Passive progressivism in Seattle needs to become progressive activism

I’ve started using the term “passive progressivism” to describe the political climate in Seattle, and I’m finding it fits all too well. I didn’t make it up, but I’m not sure where I first heard it either. Maybe Stephan Blanford coined the phrase?

Regardless, it encapsulates our city’s split personality all too perfectly. In Seattle, we’re liberal. We’re progressive. There’s no question about that.

"We love our Muslim neighbors,” our yard signs say, but we don’t actually know them. Honestly, in most places, those neighbors don't even exist. They've just been invented by the signposts standing proudly in yard after yard after yard occupied by white folks in our mostly segregated city.

It means that, as a whole, as a city, we’re progressive when it’s comfortable. We’re politically bold when it’s convenient to be so. We’re part of the resistance when we’re not feeling threatened.

It plays out vividly in the education sector, where an unwillingness to question the teachers unions (because unions and workers’ rights are liberal lynchpins, and we’re unquestioningly liberal, damn it!) has led to odd power dynamics. The teachers unions are extremely invested in the status quo. The students, meanwhile, are not nearly as well-represented. The unions do their work well, and it leads to adult-friendly systems that lack urgency when it comes to fixing inequity.

Seattle is one of the whitest major cities in America, and King County is the whitest of our country's 20 largest counties. Our passive-progressivism plays out as a case study in privilege, illustrating how well-meaning liberal parents often actively support our racist systems.

Seattle’s schools are working for the white students, for the most part. As a result, the problems of inequity that plague our education system is invisible to the mostly wealthy, mostly white voting bloc that makes and influences the city’s decisions. The city’s decisions, then, are focused not on advancement toward genuine equity, but on stable, cozy passive-progressivism, which acknowledges racial discrimination as it arises but does not urgently work to address it. It’s a philosophy that allows us to carry on guilt-free without ever working like our hair’s on fire to close our gaps and our systems of oppression.

It’s also a philosophy I’ve shamefully used many times in my personal life. It’s easy to hide in the gray space between acknowledging problems and actually making things change. I’ve been known to live there from time to time.

It’s easy to be quiet when we see things we know are wrong. It’s hard to stand up and face the consequence of intervening, instead letting the consequences fall to those being wronged.

It’s just as easy to take it slow and make non-boat-rocking tweaks to a system that needs to be upended. It’s hard to do the work of disrupting a monolith’s momentum.

And that’s important, because that’s what it takes. Work. Action. Disruption. Discomfort. It’s not enough to just reject racism in principle. Awareness isn’t enough. “Wokeness” isn’t enough. And if all the white families on Seattle’s north end are applauding your proposed changes, guess what — it’s probably not enough to truly change anything.

It’s not enough to simply know about the opportunity gaps in our schools and the implicit biases our teachers carry into the classroom. It’s not enough to be aware of the systems that perpetuate these gaps if we aren’t actively working to dismantle them, at least within our own walls.

Passive progress isn’t real progress, it’s just forward momentum. If we want to shape the kind of equitable future we’re imagining, we need Seattle to be defined by its progressive activism. And that means we — you and me and the people around us — need to be active in our progressivism.

Of course, progressive activism is no picnic. Things get really uncomfortable. It means we have to do different things than we’re used to doing, say different things to people. It’ll cause rifts in friendships and workplaces and most definitely in families.

It’s hard.

It’s hard realizing that we have to do this ourselves. But we do.

If we don’t do it, we’re just passive progressives. Our kids, our families, our teachers — everyone in this city deserves better than that.

Let's take a deep breath, relax and play some turkey bingo together

IMG_7012.JPG

I spent an hour and a half at Emerson Elementary today with my son for his school’s annual Turkey Bingo Night. It might have a more official name than that, but that’s how we know it.

They’ve held a similar event at Emerson every year for the past several, and honestly, it was really nice to be there today. We got together as a bunch of families in the cafeteria, ate some pizza with the teachers, watched our kids run around, and then played turkey bingo.

