A public school with an opportunity gap is not a good school. Period.

What we do and what our institutions do matters. If we do not change our institutions to reflect our expressed attitude, our attitudes will change to reflect our institutions.
-John A. Powell 

 

Seattle has the fifth-worst opportunity gap in the nation.

I’ve mentioned that several times on this blog, but it’s still startling to really consider what it means.

In the entire United States, only four cities are doing a more discriminatory job than Seattle of schooling their kids. Only four cities are more oppressive than Seattle in their public education.

My kids are not white. Finding a good school, then, is about much more than just academics. It’s about navigating a minefield, knowing that we're dealing with an institution that systematically discriminates against kids like mine. We are forced to try to sleuth out pockets of safety within it.

But how? How do you figure out if the individual teachers and administrators at individual schools within the system will see my child as fully human? What are their biases? What are their discipline rates? Which kids are getting access to the most advanced classes and rigorous coursework?

It is a pressing need for my family to know about segregation and access within my kid’s school. I don’t just want to know about teacher biases, about discipline rates and opportunity gaps — it is so vitally important that it can cancel out everything else. If a school is teaching its white students really well and failing its students of color, that school’s overall “good” rating really means nothing to me. It might not apply to my child.

Parents of white kids have a similar investigative responsibility, I would argue, unless they want to put their children in the uncomfortable position of benefiting from a rigged system at the expense of their classmates.

Here’s what I mean: let’s say I’m a parent of a white student just looking for a “good,” academically rigorous elementary school for my kid. I might see the good rating of School A and choose it over the poorly rated School B, even though School A’s walls contain a big opportunity gap between white students and students of color. I probably have no way of knowing this is true, and I might play an accidentally active role in a discriminatory system by sending my white student into a segregated school environment.

But again, how is a parent to know any of this if we aren’t sharing vitally honest, nuanced information about our schools? If we want people to do things differently, to make the decisions that might lead to changed institutions, then we need to provide them with enough information to allow them to reach new conclusions.

The racial and social disparities in our schools are undermining the education of every student regardless of race. Unless our public school system reflects a total intolerance for discrimination and disproportionate outcomes, the racial and income-based disparities for our students will continue. We need to rethink what makes a “good” school.

A hitter who destroys right-handed pitching isn’t a “good” hitter unless he can hit lefties, too. If he can’t, he’s just a good hitter in certain situations, against certain pitchers. At best, he’s “good” with an asterisk.

A school that is really successful teaching white students isn’t “good” unless it is teaching its students of color just as well. Otherwise, it’s a good academic school for a select group of students, a bad school overall for many other groups, and a bad school for the social-emotional development of all students.

As Powell said, “what we do matters.” And what we do will determine what our institutions do.

In considering our schools, then, we need to remember that a failure of equity overwhelms any other positive factors. A school with an opportunity gap is not a good school. Period.

I Support Charter Schools Because This Incremental Change Is Too Effing Slow for My Kids

Can I just be honest for a minute?

I’m losing hope.

White kids in our schools are set up to succeed. Kids of color are set up to fail. Now, you get kids who find their way across the aisle in either direction, but statistically, the system will probably let you down unless you’re white.

That’s a hard truth to grapple with, especially when your kids are growing up much faster than the system can change.

A system as massive as public education is not going to change profoundly overnight. It’s not even likely to change profoundly over a decade. Its progress is likely to be incremental until such time that we abandon it altogether, and we are not particularly close, societally speaking, to jumping off that cliff yet.

My oldest son is about to finish second grade. That means he’ll be graduating from high school a decade from now. He’ll be done with his public education in less time than it could possibly take to “fix” the system.

Right now, he goes to our neighborhood school. It’s known as a low-performing school, and we’ve experienced some of those side effects — things like high teacher turnover and a non-rigorous academic environment.

The whole thing has me thinking, how can this possibly change in time to make a difference for my son?

It can’t. And so I start feeling hopeless. Depressed, even.

