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
Above all, if we don't know what impact this will have on marginalized communities in the district, then we need to find out. If we're serious about wanting to close the opportunity gap, then the first and most important question we need to ask about every single decision concerning our students and our schools is what impact it will have on Black students. What impact will this have on low-income families in Seattle? What impact will this have on Seattle Public Schools’ indigenous students? What impact will this have on the kids we talk about wanting to uplift?
If our outcomes are ever going to change, then our decision-making processes have to change. Otherwise, we will continue to end up in the same places again and again and again.Read More
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.Read More
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.
As a public school parent, charter schools are a matter of principle. It's about offering parents a choice. My neighbors with privilege have generally found a way to get their kids into a different, “better” school than the historically neglected public elementary school down the block. Our neighbors without as much privilege generally haven't. That's not right.
Of course, with only 10 charter schools open in Washington State last school year, serving only 2400 current students, charters remain mostly a principle in reality as well. They are a slowly growing option for more and more students statewide, and they represent the principle of school choice, and the possibility of doing something radically different than the traditional public school system will allow.Read More
The implication from charter school opponents is that our traditional public school system is the model for how money should be distributed. Charter schools are diverting public funds, they say, using them to serve only “some” students when this public money is intended for all students.
But isn’t that the definition of an opportunity gap? Aren’t our public schools already taking money intended for all students and distributing it inequitably?Read More
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
Seattle Public Schools is searching at breakneck speed for a new superintendent. The district sent out an email to its list of parents and families inviting us all to a public forum at the end of the month to meet the three finalists for the supe job.
This is important. We can submit questions ahead of time by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to copy me (email@example.com)! I'd love to know what questions we're asking.
Let's make sure it's impossible for these candidates to be confused about the fact that equity is our singular top priority. We need to force these potential district leaders to demonstrate whether or not they know what's at stake, and we need to find out for ourselves if any of the three people the Seattle School Board introduces us to will be willing and able to take the kind of radical, bold action that could lead to unprecedented educational equity.Read More
Despite the fact that the application materials still aren’t available online, Ray and Associates, the firm chosen to conduct the search, still lists Feb. 28 as the deadline to apply. The board, meanwhile, after opening their ears to a brief moment of community input, has apparently decided to stay the course and still plans to hire the new superintendent before the end of March.
That doesn't give us much time.
First off, here's what the board says they're looking for in a candidate...Read More
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.
Tell me that’s not enough to drive you crazy.Read More
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:
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.”
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?
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.
So, I know I just spent yesterday writing about Seattle’s beauty, our state’s courageous progress, and activism as love... but now it’s back to reality.
The opportunity gaps in Seattle Public Schools are not closing. We’ve known about them for too long for this to be true. The leaders of our public school system have acknowledged these gaps for too long for the needle to be staying so firmly put.Read More
Walk through the front doors of SOAR Academy these days and you’ll find the building teeming with life and energy, like a dream realized.
In many ways, that’s what the public elementary school in Tacoma represents: the manifestation of a set of beliefs and ideas about what’s possible in public education.
SOAR Academy’s founders sought from the outset to design a public school that would reach students being neglected by the larger system, those who are typically on the wrong end of the opportunity and achievement gaps.
Just two years after first opening its doors to students, those ideas have become a way of life at SOAR Academy, and the dreams of a nurturing, equitable school open to all have become reality for an engaged, grateful community of students and families.
“Here at SOAR we’ve seen tremendous growth and a fulfillment of the whole concept and vision of the alternatives and options that charter schools can provide in a publicly funded setting,” said Dr. Thelma Jackson, chair of the SOAR Academy Board of Directors. “Those of us that have been with SOAR from the very beginning, we’re just pleased as punch to see the school, to see the full classrooms, the waiting list. As I was driving up, just the smiles on the children’s and parents’ faces — they’re glad to be here! They’re here by choice.”
In many ways and from many angles, that’s the key word here: choice.
More than 70 percent of SOAR students identify as students of color, and Black students make up 56 percent of the student body. Fourteen percent receive special education services, and at least 12 percent are homeless or housing insecure. They all chose SOAR Academy, and they did so despite the hyper-political climate that surrounds the charter school sector.
School choice can be an especially foggy issue in Washington, where propaganda and repeated legal attacks led by the Washington Education Association — the state’s teachers union — have attempted to undermine the ability of schools like SOAR to work hard and innovate in an earnest effort to close the gaps created by our traditional public school system. In spite of that, many parents are seeing SOAR for what it is: an ambitious, free, public alternative that just might work for their student where other schools have fallen short.
“We’ve been up against so much ‘fake news’ about what charters are and aren’t, and we’re defying all of that,” Jackson said. “Anytime they say, ‘Oh, they won’t take kids of color; oh, they won’t take special needs kids; oh, they’ll cream the crop,’ [SOAR Academy] just blows the roof off of all those myths. And against all those odds, SOAR is thriving. The kids are thriving.”
Far from creaming, SOAR’S school leader Jessica Stryczek readily acknowledges that many of the school’s students arrived having already experienced such significant trauma as abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Yet thanks to a trauma-informed approach to restorative justice, not a single SOAR student was suspended or expelled last year.
In Seattle Public Schools, on the other hand, disproportionate discipline rates show up from the very beginning, as even kindergarteners of color are suspended and expelled (yes, expelled from kindergarten!) at a rate far beyond their white peers.
