Over the weekend, the Seattle School Board finally released the applications of the 12 Southeast Seattle residents who filed to replace Betty Patu on the board. The District 7 seat, which Patu held for 10 years, was vacated July 1 and will be filled when the six remaining board members cast votes for their preferred applicant at the Aug. 14 board meeting.Read More
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.Read More
Check out this blog post from the Washington State Superintendent’s Office (OSPI). It’s supposed to explain how our state will hold public schools accountable for educating all kids.
Thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state is required to have a plan for this if they want to continue getting money from the federal government. But instead of clarifying anything, their blog post reads like a user’s manual that’s been translated from English to German and back to English again.
Here’s an excerpt (if your eyes start to cross, just skip to the next paragraph):
In order to measure school performance and identify schools who need further support, the Accountability System Workgroup voted to recommend that each school’s performance be measured on a 1–10 scale for each measure. These scales will be frozen, allowing schools to move around as they make progress between years. The multiple measures that make up this performance framework will be calculated for both the school as a whole and for all subgroups, which will unmask student subgroups. The lowest performing five percent of schools will be identified for comprehensive support, and any student subgroup that falls below the five percent threshold will be identified for targeted support, separate from comprehensive support.
Then, with no further explanation, we are given this equally confusing graphic to look at:
What About Parents Like Me?
This is all supposed to provide clarity for parents like me who send their kids to schools like Emerson.
Emerson is our neighborhood elementary school, and my son is a third-grader there. He and the vast majority of his fellow students are students of color, and it’s one of just a couple schools in Seattle whose free/reduced lunch percentages are so high that every kid gets to eat for free.
We are starting this new school year with our third new principal in four years. We’re excited about the new leadership, and we love the diversity of the student body and the staff. But the fact remains that we don’t have the resources or the outcomes at Emerson that more affluent schools enjoy in Seattle.
Ours is a school that has been neglected by the system for decades now. So you’ll excuse me if I have a hard time seeing how this chart will do anything to change that. (Also, for what it’s worth, it looks like they chose the chart’s color palette from the patterned Crock-Pot my parents got as a wedding gift in the late ’70s.)
I’m Losing Faith
It makes me question the whole premise of creating a “state accountability plan” under ESSA. Why are we investing all this time and effort in creating a system that has no backbone, that doesn’t even try to solve our greatest issues?
As a parent of Black children, as a parent feeling concerned about the significant equity issues in our schools, this plan doesn’t connect to reality for me. It assumes the status quo is a reasonable starting point.
Seattle has the fifth-worst achievement gap between Black students and white students in the nation. We’ve been found guilty of disproportionately disciplining Black students across the district. These are not abstract figures. These are real kids, people’s beloved children, being chewed up and spit out by an unfair, racist system. How is this state accountability system going to help me as a parent?
The truth is, it can’t help me. It can’t help my kids. Because that’s not what it was designed to do.
Washington State was given a chance to redesign what we do in our schools by asking and answering some big questions: What will we reward? What do we truly value? What will we do to make sure our systems and our schools and our teachers treat all kids and families fairly and with respect?
But instead of meeting these deep-seated issues with vulnerability and courage, we buried them in the weeds of our ESSA plan, slapping a new name on the same limited scope and timid vision that have been guiding our schools since forever.
It’s not enough.
Sure, the plan acknowledges our opportunity and achievement gaps, but it takes only the smallest of steps toward closing them. It will give Emerson slightly different amounts of money for slightly different reasons. But it fails to address the source of Emerson’s neglect and instead merely changes the bandages on our gaping wound. It can only hope to stop the bleeding, not to actually heal anything.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I need Washington’s ESSA plan, frankly, to read like an anti-bias manifesto, or I don’t care about it. I need it not to simply acknowledge and pay lip service to systemic racism and classism and the gaps they create. I need our state’s plan to acknowledge that nothing else matters until these gaps are closed -- that if our schools are setting some students up for success at the expense of others, then our schools are part of the problem of systemic division and oppression that plagues our country as a whole.
We know firsthand in Washington state what’s possible when you take bold direct action in the name of human rights. Our voices legalized gay marriage and public school choice. We’ve been a standard-bearer for the rest of the nation in standing up to oppressive federal legislation this year.
But when it comes to our kids and our schools, we’re quiet. We’re accepting of milquetoast. We’re willing to let our schools be so much less than they must be.