I’m not alone. In Seattle, something like 30 percent of school-age kids go to private schools. Does that mean that at least 30 percent of Seattle parents are even more hopelessly depressed about our public schools than me? Because for all my complaining (advocating, on my better days), my son still goes to our neighborhood public school. And we still wonder every day if we’re making the right decision sending him there.

Right now, school choice in America is like healthcare — it’s yours if you can afford it. That’s not right, but it’s reality for me and my family: We’re stuck with a neglected, failing neighborhood school, and the message Seattle is sending my son and his classmates is that they don’t deserve better unless their parents can afford it.

This is where I fail to understand the fierce opposition to charter schools. These are public schools, open to all kids equally, and many of them are making more of an effort to effectively educate kids of color than their traditional school peers.

I wish we didn’t need to talk about charter schools. I wish we didn’t need an alternative to a messed-up system. BUT WE DO. Flat out. And in more and more districts, charter schools are serving as that needed alternative for families whose only other choices are failing neighborhood schools—neglected outposts in a slow-to-change, historically discriminatory institution.

If you know how to turn every public school into a pillar of equity overnight, then I’ll drop the school choice advocacy. Otherwise, let’s compromise. We’ll work to build a scaffold of public schools to fully nurture, support and educate all students, and until we get there, we’ll do our best to give families as much agency as possible in finding a good school.

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.

 

Take a look at the Seattle Superintendent's 'equity analysis' of school calendar changes and tell me what you think

Seattle Public Schools are making changes to the school calendar again this year. They are proposing to extend the school day by 20 minutes, change the daily start and end times, and turn Wednesday into a weekly early-dismissal day, among other things.

The Seattle School Board will vote on this issue next week based on this School Board Action Report submitted by district superintendent Larry Nyland on April 20. In addition to many other things, Nyland's report includes the following on equity:

7. EQUITY ANALYSIS
This calendar incorporates additional student early release time that allows for more teacher collaboration time to address school improvement plans and work on ending opportunity gaps.

That’s it. To me, this sounds like a pretty halfhearted “analysis.”

So, I did a little digging and found that Seattle Public Schools are supposed to conduct an equity analysis in a case like this.

Back in 2012, the district adopted “Board Policy No. 0030: Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity.” It states that SPS is “focused on closing the opportunity gap,” and it lists certain things the district has to do differently, including:

Equitable Access—The district shall provide every student with equitable access to a high quality curriculum, support, facilities and other educational resources, even when this means differentiating resource allocation;
B. Racial Equity Analysis—The district shall review existing policies, programs, professional development and procedures to ensure the promotion of racial equity, and all applicable new policies, programs and procedures will be developed using a racial equity analysis tool;

(For what it's worth, here is the district’s official “Racial Equity Analysis Tool.”)

What happened here? If Nyland didn’t do any analysis at all, that’s problematic. If he did do a thorough analysis, and he is truly satisfied with “more teacher collaboration time” as a solution to the opportunity gap, that’s problematic, too. And it kind of misses the point of the equity analysis. Will this impact certain students, families or communities more than others? Will this perpetuate inequity?

I don't know whether the new school calendar Nyland is proposing will be equitable or not. This is the kind of thing that can quietly have disproportionate impact on certain groups, however, and we can’t be sure we’re implementing equitable procedures unless we do our due diligence. 

Paying lip service to racial inequity and then failing to follow through on the hard work of dismantling structural barriers to equity is exactly what has perpetuated our opportunity gap all this time. It needs to stop. Until our school leaders start making different decisions based on new information and diverse perspectives, nothing will change in our schools.

It’s been five years now under this new policy. Has the district followed through on its promise to review all the policies, programs, professional development opportunities and district procedures that have led to this inequity? If so, who completed the analyses, and what did they find?

If it hasn’t been done at all… well, why not?

And I have the same questions for Larry Nyland about his equity analysis for the proposed calendar changes. Did you follow through on your district’s promise to develop this new policy using a racial equity analysis tool? If so, you might need a sharper tool.

Or if it wasn’t done at all… well, why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emerson Elementary School Student Demographics

Emerson Elementary School Student Demographics

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

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

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Student Demographics

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Student Demographics

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

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

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

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

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

The Indian Removal Act was signed on this date in 1830. What does it mean today?