Seventy-seven percent of the student body at SOAR is eligible for free or reduced lunch as well, so community meals are available to all students through the community eligibility pool.
SOAR’s staff, meanwhile, reflects the diversity of its student body. More than half the staff at SOAR are people of color, Jackson says, upending yet another myth.
“The traditional line is, ‘Oh, we’d like to hire them, but we can’t find them.’ So, where are the charter schools finding [teachers of color]?” Jackson asks. “And again, they are here by choice. They’re not here through involuntary transfers and the dance of the lemons and all that stuff.”
Enough people have chosen SOAR now that the school’s journey from vision to reality is all but complete, and the early results are showing that the young charter school is delivering on its promise.
In addition to a joyful atmosphere in a building full of well-cared-for elementary students, the school is home to impressive academic rigor as well. Just last year, more than 70 percent of students showed accelerated growth, testing beyond national grade-level expectations on the STAR Early Literacy assessment.
“The concept has taken on a life of its own,” Jackson said. “The proof is in the pudding.”
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.
"This sounds a lot like nitpicking from the sidelines. It’s all too easy and all too common for folks to stand by, knowing something is unjust -- such as the unjustified and unpunished murders of Black men and women by police officers, or the violent danger that comes with branding Black teenagers as criminals, or the unfair treatment Black kids are receiving in our schools and courtrooms -- and then judge the particulars of the people who chose to take action.
Supporting Black Lives Matter helps all gaps because it acknowledges injustice and seeks to change it. Nitpicking Black Lives Matter supports injustice by taking the side of the oppressor.
Remember, there is nothing violent hidden in the phrase 'Black Lives Matter.' There is nothing inherently threatening about it. It doesn’t suggest that Black Lives Matter more than any other lives, or that they matter at anyone’s expense."Read More
This in-fighting has no end in sight.
While we all agree that our kids are not being treated equally, that our systems do not value us all equally, we labor and argue over exactly how and when and what to change, continuing along each day in the same systems we talk about changing, perpetuating them by our presence.
Along the way, we get distracted. We form opinions and positions. Sides and factions develop. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a little mini-struggle that most people don’t know much about. We in education are debating about the everyday lives and futures of American kids and families, and the in-fighting is costing us time and energy and money that we can’t afford to waste on each other.
For instance, some say that charter schools undermine our public education system. Randi Weingarten, head of our nation’s teachers union, actually said recently that school choice is a “polite cousin” to segregation.
Others of us contend that our public school system has already been undermined by its own failure to adapt, and that we need new and different kinds of public schools. And we remind folks that school choice really just means a belief that parents should be allowed to choose what’s best for their kids.
Things have gotten so twisted up that some folks oppose charter schools for literally the same reasons people open them. It’s weird. It would be funny, actually, except that it’s no laughing matter.
We only first started trying to force schools to integrate in 1954. That’s only 63 years ago. Think of the change in demands on the system between now and 1950. We've needed to find ways to change with it, but we’ve tended to be inflexible, rigid, afraid. Those with privilege have clung to it, resulting in a mostly white teaching force, achievement and opportunity gaps along racial lines, and generations of kids who have grown up in schools that treat them unfairly.
I see charters offering that opportunity to innovate, to consider alternatives, to serve long-neglected students (and when I say charters, I only mean public charters. For-profit charters are corporate nonsense). If we limit our schools only to operating within the same framework they always have, how can we expect them to produce different results?
Some decry charter schools as an attempt to privatize our public education system. I suppose that’s got a twisted legitimacy to it, in its way. People are basically asking, why should Bill Gates have so much influence over things?
Well, he shouldn’t — none of us should, unless it happens organically as opposed to financially.
But they’re missing the point: this isn’t Bill Gates’ influence. It’s the influence of many, many advocates and parents and students concentrated and magnified through Gates’ extraordinary wealth and power.
And here’s the extra-twisted-up part: limiting public charter schools actually does more to privatize our system of education as a whole, because you’re working to limit school choice only to those parents who can afford to exercise it. You’re setting up a profitable private school sector to thrive unchecked, and to entice a larger percentage of students than it would if there were more free public school options available.
If you want to keep as many kids in public education as possible, then you have to expand the options. Too many parents are already choosing out for us to pretend this isn’t the case.
Speaking of choosing out, we find another double-sided coin in the debate over standardized tests known as the “opt-out movement.”
Some parents say standardized tests put too great a burden on students. Others say the tests are inherently biased, written and administered in such ways that favor white students and perpetuate gaps.
They might have a point. The creator of the standardized tests himself said, “These tests are too cruel and should be abandoned.”
And on the one hand, yes! We grade and evaluate students from the very beginning as if they are products, conditioning them to judge and compare themselves to each other. We consider whether or not kids have hit our invented benchmarks at the “appropriate” times. We subject kids to hours of monotonous testing that is for the edification of adults, not the kids themselves.
Yet without those tests, we would never have had the evidence we now have of the opportunity and achievement gaps. And how do we measure progress without them? How will we know if those gaps are closing if we do away with the tests? How will we be able to prove (to skeptical white folks, mainly) what most low-income families and families of color already know from experience?
There’s no single solution. Charters, Montessori, home school, traditional public school, outdoor education, project-based learning, whatever. Families need freedom. They need high-quality, free options for their children’s education.
In the end, all the arguments about education are two sides of the same coin. So, maybe it’s something to do with the coin, you know?