The bingo winners, which probably included every family by the end, got a big frozen turkey and a grocery bag full of traditional Thanksgiving fixings courtesy of a sponsor or two.

So, at the end of the night we walked home carrying a big frozen turkey.

Like I said, it was a nice night — and a much-needed reminder for me that everything doesn’t have to be so serious and heavy all the time.

You may have noticed that I took a brief impromptu hiatus from writing and updating the blog to begin this month, and I appreciate having the space to recharge. I’m sure so many of you were waiting with bated breath for my next literary atom bomb, and I’m sorry to have left you lacking. Feel free to exhale.

In the big picture, this isn’t about me, but at the same time, writing this blog can be intensely personal — and pretty emotional, if I let it be. Sometimes it gets to be a choice, for me at least,  between taking the time I need and unplugging every now and then, or cutting the cord altogether and unplugging from this work for good.

So, I appreciate reminders like this that I can exhale, too, and take it easy every now and then. That Emerson is a school with a good heart, even though I forget to mention that sometimes when I rant on and on about its challenges and the systems that keep it stuck. That there’s a lot to be thankful for even as there’s a lot that needs to change.

What a world.

Why do Seattle Public Schools feel the need to keep secrets from parents at Emerson Elementary?

Why are there so many mysteries at my son’s elementary school?

He goes to Emerson Elementary, a school in Seattle’s south end with a well-documented track record of systemic neglect. The past year has been particularly marked by a lack of meaningful communication with parents. We’ve seen little transparency and even less accountability from the district, even in the face of events that demand our attention.

Around this time last year, Emerson’s principal at the time, Dr. Andrea Drake, was put on leave of absence by the district. We as parents were never given an adequate explanation as to why. In fact, we were never even given an inadequate explanation.

Two weeks later, Drake was reinstated — still with no explanation, except to inform us that the interim principal would kept on for the remainder of the year as well. The district did hold a community meeting to discuss the concerns of the Emerson community, but it was all lip service and no meaningful action.

In the end, we still never learned why our elementary school’s principal had been put on leave in the first place, let alone why exactly the district decided it was okay for her to come back. Let alone why they thought Drake needed a second principal in the building for the rest of the school year.

Drake left Emerson as soon as the school year ended to take another position with SPS, and I allowed myself to hope that maybe these shadows and odd secrets would follow her into the night.

Instead, on Oct. 18, 2017, Seattle Public Schools sent this ultra-vague email to Emerson parents:

 

Dear Emerson families: 
You may have seen news coverage or heard from your student about news media being present at Emerson yesterday. Emerson staff make every effort to ensure our students are safe and minimize any disruptions that interfere with the learning environment. 
Last spring, the district became aware of and began an investigation into some alleged testing irregularities. The district also contacted the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to report these irregularities. The results of the district's investigation generated interest by local news media yesterday.   
The families that were affected by the situation were informed directly. If your family was not contacted by the district over the summer about this situation, your student’s test scores were not affected.  
At this time, the district remains focused on supporting our Emerson students and families and providing a safe, welcoming learning experience.  
Sincerely, 
Office of Public Affairs

 

For starters… what!? This email is so full of wisps of information, and yet so bereft of substance.

Once again, we as Emerson parents are being informed of a troubling situation at our school and are given no meaningful information. And in this case, the email was quite clearly sent only because a few media folks had shown up at the school — it was sent because suddenly a red flag had been raised, and we might have accidentally found out about this testing scandal ourselves. Otherwise, I can’t help but wonder when or if the district would ever have told us about this.

Just as problematic is the ludicrous idea that this situation only affects certain students at the school. This is my son's school. This impacts all of us. But the district is leaving it up to us, yet again, to dig up the truth and bring it to light ourselves. It's disappointing, but not particularly surprising given the district’s pattern of minimal communication with Emerson parents around significant issues. (Speaking of which, would this ever happen in whiter, richer north Seattle? I don't think so. Not this way.)

