Systemic oppression demands a systemic exodus

Systemic oppression demands a systemic exodus

Our traditional public schools are systemically inequitable — in Seattle, in Washington State, and everywhere else in the United States. Put another way, our schools are consistently producing inequitable outcomes based on race and family income, and it’s a form of systemic oppression.

We know this, most of us. But for most of us, that’s all we do. We know it. It’s mostly an intellectual idea.

So instead of idle knowledge, let’s consider for a moment what that really means — systemic oppression — and what it means for us as human beings.

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Seattle Public Schools unveiled a new strategic plan based on targeted universalism! Will it be enough?

Seattle Public Schools unveiled a new strategic plan based on targeted universalism! Will it be enough?

The opportunity gap, as we all know, is a byproduct of systemic oppression playing out in our schools. The way to upend systemic oppression is to find a way to turn the system on its head. Targeted universalism applies that table-flipping mentality in a constructive way. I’m so surprised and pleased to hear this idea mentioned as our schools’ strategic north star.

But…

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Searching for the intersections in layers of oppressed identities

Searching for the intersections in layers of oppressed identities

THINX, a company that designs menstrual hygiene products, has teamed up with the nonprofit PERIOD to call on school leaders and local elected officials in 10 cities across the country (including Seattle and Portland) to provide students with free menstrual hygiene products.

This is a powerful example of why we need to think in terms of intersectionality. Systems of oppression overlap, and folks at the intersection of multiple non-dominant culture/oppressed identities have worse outcomes for a reason.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

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Do any parents know anything about Washington State's ESSA plan?

Do any parents know anything about Washington State's ESSA plan?

Washington State submitted its ESSA plan to the feds last week. But you already knew that, right?

Wait, you didn’t? You don’t even know what ESSA is?

Fear not. You’re not alone. Nobody else I know seems to know anything about it either.

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With opposition fading, charter schools in Washington continue to grow to meet growing demand

With opposition fading, charter schools in Washington continue to grow to meet growing demand

"As we greet a new school year and say goodbye to another summer, I can’t help but notice that the rabid fervor over charter schools in Washington State has mostly flamed out.

At this time last year, everyone was still up in arms. The Washington Education Association had just led the filing of another lawsuit against the charter sector in an effort to maintain its monopoly on free public education.

Our state attorney general had just entered the fray, and the NAACP had issued its first suggestion of a nationwide moratorium on charter schools.

By February of this year, however, a judge had ruled in favor of charter schools, and the several months since have seen them slip — at last — out of the limelight for a moment. "

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Time is running out! Public comment on ESSA in Washington State ends Tuesday

Time is running out! Public comment on ESSA in Washington State ends Tuesday

"This is our last chance to ask the important questions. Does Washington's ESSA plan protect our most vulnerable students? Is our plan bold enough to truly eliminate our state's significant opportunity and achievement gaps? Will every student genuinely have the opportunity to succeed under this plan?

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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.

 

OSPI's plan for collecting school data lacks transparency and urgency

We can all pretty much agree that parents deserve to know how well their child’s school is doing. We can also agree, I think, that parents should be getting that information in a timely fashion. I mean, it wouldn’t do me much good to get my son’s second-grade report card when he’s in fifth grade.

That’s basically what OSPI is planning to do, though, so maybe I’m assuming too much thinking we all agree on the importance of timely information about schools.

Under Washington’s new ESSA plan, the state will measure graduation rates, how many students are reading and doing math on grade level, how well students are growing academically (even if they’re not yet on grade level), and other important stuff.

They’ll use all of this to give schools a report card based on a three-year average. Unfortunately, Washington will only ask schools to report every three years.

In other words, in some years, parents would have access only to school ratings based on information that’s between three and six years old. Taking a three-year average makes sense — it can be misleading to judge the hard work of teaching kids by such a small sample size as a single year. But not recalibrating that three-year average every year is a disservice to parents and others seeking to have timely information about what’s happening in Washington schools.

