How Do We Create Spaces for Healing as Educators of Color?

How Do We Create Spaces for Healing as Educators of Color?

Education tends to make the most rational people seem crazy. So, it begs the question, how do we heal in these sick environments? My go-to answer is to typically just burn it all down and start anew, but we know that those efforts usually just end up looking like a new emperor in the same old clothes.

So, where does our healing come from?

Marcus Harden writes about the importance of acknowledging the hurt that has been caused by systems of oppression -- and the equal importance of finding healing for the students and often-overlooked educators who bear the deepest wounds.

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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.

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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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Our kids bear the burden of our patience

Our kids bear the burden of our patience

Time keeps passing. The system keeps on revealing more and more of its flaws, shortcomings and downright bad intentions. We continue to search for solutions, but our kids are carrying the burden of our inability to change.

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Why I won't be playing fantasy football this fall for the first time in almost 30 years

Why I won't be playing fantasy football this fall for the first time in almost 30 years

I’m about to turn 37 years old, and I’ve been playing fantasy football for almost 30 years. It is a bit crazy, but it’s true: I helped organize my first fantasy football league in 1990 as a fourth-grader in Fargo, ND.

But here we are in the spring of 2018, and fantasy football is suddenly unexpectedly interesting to me. I care again! I specifically want to quit.

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Let's talk about the erosion of the soul that quietly comes along with constantly confronting racism

Let's talk about the erosion of the soul that quietly comes along with constantly confronting racism

By Naomi Langley

Today I had this sort of epiphany...

I'm tired. Really, really tired.

I'm tired, and I'm drained from this ongoing conversation on racism. Honestly. I know the work needs to be done. I know there are white people who react super positively to my words, thoughts and feelings. Some of y'all really get it, and it gives me hope — hope for my baby cousins, nephews and nieces that are coming up in this world.

But there are others that get so mad — and get me so mad — and it becomes a dark cycle of anger and aggression. These people seek to end the conversation, continuing to silence us.

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The rock-and-a-hard-place reality of being a parent advocate

The rock-and-a-hard-place reality of being a parent advocate

It’s a strange thing, trying to advocate for equitable public schools as a parent of current students.

On the one hand, short-sighted, short-term thrusts aren't going to lead to the lasting systemic change we need. On the other hand, incremental, long-term plays won't have much impact on my kids, who are, you know, here right now.

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Black History Today: Merle Redd-Jones, a model for changing systems from the inside out

Black History Today: Merle Redd-Jones, a model for changing systems from the inside out

System-level change is one of the hardest changes to make and navigate. Traditionally for people of color those systems weren’t meant to serve us in a meaningful way, so learning to work in them for the greater good and teaching others to do the same for the benefit of the “we” over the “me” is powerful.

Acquiring this skill set as a strong and powerful Black woman in city government is an even more daunting challenge. Yet for 20-plus years, not only did Merle Redd-Jones navigate that system, but she paved the way for so many others to launch their careers in that system and in other ways.

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Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

The Seattle School Board is in the beginning stages of finding a new superintendent to lead Seattle Public Schools. Also, they're apparently near the finish line.

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...

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Guest Post: Five Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Guest Post: Five Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we celebrate the life of a Civil Rights hero who believed in ordinary people’s ability to do extraordinary things. It’s an important day to reflect on his legacy, but too often Martin Luther King Jr. Day is tokenized schools. When we fail to engage students in meaningful conversations about Dr. King’s legacy and the Civil Rights Movement, we fail to help students understand their own place in the ongoing struggle for racial justice.

Last week I gave a talk at Lakota Middle School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly, and I asked students to consider five lessons from Dr. King. I also asked students to share their own ideas about how to bring people together to fight for racial justice, both in the world and in their own middle school.

Here are the five lessons from Dr. King that I asked students to consider.

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My only honest opinion about Washington’s ESSA plan is to reject it entirely

I couldn't possibly look at this ESSA plan for another moment.