A sign hung on the side of a tent at Rosebud Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in November 2016.

A sign hung on the side of a tent at Rosebud Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in November 2016.

Today is an important anniversary to remember. It’s not one to by any means celebrate, but neither is it one we can forget.

On May 28, 1830, U.S. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law.

According to the Library of Congress, this “allowed the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy. During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, the Cherokees were forcibly moved west by the United States government. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on this forced march, which became known as the ‘Trail of Tears.’”

From the U.S. Office of the Historian:

In his 1831 ruling on Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that “the Indian territory is admitted to compose a part of the United States,” and affirmed that the tribes were “domestic dependent nations” and “their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian.” However, the following year the Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled that Indian tribes were indeed sovereign and immune from Georgia laws. President Jackson nonetheless refused to heed the Court’s decision. He obtained the signature of a Cherokee chief agreeing to relocation in the Treaty of New Echota, which Congress ratified against the protests of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay in 1835. The Cherokee signing party represented only a faction of the Cherokee, and the majority followed Principal Chief John Ross in a desperate attempt to hold onto their land. This attempt faltered in 1838, when, under the guns of federal troops and Georgia state militia, the Cherokee tribe were forced to the dry plains across the Mississippi. The best evidence indicates that between three and four thousand out of the fifteen to sixteen thousand Cherokees died en route from the brutal conditions of the “Trail of Tears.”
 

When our government was established, it operated on a system of slavery and a burgeoning belief in “manifest destiny” as justification for genocide of indigenous people.

By 1830, our president was still a slaveowner, and he signed a bill that allowed him to sign treaties never intended to be kept even more freely than before.

Fast forward 183 years, and I can't help but ask what the government has done in that time to earn our trust. More than finding reason to believe in the possibility of tomorrow, I find I'm starting to lose hope.

An article published yesterday by The Intercept, for instance, reveals through public records requests and leaked emails that Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation building the Dakota Access Pipeline, hired a private mercenary firm to work directly with the FBI, BIA and various levels of federal, state and local law enforcement to conduct illegal surveillance and to treat peaceful #NoDAPL demonstrators in Standing Rock last year as “terrorists” and “rioters” on a “battlefield.”

I might be crazy. I’m aware of that. But in a conflict of interest between a for-profit corporation and an organically formed group of people (mostly U.S. citizens), the United States government acted with military force on behalf of the corporation. It's just one of many examples of this phenomenon. What does that mean?

It happened while Obama was in office, and it’s continued with Trump. It's neither a partisan issue nor a new one. What does that mean?

And what does it mean for our kids that we’re sending them to schools made mandatory by this same government? I know that’s a crazy-sounding question in the “normal” world, but it’s one I again can’t keep from asking.

And apparently I'm not the first to ask it, because it’s also one that Malcolm X may have already answered: “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.”

Our government has shown throughout history a perfect willingness to treat its own citizens like the enemy. Does that mean we’re fools for thinking we’ll ever find what we’re looking for in their schools?

Keep tabs on the ESSA transition with the superintendent's 'official' blog and newsletter

In case you haven’t seen it yet, the school superintendent’s office in Washington State (OSPI) rolled out a new blog and newsletter devoted to keeping us updated on ESSA proceedings.

This is a great development for parents and communities across our state. OSPI picked a nice forum for this in Medium, and Ben King is breaking down a complicated issue and a long process into small chunks. He’ll have an important role to play in helping us hold the state accountable throughout this process, and I appreciate that our office of public instruction has taken the initiative on establishing this point of contact.

King wrote last week about how the Federal Programs team had sorted and classified its 500-plus pages of public input on ESSA. I would love to know which suggestions will be adopted and to see especially those considered not to be feasible.

This week, King posted OSPI's first animated ESSA flyer "to help Washingtonians understand the changes coming to our schools as we transition away from No Child Left Behind."

 

 

Here’s the homepage for OSPI’s ESSA blog, and here is OSPI’s latest ESSA newsletter.