Take my son’s school, Emerson Elementary in South Seattle, as an example. We will have a new principal in the fall, and when Dr. Erin Rasmussen officially replaces the outgoing Dr. Andrea Drake next month, she will be the school’s fourth principal in the last four years.

So, if I’m a parent looking for more information about Emerson under Washington’s new ESSA plan, I might be looking at a rating based on data collected four principals ago.

Of course, it’s not exactly a straightforward process trying to learn about school quality as it is.

Emerson Elementary School Student Demographics

Emerson Elementary School Student Demographics

GreatSchools.org rates Emerson a 2 out of 10 and seems to consider the school to be subpar by almost every conceivable metric except diversity, which, to the site’s credit, they do explain as being a genuine strength.

Thurgood Marshall Elementary, as another example, is also a public elementary school in Seattle, but it’s an option school, which means students can enroll from anywhere in the district and typically whitens up the student demographics. Thurgood in particular commonly draws students from the south end looking for a choice beyond their neighborhood school.

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Student Demographics

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Student Demographics

Great Schools gives Thurgood Marshall a 10 out of 10 rating. The test scores look good, and it’s a fairly diverse school, even if white students do outnumber any other individual racial/ethnic group by more than 2:1. So, it must be better than Emerson, right?

As clear cut as Great Schools would make it seem, they aren’t sharing the full picture either. Take this article from last year from the Seattle Globalist, whose second paragraph poses a simple question you wouldn’t have known to ask from looking at Thurgood’s perfect rating: “Why are the classrooms inside Thurgood Marshall so segregated?”

So, then I’m back at square one. I obviously don’t want my son, himself a student of color, attending a school that is systematically discriminatory. But I obviously don’t want my curious, intelligent, expressive, creative son going to a school that can’t challenge him academically, either.

As always, I have more questions than answers. One thing is clear, though: it’s almost impossible to make a fully informed decision with our current school rating and accountability systems.

We need that to change, and moving to a data collection plan that only checks in every three years is not a step forward. If parents are going to gain timely access to truly relevant information about their schools, it will happen by monitoring this process of developing a new ESSA plan and demanding more equitable schools and more thorough, transparent reporting processes.

I'll be talking with education activist Chris Stewart at next month's WA Charters Conference

I am excited to share that I've been asked to facilitate a keynote conversation with education writer and activist Chris Stewart at the third annual Washington State Charter Schools Association Conference on May 13. (Spoiler: I said yes.)

The entire conference looks great, with an overt focus on equity and advocacy. Sessions include titles like "Using Racial Equity Tool to Eliminate Systematic Racism," "Hot Button Issues: Student Discipline & Disproportionality," and "Supporting Teachers & Leaders of Color." Nice.

I'm particularly happy that WA Charters chose Chris Stewart as their keynote speaker, not only because they asked me to participate, but because I think it reflects and reinforces the charter sector's commitment to equity and to having honest conversations about race. Chris is a renowned speaker and writer on the subject of racial equity in public education, and he's the man behind Citizen Ed, a blog, podcast and full-blown education news and opinion page. If you're not familiar with his work, I would encourage you to start reading.

citizen stewart

I knew him first as an inspiring voice writing and speaking on behalf of marginalized communities, exposing inequity in schools and demanding change. As I've gotten to know him over the past couple years, I've only come to appreciate more the depth of his wisdom and the strength of his vision when it comes to the fight for better schools. 

Take this nugget, for instance, from an insightful post Chris wrote about social justice in education reform:

We can’t become paralyzed or disillusioned. We can’t live in our feelings forever. We can’t forget that lives and minds are at risk, and we can’t live the values we profess if we wilt in the face of setbacks.
No, we can’t join the right-wingers as they attempt to nationalize Michigan’s charter school sewer and make all of America an education casino. But, we can’t join the unionists either as they attempt to remove all accountability from public education as a way to hide unacceptable levels of failure.
And we can’t sit on the sidelines as passive bystanders feeling jilted as forces from the left and right threaten to unwind most of the educational progress we’ve made over decades.
All we can do is stay clear and focused on our permanent interests: accountable systems, high standards that are transparent, better options for kids trapped in poorly performing schools, and a focus on human rights for people who have suffered historic discrimination.