So, because we all deserve to know what’s happening inside the walls of our children’s schools, here’s what seems to have gone on this time.

Dustin Cross is a special education teacher at Emerson, and last spring he cheated on behalf of his students on their SBAC standardized tests.

From the Investigative Report into submitted by Jason Dahlberg, HR Investigator for SPS:

 

“It was found that Cross violated testing protocols by assisting students, and directing other staff to provide assistance, which provided advantage to some students over others.
It was found that Cross changed a student's answer on the SBAC test. [An instructional assistant] witnessed Cross change a student’s answer on the SBAC by using the computer mouse, and she had no reason to fabricate her account of the incident and was found credible. Although Cross denied changing the answer, this conduct was similar to additional findings of Cross assisting students on the SBAC test.
It was found that Cross directed [an instructional assistant] to ‘grammar check’ and ‘spell check’ students on the SBAC, which is not allowed. It was also found that Cross assisted a student when he told the student, "What does this sign ( division sign) tell you to do?" Ibrahim stated he was so uncomfortable by Cross' conduct that he immediately reported the conduct to testing coordinator Chung. The HR Investigator found Ibrahim to be credible.
It was found that Cross allowed students to use manipulatives, specifically fraction tiles, during the test and manipulatives are not allowed to be used during the test. Cross claimed that testing coordinator Chung provided him fraction tiles for use during the test, so he assumed that their use during the test was ok. However, Chung denied this, and stated she gave Cross fraction tiles for the use in his classroom and not for use during the SBAC. Chung had no reason to fabricate this account. The HR Investigator found Chung to be credible.
It was found that Cross gave direction to IAs, via a list, regarding how to assist students on the SBAC test and much of the assistance and accomondatinos (sic) he listed are not allowed for the test. Cross admitted to giving this list to IAs and stated that he used the student's IEP's to direct the IAs about what assistance and accommodations to give.”
 

This is a huge disservice to the community of students and families accessing public education services in Seattle Public Schools. Emerson, in fact, has a special ed program with a reputation that has recently attracted families from other schools. It’s not doing anyone (except maybe Mr. Cross) any favors to pretend these students are faring better than they really are.

Standardized tests, for all their faults, are an essential tool for equity -- and for identifying inequity. They imperfect, but they give us insight into our opportunity gaps that we couldn’t find otherwise.

If educators get the wrong messages from their school leaders or their districts, however, things get skewed. Whether Cross failed to see the tests for what they are and didn’t think his impropriety mattered, or he saw the consequences of falling short as too punitive to face, he personally altered his students’ outcomes.

Then the district found out about it and didn’t tell us. Just like they did when the old principal was suspended last year. Just like they did with… what? What else haven’t they told us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know what you think.

 

Halvorson Seattle Times Op-Ed

Guest Post: As the single parent of a Black child, I don't get to take a day off from racism

By Jefflin Breuer

I have two children.

My first-born is a girl and white like me. We had so many conversations about rape culture, misogyny and feminism, and I tried to share every piece of advice I knew about how to protect herself, what to watch out for, and how to be strong and hold her ground. I could give her this advice because I lived in the same shoes.

My second-born is a boy, and he is Black. Actually, he's white, too, but no one will see that. I have raised him nearly exclusively on my own, and even though he’s only six, I have already had to navigate difficult and frightening situations with him.

holding hands black and white.jpg

He knows, for instance, as a six-year-old, that the police are not there to protect him and that he isn't allowed to play with toy guns — ever. He asks anyone who will listen if they believe Black Lives Matter and why.

My son started public school this year. I have read so many things about the preschool-to-prison pipeline. I dropped him off and couldn't help but think I had just given him to the system that wants to harm him. A system that will view him, because of his skin, as more violent, angry, loud and dangerous than his white classmates.

