voted down a proposed one-day walkout meant to pressure the legislature to fully fund its McCleary obligation.

This would hardly be unusual for Seattle's teachers. In fact, this would be their third strike or walkout in the past three school years.

We've all been agreeing for years now that we need a solution that fully funds our schools. I'm glad to see the teachers recognizing that taking a day of classroom instruction away from their students will do more harm than good at this point. Or at any rate, it's not going to apply such pressure as the legislature hasn't already been feeling.

From Paige Cornwell of the Seattle Times:

Union members who voted no questioned the effectiveness of a walkout, as well as the disruption it would cause for students and families. Lawton Elementary teacher Lyon Terry said his experiences with the 2015 walkout and strike led him to vote no on the proposed walkout.
“We walked out to fund education, but we ended up having to strike anyway,” Terry said. “My interpretation was that it wasn’t effective in that way. I don’t think this one would be, either.”
In addition to possibly changing the last day of school, students in some Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes are scheduled to take exams on May 1. The AP exams, which students can take to earn college credit if they score high enough, can be rescheduled, union leaders wrote in an email to members. But the IB exams, which students in the program take to earn their IB diploma, can’t be taken on a different day. [Union President Phyllis] Campano said she has heard more concerns from members this year than the last time they voted on a walkout.

 

Interestingly, Seattle City Councilmembers Mike O'Brien and Kshama Sawant jointly told the city's teachers through the South Seattle Emerald, "If you decide to go on strike, we'll have your back."

I give Sawant a mountain of credit as a fearless voice for equity, but in this case, it seems like she and O'Brien might be seeing this issue for what they wish it were, rather than for what it is.

They write of the May 1 walkout as part of a larger show of resistance throughout the day, and they fold SEA's potential action in with other labor rights issues:

We applaud the incredible courage Seattle educators are showing in considering strike action on behalf of their students, their schools, and all those in our community under attack from the Trump administrations. Your bold actions are an inspiration for working people everywhere.
May 1 will be a historic day of resistance, with immigrants, women, students, and workers taking the streets across the country. In California, a coalition of SEIU locals, United Service Workers West, and workers center members (nearly 350,000 workers altogether!) are preparing to go on strike.
From the Fight for $15 to the NoDAPL campaign, Seattle’s movements of working people have again and again acted as a catalyst for change nationally. Now, Seattle’s labor movement is helping lead the way on bold May 1 action.
UAW local 4121, which represents graduate student workers at the University of Washington, are also voting on a similar strike action. And importantly, last week, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a resolution in support of local unions taking strike and protest actions on May 1.
The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that the state legislature is unconstitutionally failing to fund public education, and yet this outrage has continued for years. Underfunding of public schools impacts students of color in particular, as well as young people from low-income households.

This misses the mark for me. Teachers' rights as workers are not at stake, unless you consider the gross under-representation of people of color in the field -- 80 percent of current Seattle Public Schools teachers are white -- so this walkout would have been a students' rights issue, not a labor issue.

And, thankfully, the union voted against it in the end. I appreciate that they will maintain continuity in the classroom while finding other ways to advocate for a legislative fix for McCleary.

 

SPS home to fifth-worst racial achievement gap in the U.S. -- after eliminating equity and race relations dept. in 2008

Seattle Public Schools boasts the fifth-worst achievement gap between white and black students in the nation. Progressive Seattle trails only Washington D.C., Atlanta, Charleston and Oakland when it comes to racial inequity in education.

What’s worse, in as much as that’s possible, is that the first (and last) director of equity and race relations saw her position eliminated along with the entire department in 2008. She now says the district knew plainly about the gap 10 years ago and actively denied and suppressed knowledge and conversation around the issue.

Seattle Times columnist Gene Balk has written a straightforward, jarring account of a school system operating with deeply embedded structural racism. It is the kind of writing that should shake people awake, the kind you hope will spur action, because the inequity is so plainly laid out that it can’t be missed or misunderstood.

 

The nation’s big-city school districts that rank alongside Seattle for the widest white-black academic gaps — Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.; and Oakland, Calif. — all have high levels of segregation. This tends to concentrate kids with social and economic disadvantages in certain schools, which compounds the obstacles to achievement they face.
Seattle schools, too, have become increasingly segregated. In 29 of the city’s 98 public schools, at least 80 percent of students are black, Latino, Asian American or Native American.
But segregation alone might not explain Seattle’s white-black achievement gap, says Caprice Hollins. She served as the district’s first director of equity and race relations from 2004 to 2008, at which point her department was eliminated — and her job along with it.
“I was hired out of this realization that we needed to pay special attention to our students of color. And we were making inroads,” Hollins said. “Then the department shuts down — the new school board no longer supported it. And it’s not until years later that they’re restarting this work. There is always this restarting of the work, depending on who the leadership is.”
But during her tenure there, she faced strong resistance to her often bold approach. “The real understanding of equity,” she said, “is where we recognize that not everybody starts out on a level playing field.” So Hollins advocated for a redistribution of resources more heavily toward children of color in struggling schools.
“And white parents might start to say ‘what about my kids?’ They’re not recognizing that their kids already have what they need,” she said. “But just having this conversation becomes a very sensitive, political thing.”
When speaking with parents of color, she heard time and again their sense that their children weren’t being treated the same as white kids in the classroom. Hollins instituted mandatory workshops for teachers and administrators that focused on issues of race and equity, and which addressed issues that can make some folks uneasy — concepts like unconscious bias and the existence of white privilege.
Not surprisingly, this stirred up controversy. Some saw Hollins’ approach as political correctness run amok. That overshadowed any success she had — and during her tenure, the racial gap in standardized test scores narrowed modestly.
But complaints about her from white parents mounted, Hollins says. The district shut down her department, which a spokesperson said at the time was not related to the complaints.
Hollins thinks it was.
“They panicked,” she said. “Rather than pushing back and saying, ‘hey, look at our data here, this is why we are doing this,’ instead they said, ‘Caprice, you need to stop.’ ”
Hollins sees Seattle, despite its progressive reputation, as a community that struggles like any other when discussing its institutional racism and why its black children aren’t succeeding.
“People kept saying to me, ‘stop talking about it,’ ” she said. “But we have this achievement gap. How are we going to solve this problem if we can’t talk about it?”
Perhaps, with the release of this glaring new data, we’ll finally find a way.
The district has now reinstated the department, and in fact, Hollins was recently brought back to do professional-development workshops.