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.

Talking with Chris Stewart about school choice in 'resource-rich, equity-poor' Seattle

I talked with Chris Stewart last weekend to close out the Washington State Charter School Association Conference. Chris is a writer, speaker and advocate for school choice as a means to a better education for students of color.

We talked about equity and disparity in Seattle, and Chris accurately described us as “resource-rich but equity-poor.” It made me wonder what will ever motivate us to change if we continue to have this much capital flowing into a city with this much racial segregation and discrimination baked into its schools.

We talked also about the national perceptions of charter schools, too, and about how to distinguish Washington’s charters from an unhinged federal administration advocating for odd versions of school choice. How do you stay on the right track when you’ve been given a longer leash for all the wrong reasons -- or by someone you fundamentally don’t trust?

Chris said he's "agnostic about the school, but religious about results,” talking about the pointless in-fighting about process that is happening among folks who agree that our inequitable education system needs to change. Later, someone asked a great, fairly obvious question: what results is Chris looking for exactly? What constitutes a high-quality education in the end?

Chris’ answer was simple: he wants schools to start by teaching black and brown boys to read and do math. He said you can find most of the benchmarks on the road to prison or to college in terms of literacy and algebra. First teach all kids to read and write, he said, and then let’s go from there.

That’s such a low bar! And yet it makes too much sense. If we haven’t mastered the first step, we can’t expect to take the 10th, but it threw me for a loop, for sure. Why are we having high-level conversations about education when we haven’t gotten to a point where we can teach all kids to read and write?

Yet that very truth necessarily brings to mind deeper questions. To ask what results I’m looking for is essentially like asking why I am sending my kids to school in the first place. And to frame those expectations against a school system that isn’t teaching all kids their letters and numbers… well, what’s realistic? What’s ideal?

My mind had started racing the moment the question was asked, thinking about social-emotional nurturing and liberating curriculum. About whether he’ll be taught, as I was, that Black history is the history of slavery, that communism is to be feared, and that manifest destiny explains the disappearance of indigenous people.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy writing along these line about what's wrong with our schools — and rightfully so, I think, since there are, frankly, so many problems. I'd like to continue exploring the more positive manifestations of this work, though, and to start thinking creatively about building the positive characteristics we do want as we educate our kids.

What "should" school be? What do I want and expect for my own kids and their education? For all kids?

These are big questions to explore, and I don’t think anyone has all the answers yet, but one thing I know for sure is that the charter school sector in Washington is having the conversation. The conference showed that charter leadership in our state has a keen awareness of the inequity in our schools, along with a willingness to ask tough questions and then take new, bold action. That’s something I haven’t seen from our traditional public school district in Seattle.

SPS has already hired Erin Rasmussen to be Emerson's new principal

My oldest son is a student at Emerson Elementary School in South Seattle. Our current principal -- Dr. Andrea Drake -- announced her resignation last month effective at the end of the school year.

Larry Nyland, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, sent an email to Emerson parents and families last night announcing that they had already filled the vacant position. Erin Rasmussen, currently an assistant principal at Aki Kurose, will be Emerson's new principal -- the school's fourth in four years.

I've heard nothing but good things so far about Ms. Rasmussen and her commitment to equity, and I look forward to the prospect of lasting change at a school that needs it most. Here's hoping this is the beginning of the end of institutional neglect at Emerson.

Here also is the full message from Superintendent Nyland:

Dear Emerson Elementary School community,
I am pleased to announce that Erin Rasmussen has been selected to be the new principal of Emerson Elementary. 
Ms. Rasmussen was selected because of her demonstrated commitment to racial equity, her impact in closing opportunity gaps, her outstanding administrative experience as an assistant principal at Aki Kurose Middle School, her knowledge and skills around teaching and learning, and her passion for building positive relationships with staff, students and families. The interview team, made up of staff, parents, and central office administrators, was particularly impressed with her focus on empowering student voice, her commitment to increasing the numbers of students of color in honors classes, and her belief that every child is brilliant. 
As an assistant principal at Aki Kurose Middle School for the past three years, Ms. Rasmussen oversaw the math and science departments. She led professional development at the school in areas such as cultural competency, standards-based grading, and supporting students who qualify for special education in the general education classroom. She has also led professional development around Multi-Tiered Systems of Support at the school and district level.
Ms. Rasmussen earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Whitworth University, and her Master of Education degree at Seattle University. Ms. Rasmussen is also a National Board Certified Teacher.   
Principal Rasmussen is excited to be continuing her work in southeast Seattle and is looking forward to partnering with the students, staff, and families of the Emerson community to make a difference for every student. Her official start date will be July 1, 2017. We will be scheduling opportunities for staff, families and students to meet Ms. Rasmussen before the end of the school year.
I would like to extend my thanks to Principal Andrea Drake for serving as principal for the past two years. Her deep commitment to the Emerson community is greatly appreciated. We look forward to having her come to district office this coming year to help design culturally responsive school supports in service of eliminating opportunity gaps across the entire system.
Thank you Dr. Drake, and welcome Principal Rasmussen to Emerson!
Sincerely,
Dr. Larry Nyland
Superintendent

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.

Superintendent Reykdal will outline his 'long-term education vision' at a press conference next week

Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced today that he will discuss his long-term "K-12 education vision and the McCleary funding compromise" at a special press conference next week.

From OSPI's press release:

“The OSPI team and I have been working with and supporting legislators from all four caucuses since I took office,” Reykdal said. “And like everyone else, I’d like the Legislature to come to an agreement and pass a budget before July 1."
"But I also know that this isn’t just about solving a court case. We must ensure our funding is targeted to best support all of the students in our state as they reach for success. And we must also be sure our funding system is sustainable over time.”

 

For the most part, Chris Reykdal has been saying all the right things so far when it comes to equity and McCleary funding, but he still hasn't earned my faith in his ability to follow through. For starters, he's a career politician, which is a path I find hard to trust. Secondly, I don't respect his camp's work during the campaign to quietly try to undermine Jones' credibility as a champion for equity.

I bring this up not out of sour grapes, but to say that Reykdal has lived out the politics I expect from a career politician taking over as superintendent of schools. I expect this to be a stop on his career path, and as such I expect him to be less willing to take risks and to make the potentially unpopular decisions that will lead to true changes in our state's education system.

I hope he proves me wrong.

In fact, as a parent with a son in a struggling elementary school, and in the name of what's right, I challenge you, Chris Reykdal, to be as bold as our kids need you to be in the name of racial and socioeconomic equity in education, regardless of its impact on your career.

We are not in an era where you can straddle the fence. Our state's progressive values are not reflected in our pathetic educational outcomes and segregated schools.

It's you, Chris Reykdal, who's been elected to change that. You will have to risk your popularity and your future electability, but I'm trusting you'll do that because it's what the job demands. I look forward to hearing your plans next week, and to seeing you in your role as the person our most overlooked families are quietly depending on to fight for our kids.

 

  • WHAT:    Press conference with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal
  • WHEN:    Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 10:30 a.m.
    • WHERE:  Brouillet Conference Room, 4th Floor
                     Old Capitol Building (OSPI)
                      600 Washington Street SE, Olympia

RSVP:  Nathan Olson, OSPI Communications Director: 

 

Chris Reykdal feels all the feelings about playgrounds.

Chris Reykdal feels all the feelings about playgrounds.

We know the Trump administration doesn't care about education. Will Washington State step up to save our kids?

Each state is currently in the process of establishing a comprehensive education and accountability plan under ESSA, which they'll submit to the federal government for approval.

These plans will determine, among other things, how each state will address its opportunity gaps, how they'll measure progress toward closing those gaps, and how they will help struggling schools.

Our nation has been built on a sturdy framework of systemic racism, and that reality is quite evident in our public school system. If we want to close gaps and change outcomes for low-income students and students of color, this is where it begins.

States don't have a great track record of upholding human rights when they don't "have to," however. The federal government has been more likely to carve out new protections for human and civil rights than the states. Of course, those protections are always gradual and reluctant, but it's still typically the federal government leading the way with policy that leads to implemented changes at the state level.