Of course, the beliefs embedded in the system are filtered out as the beliefs of individuals. I have already had to defend my small son at public parks when white parents have asked me how old he is, and then asked me why he seems so “aggressive.” Like he’s a dog.

He has been called the “N-word” more than once on public transportation by older white people. I have been told by older white folks that he will need "more direction and discipline" than other children. I have been told that he is a statistic and that if I don't raise him “right” he will be another Black man lost to the judicial system.

I am a white woman raising a Black child. I cannot relate directly to the discrimination he will face. I can't tell him how to fight something I haven't ever had to fight. I can’t help him understand something I don't fully understand myself.

I can’t even fully teach him the beauty of the way he looks because when he thinks of beauty, he thinks of me or the other white members of my family. He has asked me when he will turn white because he's afraid to grow up to be a Black man. Why? Because, he told me, he knows that Black men get killed by the police.

When Trump got elected, I cried, and my son again asked me when he would turn white. He cried too. Shaking, he asked me why people let Trump win when they knew he was not a nice man.

What could I say?

I try my best to shield him from the news and from my concerned conversations. I try to protect him so he can have the privilege of being a little boy who isn’t burdened by worry, but the world keeps reminding him of reality.

We used to commute every day, taking the light rail to northeast Seattle. One day, a Black teenage boy happened to board the train alongside us. We rode for a while, and then the transit police got on. They made a beeline for the kid who was now sitting near me and asked him if he had paid his fare. He hadn’t. The transit cops called the police.

The young man was clearly afraid. I offered to pay the missing fare, but the transit police refused, more interested in punishment than justice. A man on the train joined me in standing up for the young man and called the transit police out on their obvious racism. They hadn't targeted or confronted anyone else, just that one Black kid.

My son knew what was happening and why. I didn't have to tell him. He understands that men in uniform, without warning, came for that kid because he is Black. He understands, as I do, that this is the world we live in and right now, and that it's only getting worse.

I understand the struggle through my child, understandably nervous every time a uniform appears. Every time the doors open on the light rail. I see the people I love fighting for their right just to be here, struggling for every breath.

And I understand that being the parent of a Black child means that I am torn in two. The part of me that wants so desperately to protect his innocence and nurture his optimism has to take a sad backseat to the part of me that needs desperately to keep him as safe as I can.

The reality is that no matter how overwhelming, no matter how terrifying, we don’t get to take a day off from racism. Even on the days when I am just an exhausted single mother. Even on all the days when my son is just a six-year-old little boy. His skin is never going to turn white, no matter how many times he breaks my heart wondering if it will.

I take comfort knowing he isn’t alone. I can’t go through his struggle for him, but I can stand with him.

So can you. Please do.

 

Jefflin Breuer is a parent, activist and possible space-alien living in Seattle. Her interests include witchcraft, feminism, antifa and civil rights activism, among whatever other things she has time for.

It doesn't need to be anybody's fault, but our teachers unions need to evolve

It doesn't need to be anybody's fault, but our teachers unions need to evolve

"

Classroom teachers have always been the biggest agents for change in our education system. Most reform ideas have come from teachers, who shine a light on inequity and invent new ways of organizing schools and delivering instruction.

Teachers unions, on the other hand, are increasingly out of step with their younger members and often stand in the way of change that would both help students and support teachers. If they want to remain relevant, they should read Coggins’ book.

Today, teachers unions are stuck in an antiquated, industrial-style model, focused on working conditions, job protections, wages and benefits. We all agree teachers should be well-compensated and work in healthy, productive environments. After all, teachers work where children learn.

Read More

SOAR Academy in Tacoma ‘blows the roof off the myths’ about charter schools

SOAR Dancers Get Up
SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

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.”

Thank you, Nate Bowling, for cutting right to the heart of the perpetual argument over charter schools

Nate Bowling wrote everything you need to know to put an end to the exhausting point-missing debate pitting charter public schools versus traditional public schools.