An inequitable school system fails everyone by perpetuating disparity and discrimination. Our statewide school leaders are failing us in the same way by accepting this incremental, play-it-safe plan. It’s time to start thinking differently about “fixing” education.
We don’t need education reform. We need an education revolution. And maybe that starts by more boldly and more strongly rejecting the systems that keep us from realizing those changes.
Washington’s ESSA plan is the latest and greatest extension of that willingness to make slow, barely noticeable “progress” at the expense of our currently vulnerable students and families. It’s a written testament to our passive approach to school reform.
So, my only honest response to Washington’s ESSA plan is to say, no. Our kids need a revolution and you’re offering a clean band-aid. It’s not enough.
"Students don't fare as well academically when they're not able to handle the emotional rigors of being a human, or the social pressures of growing up. When their basic needs aren't being met, or when they're consistently the targets of racist thoughts, words and deeds.
Schools won't be able to fully address students' social and emotional development without acknowledging race and inequity. If they're forced to improve SEL, it may gradually force schools to create a better environment for students of color and students from low-income families -- those typically on the wrong side of the opportunity gap.
Pushing schools to focus on SEL could be a sneaky tool for equity in the end."Read More
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.
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.
You’ve probably heard this story before. A folksy, man-of-the-people politician has a decision to make, and he needs to know what his constituents think about the matter. He needs to tap into the wisdom of the people so that his policies can “reflect the needs of our diverse community.”
So, the politician (in this case, let’s call him Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal) rolls up his sleeves and meets the people where they’re at, right? He needs to hear from us -- the people! -- so Reykdal reaches out and connects with us on our terms, not his. He listens without making assumptions.
He… schedules a series of informational webinars!
Gosh, Chris. As always, you really get me.
With Washington’s ESSA accountability plan due to the feds in September, Reykdal’s office has scheduled four webinars in August to share details, recent revisions, and ways to give feedback on the plan. I’ve already had to drink an extra cup of coffee just thinking about trying to stay awake through it.
But seriously, this is all real. That line about “reflecting the needs of our diverse community” is taken right from Reykdal’s recent press release announcing these webinars. The stated goal is to get some feedback from people like me and you on our state’s new education plan -- a federal requirement.
If Reykdal is actually listening, here’s what I want him to hear about me and my community:
If you’re not willing to turn things on their head, you can’t solve our problems. The opportunity gap didn’t just arise a few years ago. People of color have always been oppressed in this country, and that has always played out in our education system as well. If you think a few tweaks are all it will take to set our schools on a different path, we disagree. We need you to be bold, or else to sleep at night knowing that your time in this office is coming at the expense of our kids.
OSPI (the state superintendent’s office) will officially release the revised plan on Aug. 7, opening up a 30-day public comment period. They will ask for comment and approval from Gov. Jay Inslee, the state legislature and the state board of education at that time as well. All this feedback will be compiled for Reykdal to review before submission, who promises in the press release to “use our new flexibility to support all students and address gaps for students that have been historically underserved by our education system.”
Nice. But as always, they don’t tell us how they’re going to do it. They just tell us how they’re going to pay for it. So, Washington’s plan describes methods of financial support for struggling students and schools, but it does not outline significant practical changes that can be expected to actually help close our state’s opportunity gap, which is one of the worst in the nation.
That’s going to take bold, drastic, at-times-unpopular changes. Real, concrete changes involving new policies, expectations and repercussions. Instead, we’re getting a lot of people sincerely agreeing that we should close the opportunity gap, then shaking hands and moving on with business as usual.
Reykdal shared his vision for our schools earlier this month, and it was similarly vague when it comes to equity, acknowledging our gaps and our systemic discrimination without offering tangible solutions.
For what it’s worth, just about every state seems to be struggling with this same issue. Still, I question just how effectively Reykdal’s office is truly engaging stakeholders, because that’s where these answers can be found. A group of Seattle educators and NAACP members, for example, offered a “concrete plan to close intolerable opportunity gaps” in Seattle Public Schools just a couple days ago. The Campaign for Student Success has authored a detailed plan for equitable school funding in the state. Organic, community-based ideas and leadership are not in short supply. They’re just not always recognized.
The 30-day comment period that will open up in August is our last chance to impact the plan that will guide our schools into the next decade.
Registration information for the four webinars:
• Tuesday, August 15, 4–6 p.m. (register)
• Saturday, August 19, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. (register)
• Wednesday, August 23, 5–7 p.m. (register)
• Wednesday, August 30, 6–8 p.m. (register)