Examples do exist, though, of states going out on a limb in the name of equity, and those bold moves have a way of impacting the nation. Washington State did that for marriage equality earlier this decade. We have a chance to do the same for educational equity if our leadership makes brave, potentially unpopular decisions during this critical time.

The state superintendent's office in Washington (OSPI) has convened an Accountability System Workgroup to work on these issues. Under the direct leadership of Michaela Miller and Ben Rarick, the committee currently consists of a whopping 39 members.

As I understand, OSPI promised to reduce the size of the workgroup, but this promise was then broken. This is especially problematic because many members of the group are redundant in their role and voting interests, allowing the WASA/AWSP/WSSDA contingent to largely vote as a bloc, effectively negating any diversity of opinion or perspective in terms of outcomes.

In the end it will mean district staff are unchecked in designing a system for holding themselves accountable to student outcomes.

Our state has appalling opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines, and it is time we held our education system to a substantially higher standard than the level of systemic oppression it's currently operating.

We know the current fascist-leaning federal administration doesn’t care about public education. We need OSPI to refuse to participate in perpetuating the failure of our kids. The time is now or never.

Everything you need to know right now about school accountability under ESSA in Washington State

I've been writing a lot about ESSA and the need for active vigilance as our states attempt to write their own school accountability standards and procedures.

Here in Washington, state education leaders have developed a first draft of the statewide education plan due to the U.S. Education Department by Sept. 18, 2017.

A major chunk of the plan is dedicated to school accountability: knowing how well schools are meeting the academic needs of students, showing that information to parents and communities, and helping schools that are struggling the most. Of everything that happens during the transition from No Child Left Behind, this part of the process will have the most impact on educational equity, which means it will have the most impact on our traditionally oppressed students and communities. Which means nothing else in this plan matters if we let our education leaders get this part wrong.

So, let's stay vigilant together. Here are some highlights and potential concerns from the first draft of Washington's consolidated ESSA plan:

The Goals

Elementary/Middle Schools

Where data is available, Washington wants 100 percent of elementary and middle school students testing on grade level (or on track to being there) by 2037. At the 10-year midpoint, they hope to have each subgroup of students (including different racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, low-income students, etc.) cut the learning gap in half.

So, if 40 percent of black students are testing at grade level in 2017, for example, the state would like to see 70 percent of them at grade level by 2027 (the gap to get to 100 percent was 60, so half of that means an increase of 30).

High Schools

In 10 years, at least 90 percent of students from each subgroup should be testing on grade level in high school and graduating from high school.

English language proficiency goals are still to be determined.

Tracking and Rating Schools

States also have to measure how schools are doing in other areas. Washington has chosen to look at graduation rates, whether students are meeting a minimum bar for grade-level work, how much students are growing academically, progress for non-native English speakers, and “School Quality or Student Success” (things like chronic absenteeism, dual-credit participation and the percent of 9th graders who don’t fail a course).

They’ll use all of these indicators to give schools an overall score or rating. 

The state hasn’t completely figured out its rating system yet. Everything related to academics (such as student performance on tests, graduation rates, etc.) will count for more than the school-quality factors just mentioned, but exactly how the state plans to calculate a score remains vague.

In the plan, students’ academic growth is considered to be of “high” importance, performing at grade level is “medium,” and school-quality factors are “low.” This seems like generally the right way to think about it — academic factors should be a priority and count for more in a school’s overall score — but “precise numerical weightings have not been assigned,” according to the draft plan.

When they do figure out how to calculate scores, Washington will give schools an overall rating on a 1-10 scale. They’ll also give schools a color label tied to that ranking.

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

How are 'subgroups' counted?

Federal law says states have to track specific groups of students — the kind of kids who usually get the short end of the stick in education. Not only do states have to track them, but they must have a plan in place if those subgroups of students — again, students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, etc. — are not getting the education they deserve.

In the section of the plan where states are supposed to identify each “major” and “racial ethnic” group, Washington seems to ignores the “major” part — students with disabilities, low-income students, and English learners — and only addresses the racial ethnic groups.