For those unfamiliar, Nate is a public school teacher in Tacoma who, as far as I can tell, has been kicking ass for a long time now. In the last few years, he's really started to get noticed for it, too. He was a National Teacher of the Year finalist in 2016 after being named Washington State's Teacher of the Year, but he's much more than just an effective classroom teacher. He's also the kind of activist for racial justice and the rights of his marginalized students that I dream of every teacher aspiring to be.

Plus, he writes about nuanced issues with the kind of clarity that my overly wordy rants find themselves dreaming about at night (in overly wordy dreams).

In fact, if I was more internetty, I might have made this about myself and started this diatribe like this:

"TFW you write and write and write about charter schools and then someone else says everything you were trying to say much more simply and effectively than you ever have. SMH LOL!"

Obviously I'm not convincingly internetty, but you get the idea. Nate Bowling has written something important about the mind-numbing debate pitting charter schools vs. traditional public schools. He begins by acknowledging that many parents of students of color are choosing charter schools, and that this is a valid choice. Then he gives three critical pieces of advice for well-meaning folks who are still actively opposing charter schools:

First, Nate says, "you must address [the] concerns and motivations" of people of color who are choosing charter schools, because those concerns are real and warranted.

"The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment," Bowling writes. "In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential."

Yes! I couldn't agree more. A failure or unwillingness to acknowledge this truth is the foundation of most misunderstandings over charter schools.

Second, he says we must "improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools," and I'm convinced he's right about this, too. If we don't, we're essentially telling those parents to accept the unacceptable for their children. That's pretty cruel.

Finally, Nate says, "you can be right on the issue and still be wrong." This is so blisteringly important that I can't believe it hasn't been said this way before. Opportunity gaps and disproportionate discipline and teacher bias and segregation are not just abstract concepts and theories. They create realities that have intense, long-term impacts on real-life kids. So it's one thing to value public education, to see it as a great equalizer and a pillar of our society, and to view charter schools as an infiltration of private money and control, but it's quite another thing to keep people from accessing alternatives to the system when it's not working for them.

If we don't acknowledge our current gap between theory and reality, between the ideals of education in a vacuum and the realities of biased schooling in present-day America, we're leaving a lot of kids to the wolves in the name of incremental progress and education theory -- including mine. My oldest son goes to Emerson Elementary in Seattle's Rainier Beach, meaning he's literally a student of color in one of the "low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools" that Nate is describing. And I can tell you first-hand, it's not okay. We're demanding change, we're exploring all of our options, and if a charter elementary school opened up in the area, we'd probably look into switching schools.

Anyway, I'll stop now. Please read what Nate Bowling has to say. He's a smart man.

 

 