I couldn't possibly look at this ESSA plan for another moment.

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:

oblique ESSA graphic

 

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.

Why does skin color matter, asks a white Laurelhurst Elementary parent. Let's discuss.

KUOW’s Isolde Raftery wrote something recently that Seattle needs to hear. Maybe all “liberals” need to hear it.

Please just give it a quick read. I’ll wait.

 

 

Done? Thanks.

So, you just read Raftery describing the backlash in some of Seattle’s “whitest, most affluent corners” to the day last fall when a couple thousand of the city’s teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school. She shares snippets of emails from parents expressing fear and anger to their school leaders, and it paints a pretty intense picture of what is actually happening inside the minds of so many “good” liberal parents.

Seattle is plagued by the privileged white moderate, the wolf in liberal clothing who has all the right yard signs and claims all the most inclusive beliefs, but whose actions reflect fear, privilege and an urgent need to not feel upset. Stephan Blanford, the only true voice for equity on the Seattle school board, calls it “Seattle’s passive progressiveness.”

“We vote the right way on issues,” Blanford told Raftery. “We believe the right way. But the second you challenge their privilege, you see the response.”

Honestly, reading the emails, most of these parents just sound scared and confused. They genuinely don’t understand the impetus and the meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I’m going to do my best to answer their questions, starting today with this one:

 

Wrote a parent at Laurelhurst Elementary: “Can you please address … why skin color is so important? I remember a guy that had a dream. Do you remember that too? I doubt it. Please show me the content of your character if you do.”

 

Dear Laurelhurst Parent,

Skin color is important because our weird society -- yours and mine -- has made it so. People who cannot pass for white, which is itself a social construct and not an actual race, have always been treated differently in America. Always, up to and including today. Slavery was replaced by Jim Crow, which was replaced after the Civil Rights Movement by the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of our Black brothers and sisters.

Did you know that Native Americans were not legally allowed to practice their traditional religious ceremonies in the U.S. until the ‘80s? We’ve been doing our best as a nation to eradicate their culture from this land as well as their bodies, from the genocide of “manifest destiny” to the shame of our state-sanctioned brutality at Standing Rock.

We have a president now who is encouraging hate and discrimination against immigrants of any origin, but especially against Mexicans and Muslims. Did you know that a mass grave filled with bodies of immigrants was found in Texas a few miles from the Mexico border? The state said it found “no evidence” of wrongdoing.

On a level that is super local to you, Seattle Public Schools discipline Black students at a disproportionate rate -- so much so that the federal government had to come down on them a few years back. The district still shamefully boasts the nation’s fifth-worst achievement gap between Black and white students, and similar gaps exist for all non-white student populations as well as for low-income students regardless of race.

The Black Lives Matter movement started after a teenage boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white guy for the crime of wearing a hoodie while Black. It has been sustained by continued police violence against innocent Black men and women, with police officers continually acquitted.

So, because it sure seems like our society doesn’t actually believe that Black Lives Matter, people felt the need to say it. It’s not that white lives don’t matter. America already obviously values white lives. White lives and white safety are not particularly at stake here. Black Lives Matter mentions color because it has to.

The next time you invoke Martin Luther King, Jr., I suggest you better familiarize yourself with his beliefs and his non-whitewashed legacy. Start here: Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Have you ever read it?

Please do. If you have anything you’d like me to read up on, please pass it along. Then let’s talk. What do you say?

 

Best,

Matt

 

Up next, from Eckstein Middle School in Wedgwood:

“What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?”

Stay tuned.

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.

Principal Drake is leaving Emerson Elementary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can I, in good conscience, raise two biracial boys in America?

I woke up just after three this morning having fallen asleep with my computer open next to me, a blank page on the screen. I fell asleep with literally no words and woke with the same.

So, I went back to sleep and woke again a few hours later with my one-year-old son. I made breakfast. I watched the highlights from last night’s Twins/Rangers game with my almost-eight-year-old. I let the dog outside. And just I keep on thinking and thinking.