In another section, Washington says it plans to create two sets of subgroups to help them identify schools that need “targeted support” (see more on this in the next section). The first set would group racial and ethnic minorities together — nearly any non-white student, it would seem. The second, called the “program” group, would include English learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students.

It’s unclear if Washington will report on low-income students or students with disabilities if they aren’t identified for this level of support. The only mention of this second set is when the plan talks about providing support to struggling subgroups needing “targeted support.” If the state doesn’t report on them, it will create a serious issue of state transparency with parents, and it could also put the state in violation of federal law.

Support for Struggling Schools

Once Washington figures out how to give every school a score, education officials will identify the bottom five percent of schools to receive the highest level of support: "comprehensive support." Schools with a four-year graduation rate below 67 percent will also be marked for comprehensive support.

The state will give these schools 90 days to figure out what they need to improve and come up with a plan. The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office (OSPI) will review those plans and get them back to the schools within 30 days. 

Schools that aren’t in the bottom five percent but have struggling subgroups of students will be identified as schools needing "targeted support.” The intervention is basically the same: Give them time to make a plan to turn things around. The major difference is funding. OSPI has no way of knowing for sure how much money will be available from the federal government, so comprehensive-support schools will be first priority when funding these plans. Whatever’s left will go to the targeted-support schools.

To identify targeted-support schools, the state will look at those two sets of subgroups (the racial/ethnic minorities set, and the “program” set with non-native English speakers, students with disabilities, and low-income students). Within each set, they’ll see which schools are struggling the most and select them for targeted support.

What's next?

We need to monitor the state's school rating system, which is currently in development by the Achievement and Accountability workgroup.

We also need to look into the rationale behind only checking school accountability measures every three years. This sets the stage for some very outdated information.

And we need to know if low-income students and students with disabilities will be reported on even if they don’t fall into the comprehensive or targeted support categories. This isn’t clear in the plan. We know they’ll be tracked for long-term goals, but outside of the targeted support details, they aren’t mentioned in the plan’s accountability section.

Nine Things Every Educator Needs to Know When Teaching Black Students

By Sharif El-Mekki

Most of my educational experiences as a child were in an all-Black spaces and all of my experiences as an educator have been in schools that serve Black communities. And, although I can’t say I am an expert on everything about educating Black children (despite people’s misconceptions, we are not a monolithic people), there are some experiences that I have had that speak to what Black students need from the educators who profess to serve them.

It goes without saying that the educational experience should support the development of literacy, numeracy, communication, problem-solving, and personal development skills. Students also need to be equipped with the “non-academic” skills necessary to navigate the real-world. To do that, our children and communities need a certain type of educator.

To ensure Black students are equipped with the knowledge to navigate real-world situations, they need educators who are deeply reflective, express empathy, are critically conscious, and can guide problem-solving.

These nine suggestions aren’t just from my experiences, but also from the countless hours of communication with Black families about the aspirations they have for their children and communities. These suggestions are not just for school-based educators. Anyone who touches the education of Black children, either directly or indirectly, should be immersed in efforts towards equity.