 

You should read the entire thing, and share it with everyone you know with ties to the state of Washington, because while Seattle’s discrepancies are the state’s worst, the city’s brothers and sisters across the state are struggling with similar issues as well.

You know it's bad when students end up teaching the class themselves

How many ways can we let our kids down? If you are a public school system it seems the ways are innumerable.

Case in point: due to dysfunction in the Seattle Public Schools students in one class are teaching themselves, even though there are three teachers on staff paid to do the teaching.

Julia Furukawa, a senior at Garfield High School, has taken the lead in teaching her Concert Choir class - a task she preps for during her AP Statistics, AP Biology, and History classes.

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat says the problem stems from adults "behaving badly," and kids getting short-changed.

He reports:

It’s a sore point because the district is astonishingly employing three adults related to these classes. One is the former choir director Carol Burton, whom the district fired last year for multiple lapses on a field trip. She was reinstated by a judge last week but remains on paid leave as the district figures out whether to let her return to Garfield.
Another is a replacement choir director who mysteriously bolted midyear but who mysteriously also remains employed by the district. The third is a sub called in to oversee the classes, but who has no music experience.
Bottom line: Since that fateful field trip to New Orleans in early 2015, the choirs have had no real instructor for about seven of the 12 months the school has been in session.
[...]
Most every adult at every level — from the original choir teacher to district staff who didn’t warn the school of a student with behavioral problems to the superintendent who has seemed more concerned with legal liability than getting these kids a teacher — all failed these students to one degree or another.

It's one thing to keep the pressure on the state for full-funding of our public schools. It's another to demand the district isn't paying teachers not to teach.

If you want to read the full face-palm inducing story, read it here.

As the charter dust settles, will the line in the sand remain?

Gov. Jay Inslee has passively allowed charter schools to move forward.

The bill has become law, and the questions of constitutionality have been addressed -- at least to the court's satisfaction.

The dust has begun to settle, which means everyone who has been embedded in this squabble can take a breath, take stock, and take a look ahead for the first time in months.

This much is clear: charter schools have become a line in the sand on the beach of public education.

The question is, will we keep re-drawing the same line? Or will we let it wash away with tomorrow's tide and focus together on forging ahead?

Both sides have always shared considerable common ground, but now that charter schools are an active part of Washington’s public school system, the separation between one and the next is even more negligible.

Both sides are advocating loudly for a stronger public education system. Both sides, I have to believe, want only the best for students. We may have different opinions as to what that looks like -- about which students most need our advocacy or how precisely to deliver the education and attention they deserve -- but the goals of all education advocates are much more similar than they are different.

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and an affiliate faculty member at the University of Washington Bothell, wrote a razor-sharp op-ed for the Seattle Times that asks important questions and rightly challenges all sides to move forward together:

“But moving beyond vitriol and petty political squabbles requires leadership from community leaders, charter-school leaders, and district and elected officials — all of whom must set a tone for others to follow.
It is time to stop wasting time, energy and money mounting fights to oppose charter schools that serve some of our state’s most at-risk students. Those resources could be marshaled instead to tackle structural inequities — such as a wide achievement gap between minority and nonminority students, inadequate school funding and uneven teacher quality — in all our public schools.
It is time for charter leaders to work with local schools to build relationships between teachers and parents.
It is time for visionary district leaders to imagine ways that nimble charter schools might help them reach their goals of helping all students achieve their potential.
It is time to recognize that public education embodies a set of goals and ideals — equity, transparency, accountability — not a particular set of institutions grounded in norms developed hundreds of years ago for a largely agrarian society.
Charter schools aren’t some magic solution. But they are proving themselves a valued component of 21st-century public schooling by demonstrating what’s possible when schools are freed from certain rules and regulations in exchange for being held accountable for student outcomes. Far from a distraction, charter schools are here to stay. Far from damaging public education, when ably implemented, charter schools enrich and strengthen the fabric of public education.
It is time to move on and focus on students, not battle lines.”