Stop Berating Black and Brown Parents Over Charters (and Give Your Twitter Fingers a Rest)
By Nate Bowling
I read too many edu arguments for my own good. It’s a known issue in my household.
The argument I find most cringe-inducing is the fight over charter schools. With the news that Secretary DeVos is coming to Seattle, I’d like to put this out there for folks.
If there's one lesson that I have learned over the last few years, it’s that you're never going to convince a black or brown mother to change her mind about where to send her child by demonizing her choices, calling her a “neo-liberal,” or labeling her a “tool of privatizers.” And since black and brown parents are the primary target of most charter operators, this presents a conundrum I want to help my (mainly white) progressive friends work through.
Before I go further, a few caveats: I’ve worked in public schools since 2006. This is by choice. I have been offered roles in teaching, as a principal, and on the board of charter operators in my state. I have declined. I consider myself a “charter agnostic.” I believe the traditional public school is the right venue for the kind of work I want to do and the student population I desire to work with. But, I don’t begrudge the choices others make for their own children.
Now that my cards are on the table, I want to give y’all some advice:
You must address their concerns and motivations: The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment. In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential.
The ed establishment has a lot to answer for. Folks in educational spaces systematically silence, marginalize, and awfulize parents of color and their children. We can cite example, after example, after example, after (local) example. Add to this report-after-report about disproportionate discipline practices and persistent Opportunity Gaps, it shouldn’t surprise us that parents of color are looking for options and not in the mood for finger-waggy lectures on privatization. For activists this is a long-term societal-philosophical-cultural-political issue; for parents it’s an immediate, pragmatic what-is-best-for-my-child issue. You have to approach them through that lens. 
Work to improve the experience of students of color in traditional public schools:In urban areas, students of color are the bread and butter of charter schools. If these students received the quality of education they deserve and were treated with the dignity afforded to white, suburban, and wealthy students, charter schools wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t attract families of color at the rates they do. If you truly oppose charter schools, the most impactful thing you can do is work to make public schools places where students of color, particularly low-income black and Latinx students, feel valued, welcomed, and loved. 
Every time a parent of color enrolls their child in a charter school it's a vote of no confidence in the traditional K-12 public school system. Sooner or later we have to reckon with that.
You can be right on the issue and still be wrong: Here’s the deal, friends. You’re right about neo-liberalism and the decaying of public goods, but ain’t nobody trying to hear that from you when it comes to their child’s well-being. We all know there are awful schools and school systems out there in desperate need of transformation. The folks who are supposed to send their kids to these schools deserve better.
Whether intentional or not, sometimes it seems activists value the “institution of public education” more than they value the "outcomes of the kids within it." I don’t think this is actually the case, but this is a rhetorical misstep that parents of color see and that school choice advocates seize on.  
Screeds, hot take FB rants, and 300 word newspaper comments berating folks may feel good, but they also turn potential allies into actual enemies. If you really care about public education, you’re better off standing shoulder-to-shoulder with parents of color in pursuit of fair treatment, (non-test based) accountability for teachers, better instruction, and funding equity than you are berating them in FB threads and with your Twitter fingers.
That's the real work.
Dedicated to my friends Sheree, Keith, and Korbett for putting up with more nonsense than you should ever have to about what’s best for your own children

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it.

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

Read More

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.

Read More

A perfect metaphor for white privilege, courtesy of Quora

Answer by Omar Ismail, Stand Up Comedian, on Quora.

I am white. That's all you know about me. Am I privileged based on that alone and assuming I am, should I feel guilt and what should I do about it?

Absolutely.

Consider it this way. All I know about you is you’re tall.

Do you have any advantages?

Yes.

Does that mean you don’t deserve the can of tuna on the higher shelf? No. Nobody is saying that. Eat away mighty giant.

Should you feel guilty about getting the tuna from the top shelf? No. Nobody is saying that. Lighten your soul’s burden and let it fly free in the clouds beneath your knees.

Does that mean short people can’t get the tuna? No. Nobody is saying that.

Does that mean there aren’t disadvantages of being tall? No.

Nobody is saying that. You have our sympathy for your poor bruised knees.

What people are saying is:

  1. Denying you are lucky is silly.
  2. Stop looking bewildered every time a short person can’t reach something. We’re sick of explaining this incredibly simple concept.
  3. We know there are things you do not have (i.e. even higher shelves).
  4. We know there may be other things preventing you reaching the high shelves. Maybe you have bad elbows or arthritis. Short people with arthritis are still below you. You are still lucky you are tall.
  5. It works out well for most people, for the grocery store to put most things on medium shelves.
  6. If you can help shorter people with things on higher shelves, do so. Why would you not do that? Short people can help you with stuff on lower shelves.
  7. We are annoyed that the people who run the grocery store put all the best stuff on the top shelves.
  8. There are a lot of people who are putting things on higher shelves because they hate short people. Don’t associate with those people. They want everything to be about this height:
hitler stands with arms outstretched.jpg

 

Same with white. Advantages. It doesn’t mean you’re rich. It doesn’t mean you’re luckier than a lucky black guy. Nobody wants you to be crippled with guilt. Nobody has ever wanted that, or means those things.