  1. The Right Mindset: If you don’t believe Black children can learn at the same rate as any other child, then you don’t belong in front of them. Honestly, you don’t belong in a classroom full of White children either, because you’ll covertly (and even overtly) reinforce white supremacist philosophy. The right mindset would be one of growth and engages ongoing professional development. Research shows that Black children are particularly impacted by their teachers’ opinion about them. That can be both powerful and dangerous.
  2. Supporting Students in Developing a Positive Racial Identity: Students are bombarded with messages that they are worthless, achieve less, and that only the exceptional Black person can perform at the highest levels. Unfortunately, because of this constant attack on the Black psyche, some students have internalized this. Educators have a crucial role in perpetuating this negative self-image, or being there to ameliorate it. Ensuring that materials share the contributions of Black people on society, both historically and present-day can go a long way. Also, it is crucial that our Black youth see and participate in educators celebrating students’ efforts and achievements beyond athletics and entertainment.
  3. High Expectations, High Support, Much Love: Too often there is a lack of balance. Some will enact authoritarian demeanor and rules, in the essence of stripping students of their dignity in the name of instilling order. Others tolerate chaos and excuses in the name of love. The answer is in the middle. It isn’t about no excuses or “make all the excuses in the world” schools. It is about helping students develop self-control and self-discipline necessary to be productive leaders in their communities. Hilary Beard describes parenting of Black children as being in quadrants. She describes the style that Black boys respond to the best as “strict authoritarian.” That means holding high expectations and lots of love.
  4. Establishing Windows and Mirrors: Too often, White children’s positive sense of self is reinforced through media, and in life. White students see an overwhelming number of people in power and, consciously or unconsciously, begin to assume that it is their rightful place in life. Black children see this, too. Often, even when a student has a Black teacher, other positions of power may be overwhelmingly White, so students see that. Helping all students see themselves as contributors to society and leaders within it is vital.
  5. Serving Holistically: Often, when people describe a holistic education, they’re lamenting the loss of the arts in our schools—it is that plus much more. Our educational strategies should include the arts, health, career-technical education, computer science, etc. It should be grounded in college- and career-readiness and support students with pursuing robust post-secondary options. A holistic education without students learning about character education and social justice is a limited education and doesn’t truly prepare students for their work outside of school.
  6. Learner of Culture: Educators should be curious, respectful and knowledgeable about Black history and culture while maintaining a high sense of humility and curiosity. Even if you have taught Black children for decades, don’t assume you know the struggles of Black folks better than they do. Too many educators have this outlook.
  7. Skilled in Channeling Anger: Students should be angry. Often, it is impossible to truly teach Black students and help them to see the world as it is and the promise of what society can be at the optimal levels without them becoming angry. I am not speaking of the self-destructive anger, I am speaking about the anger that spurs action towards positive outcomes. Malcolm X said, when people get angry they take action. And, as James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
  8. Communal Outlook: Black culture often demands a marriage with individuality and community. Too often, American society and educators celebrate individualistic goals and place individual accomplishments above community achievements. This is a mistake and leads to disharmony and frustration. There should be a balance and community-based goals should be an integral part of any educational system.
  9. Sense of Purpose: Educators who are working for the liberation of students of color will need to have and maintain a strong sense of purpose. The why and the how they approach the work is crucial—without it being grounded as incubators of dismantling white supremacy in its many forms, it may miss the mark. Conscious and committed educators view our schools as environments that can foster a commitment to our communities. Educators must also do the work and professional development that hones their skills as liberators, not overseers of the existing system. Without a strong sense of purpose, an educator can easily become a perpetrator of the very injustices they initially sought to dismantle.

 

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Sharif writes about educating and supporting black youth at his Philly's 7th Ward blog, where an original version of this post was first published.

Why does school accountability matter?

Public education leaders in Washington have developed a first draft of their statewide education plan. This plan is a requirement as part of ESSA, and state leaders say they’ll submit the final version to the U.S. Education Department by the Sept. 18 deadline.

A major chunk of the plan is dedicated to school accountability: Knowing how well schools are meeting the academic needs of students, showing that information to parents, and helping schools that are struggling the most.

We'll get into the details of the first draft of Washington's consolidated plan, and we'll try to figure out what it all means. In the meantime, I want to remind myself why this is important.

A strong, reliable system of accountability for our schools minimizes guesswork for parents. It grants them peace of mind knowing their school is doing well, or it shows them the plan for turnaround if their school is struggling.

We need to know how well our students are being educated and cared for at the institutions that demand their daily attendance and attention. We need to know what comes next if things start falling apart.

The principal at my son's elementary school is leaving at the end of the spring to take a promotion with the district. Her replacement will be our fourth principal in four years. We are living and watching the effects of institutional neglect at our South Seattle neighborhood school.

What's being done about it? What do our district and our state currently do for under-performing schools? Nothing of any substance. If our state's new education plan doesn't include stronger accountability levers, the answer won't change.

 

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?