 

We've got a lot to talk about, and I have a lot of questions. What would you like to ask Chris Stewart? What should we make sure to talk about? Let me know in the comments below, on Twitter (@HalvyHalvorson), in an email, or really any other way you can come up with. I'm not too picky.

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.

Why aren't we seeing any developments on Washington's ESSA plan?

Another ESSA deadline came and went like a thief in the night. Did you notice?

In case you missed it — which you probably did, because nobody’s really been talking about it — Congress revamped No Child Left Behind and renamed it the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015. This new law changes a few things, but one of the most significant is that it hands over to states more control of their education systems.

One of the first steps in transitioning to ESSA is for states to submit accountability plans, essentially telling the feds how they plan to monitor themselves and hold themselves accountable within this new framework.

So, for the past year or so, states have been working on these plans, which will establish standards and accountability measures for things like upholding civil rights and serving traditionally neglected demographics.

Monday, April 3, was the first deadline to submit plans to the federal government. States were also given the option submit plans to their own governors on Monday, have them reviewed for 30 days, and then submit to the federal government by May 3. Colorado is doing that. In fact, nine states plus Washington D.C. submitted Monday, and more have announced plans to meet the April deadlne.

Here in Washington State, though, all is eerily quiet. Why aren't we seeing any developments on Washington's ESSA plan? Why is nobody -- aside from Chris Reykdal, who mentioned it once in a bizarre, obscure op-ed in the Eatonville Dispatch -- talking about it?

As I've said, it's hard to feel optimistic that Washington State, with its atrocious opportunity gaps and record of disproportionate discipline, will submit a plan to actually hold our schools accountable to standards they've never met. In fact, without vigilant public oversight, it's hard to see how our schools don't get worse through this process, which I had thought, given the current state of affairs, was inconceivable.

This whole ESSA process is supposed to include perpetual public input and feedback. Washington State has been utterly silent throughout this process. In fact, the state seems be intentionally minimizing public scrutiny — makes me all the more concerned about where we're headed.

 

Has Chris Reykdal already fallen behind as a watchdog for our kids?

We discussed Chris Reykdal, Washington's newly installed State Superintendent of Public Instruction, at great length last year. His opponent in last year's election, Erin Jones, was exceptionally qualified and the first Black woman to run for statewide public office in Washington, and we instead elected Reykdal, a white male career politician.

Now, after less than two months in office, Reykdal is already falling behind.

On Friday the Eatonville Dispatch published an op-ed from Superintendent Reykdal in which he vaguely pledged to "fight for supporters of public education."

He started by highlighting Congress' effort to repeal the regulations on school accountability (emphasis is mine):

On Feb. 9, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as our nation’s 11th secretary of education. A few hours after the confirmation, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal certain rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The rules clarify how ESSA will be implemented in regard to teacher preparation programs and how schools and districts measure success.
The Senate must now vote on the repeal. If the Senate votes in favor of the repeal, the DeVos administration will write its own rules. 

I don't expect most parents to track all the policy developments happening in our nation's capitol, but I do expect the state superintendent to keep up. The U.S. Senate voted to repeal the regulations on March 9, more than a week before this op-ed posted. 

Here's a screenshot just in case they figure it out before something posts and take it down.

 

Reykdal got one thing right: the Betsy DeVos puppeteers will write their own rules if left unchecked, and we can count on those rules to be oppressive in ways both familiar and newly alarming.

Let's hope this is Reykdal's wake-up call, and maybe a reminder that he's the one, as our elected champion for students, who's supposed to be on top of these things.