It means you have an advantage, and all anyone is asking is that you *get* that. Once you get that, it’s pretty straightforward to all the further implications.

 

This question originally appeared on QuoraI am white. That's all you know about me. Am I privileged based on that alone and assuming I am, should I feel guilt and what should I do about it?

Guest Post: Remembering Edith Windsor, 1929-2017

edie-windsor.jpg

By Beth Hawkins

Look at this photo of Edie Windsor. When was she ever photographed looking anything other than confident and jubilant, arms extended and something bright, some swath of super-saturated color breaking up her otherwise conservative attire?

To me, photos of her are invariably mesmerizing. What does it feel like to be so free? So utterly at home in your skin and alive in your world?

For a moment when I saw a photo of her standing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court flash by this afternoon I was elated and then confused. And then of course it was clear, without so much as a headline, why: Windsor died today at 88.

I have of course read tens of thousands of words about Windsor, whose effort to recover the estate taxes she was forced to pay following the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer, turned into United States v. Windsor, the 2013 case in which the high court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.

But tonight reading the New York Times obituary made me sad on a new level. Windsor’s life story is so remarkable, her willingness in an era when it was very unsafe to be true to who she knew she was, to be out—truly dramatically out—and to occupy roles women did not play.

An even more compelling read: In an example of profile-writing at its best, in the wake of DOMA’s demise The New Yorker profiled Windsor and her lawyer, Robbie Kaplan, describing Windsor’s days as an LGBT activist and chronicling her relationship with her attorney.

It’s a wonderful piece, colorful and unabashedly gay. Sample: “Provided that Kaplan kept her client muzzled on the topic, Americans could imagine that Edie Windsor had aged out of carnality.”

I am sad because I know that it will likely be a long time before Windsor’s story is presented as part of the canon of American history. Because I know how many young people—girls especially—would be more likely to embrace their sexual orientation or gender identity after learning about Windsor’s fierce and colorful life.

A little of this sadness is for me—what would life have been like if my classes had been filled with tales of heroes I could identify with? But mostly I am sad that we told our children that all families are equal and it’s love that makes a home, but we can’t get LGBT stories into schools.

There are lots of curricular resources and classroom guides out there for teachers who want to teach gay history or create LGBT inclusive lessons. I had to hunt a little to find it, but there’s even a resource (outdated, but hey) for teaching about the DOMA decision and about Windsor.

Yet we also know that teachers in the main don’t touch LGBT topics. Many worry they will face student or parent pushback, or do not believe their administrators will back them if they do. Many feel unsure about everything from proper terminology to fear of the imagined sex part of sexual orientation.

There are eight states where it is illegal for educators to talk to students about LGBT topics–to mention that Oscar Wilde was gay or Freida Kahlo bisexual. Illegal. So why should it surprise us that in most school’s there’s silence?

Whatever the next chapter of the LGBT fight for equality and inclusion, I have a feeling we’re nowhere near helping the adults in our schools feel safe enough to offer a safe space for the kids. Mostly I just pray we’re watching the dinosaur’s death rattle, you know?

In my fantasy version of reality, where marriage equality was followed by affirming classrooms, tomorrow Windsor’s bold and joyful photos will grace whiteboards throughout the country for one more reason: Because she was living proof that it’s possible, simply by refusing to shirk your truth, to shape history.

Windsor waited 40 years to marry her love. And she insisted on pressing her estate tax case at a moment in history when lots of LGBT rights organizations demurred on such challenges, wanting plaintiffs who presented as pure and perfect political timing.

And she won. Near the end of her life, she was present as the Supreme Court agreed with her argument in the case bearing her name that discrimination can’t be enshrined in U.S. law. She got to hear that news, field a phone call from Barack Obama, and—the only dry-eyed person in the room–to ask to celebrate in front of the nation’s first LGBT national monument.