Philando Castile (left) and Alton Sterling

Philando Castile (left) and Alton Sterling

I've watched two different videos this week of Alton Sterling being murdered, and now they’re in my brain on loop, playing over and over in my head no matter what I intend to be thinking about or focusing on.

I watched a video of Philando Castile dying with a bloody hole in his shoulder and a sweet little four-year-old girl in the backseat while his girlfriend cried for help and repeated the names of streets I recognized from my childhood.

Larpenteur. Snelling. Fry. “Five minutes without traffic,” according to Google, from where my dad grew up in St. Paul. Across the river from where my mother went to high school, from where my sisters both now live in Minneapolis.

Phil Castile punctured my personal bubble. If a police officer can stop his car and shoot him dead in the passenger seat “five minutes without traffic” from the first place I ever went home to, then no ground is sacred. No place is safe.

And that should come as no surprise, really. Minnesota hasn’t changed. In a way, it’s never been safe, like nowhere else has ever been safe, and yet it’s still as safe for me as the day I was born.

I have changed, though — or the shape and color of my bubble have, anyway. Now I’m the white partner of a black woman, and I’m the white parent of two biracial boys. The idea of safety requires a more nuanced thought process for me than it used to.

Our country was founded on racism and brutality, and let’s be clear — that remains its backbone. My predecessors in white supremacy, privilege and oppression did their best to physically eradicate the native people they encountered. My public school textbooks in Fargo, ND, called this genocide “manifest destiny.”

Our founding fathers, meanwhile, lived and died believing they owned black people, and that they were justified in doing so. When that practice was scrutinized, my predecessors protected their privilege. The systemic oppression shifted, and it lived on as lynchings. As Jim Crow. The war on drugs. The Washington Redskins. Mass incarceration. Redlining. Police violence.

We talk of progress, of incremental change, but we live in a country whose founding machinery of systemic racism is still humming along uninterrupted.

Alton Sterling is dead because two police officers were brought up breathing that machine’s smog, along with the officer in Minnesota who killed Phil Castile, and along with you and me and pretty much everyone we know. That smog taught us all to unwittingly view black men as potentially threatening criminals. That smog has poisoned us with a latent belief in white superiority and an unspoken, unacknowledged fear of losing a privileged status that no one deserves to keep. It’s insidious.

And I have to admit, sometimes I just don’t want to understand my place in all this. Because I’m culpable. Whether I “want” this privileged status or not, here I am, still complicit by my mere presence, and still benefiting from the idea of whiteness even at the expense of my own family.

Whether I “want” to be or not, I am still supporting the infrastructure of this systemic oppression with my taxes, my donations, my livelihood — with my very life.

All this thinking keeps on leading me to one question in the end: How can I, in good conscience, continue to live in America?

I don’t have an answer.

It’s not possible for me to live in this country and not benefit from and support systemic racism. I can’t escape my whiteness any more than my sons and my partner can escape their blackness.

Does that mean we have to leave? Is there another responsible decision to make with two young, brown-skinned sons?

I try to fight the status quo. I write this blog you’re reading now about education and race in Seattle and Washington State. I try to call out racism and inequity where I see it and demand something better. I’ve been out on the streets in Ferguson. I’ve been an at-times-crazy person on Facebook and Twitter.

But it’s not enough. Can I ever do more to fight racism than I am already doing, simply by living in America as a white man, to support it?

Our incremental progress was too slow for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, as it has been for so, so many others. What if it’s too slow for my sons? Why should this finely tuned machine suddenly blow a fuse now?

How can I, in good conscience, raise two biracial boys in America?

That’s what I keep asking myself. And no matter how much I think about it, no matter how hard I look, I’m not finding an answer.

I’m just finding a replay of Alton Sterling’s murder, playing on loop, with Philando Castile dying in the background, and it’s saying, “These could be your sons.”