I leave you with her beautiful photo, and with a particularly lovely passage from Ariel Levy’s New Yorker story, “The Perfect Wife”:

Finally, Windsor was taken where she really wanted to go: Stonewall. When she got out of the car, at Christopher Street, there were hundreds of people chanting her name. Windsor got up on the podium, in her shiny purple shirt, with the pin on her lapel, and, as she looked at the crowd, she said, “Now’s the part when I try not to cry.”

 

An original version of this post first appeared on Beth Hawkins' blog.

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.

I'm glad I found this event flyer from Seattle's 'Radical Women' in the street today

I'm glad I found this event flyer from Seattle's 'Radical Women' in the street today

"

I was walking across the street in Columbia City with my younger son today when I saw a yellow flyer sitting face down in the road. It caught my eye for some reason, so I doubled back a couple steps and grabbed it.

Lo and behold, it was about two events being put on by the Seattle chapter of Radical Women. Here's the mission statement from their Facebook page, if you don't know about them. It's one of the best things I've read in ages:

Read More

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. "

Read More

Our country is in chaos, and I still took my sons to their first day of school

At this time last year, I wrote about Julian’s first day of second grade. I can hardly believe how different the world seems just a year later.

For one thing, Julian wasn’t the only one who started school this fall. My almost-three-year-old son Zeke went to his first day of preschool yesterday, too. We found a brand new preschool in the south end of Seattle basing its program around an anti-bias curriculum, and Zeke will be spending a few hours there every morning now.

That also means, of course, that I had three childless weekday hours to myself yesterday. Unheard of. I went to the bathroom without being interrupted for the first time in weeks. I played the piano for almost half an hour without anyone sneaking up behind me, grabbing my shirt and trying to yank me backwards onto the floor. I did some writing and answered some long-overdue emails. You know, the exciting stuff.

But it’s not just in my own home and my own routines that things have changed. Our country is in obvious chaos.

Flood waters are covering the Houston area. Hurricane Irma has already claimed lives in the Caribbean islands and is headed next for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Wildfires are ravaging vast tracts of land throughout the Northwest, leaving us safe in Seattle but blanketed by an eerie haze of smoke, an ominous film that matches the feeling I have that right now, every day in America is a loaded gun.

Our government is openly sanctioning racism, police violence, oppression and suppression. Basically, it's doing what it's always done to us, but it's not even having the decency to try to cover it up anymore. Most of us are responding by feeling like deer in headlights, wringing our hands and talking angrily and feeling appalled, but ultimately carrying on as though the system will change itself, or at best spinning our wheels trying to resist something so monolithic.

It feels like something is about to break. Like America’s bubble is stretched thin and about to burst. And maybe that’s a good thing, as tumultuous and painful as it is in the meantime, because for all its faults, the Trump administration did not invent racism and division in America. The Republican regime is only vocalizing and expanding on our racist past and present, stoking fires from coals that have never stopped burning hot.

And with all this happening, I dropped my son off at public school yesterday. Government-run, government-mandated public school, in a country whose government is openly oppressing people like my son and operating on systems I don’t believe in and can’t support.

I wanted to write about my hopes and dreams for Julian and Zeke for this school year. I wanted to think of their beautiful faces and their beautiful futures. Instead, I feel fear and conflict. Am I sending Julian into the belly of the beast? Am I contributing to the system and complicit in its ills?

I believe that I am, if I'm being truly honest with myself.

So, what then? When will enough be enough? When will I be willing to make changes as drastic as the depth of the problems we face?

Longer school days are about to start in Seattle

Longer school days are about to start in Seattle

"A new school year starts next Wednesday for Seattle Public Schools, and our kids will spend 20 minutes longer in class each day than they have the past few years.

The district says the change will give teachers more time for collaboration and students more time to be schooled."

Read More