The New “Jack”: Trading Justice for Grit

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

Statue of Liberty in Disgust

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Is Restorative Justice being “jacked?”

Restorative Justice (RJ) has a lengthy (centuries-old) global history too lengthy and complex to elucidate here. It  thankfully has become the recent focus of school disciplinary and judicial systems at a time when the school- to- prison pipeline is booming (thanks, private prisons), policy brutality is soaring, there is a rise in hate crimes (thanks, 2016 elections), and the inequitable rates of imprisonment and suspensions between white students and students of color have now continued unabated for decades.

However, despite its powerful and positive effects, and future potential to radically re envision our approach to peace, justice and sustainable communities, I am beginning to witness the emergence of something else calling itself “restorative justice,” but is perhaps offering us something else.

In schools across the United States, RJ being presented as group circle discussions on just about anything (so … nice democratic classroom practice… but not justice focused…) and the language being blended into what is being touted as “justice” frameworks are beginning to smack of something else reformy….GRIT.

Speaking to the GRIT narrative,  Pedro Noguera says “I’m not hearing in the conversation acknowledgments of the effect poverty, income inequality and the opportunity gap has on student achievement …All the grit in the world can’t compensate for the obstacles that face so many students in low income communities.” So, when RJ is synonymous with “grit” what happens to the focus on systemic injustice? It becomes  … something else.

RJ has its (contemporary) roots in 1970’s work in challenging systems of inequality by placing the tools for change and healing in the hands of children and communities themselves, and reducing the school- to- prison pipeline. RJ was (is) a practice intended to, “protect individuals, social stability and the integrity of the group.” (“Utu”Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 17 September 2013).

But more and more, what is being called RJ is in fact a focus on “character building” or “grit”—these terms attend to individual character, not on addressing systematic inequality. They place the narrative back in the neoliberal lap of individualism. While restorative justice is definitely personal (i.e perpetrator and victim), the focus is more on community building/healing than it is on strengthening personality traits. It is a process that commits people to one another in a rebalancing of the power distribution in society and shared behaviors. “Restorative justice views violence, community decline, and fear-based responses as indicators of broken relationships. It offers a different response, namely the use of restorative solutions to repair the harm related to conflict, crime, and victimization.” (Zehr, Howard. Changing Lenses – A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottdale PA: 2005, 268–69).

Now that RJ is the new “in” thing (everyone’s doing it) it has a following, and examples abound everywhere of teachers modeling this practice. Some of these classrooms are focused on “vocabulary” which includes teaching kids to focus on words like: orderliness, perseverance, and rigor. Not sure what any of that has to do with justice. What I am beginning to sense is that RJ is being carefully and quietly hijacked by the GRIT narrative that has recently gained traction as the vehicle for teaching (tracking? training?) social emotional learning. Yet, ironically they are at their core very different things. Grit and Duckworth’s study have been linked to racist practices and research.

Concepts such as “social-emotional or non-cognitive learning, or character education, or habits of success”  are NOT synonymous with restorative justice, much less equality, any more than Gardner’s learning styles are! Neither is “positive behavior support.”

Those are buzz words that have been developed and embraced by the same organizations that have contributed to decades of inequality through failed policies….now climbing aboard the RJ train. See the Face Book site sharing posts from Angela Duckworth and other practices that are justice “light”

While narratives of grit or habits of mind attempts to (re)colonize attitude and behaviors of students of color, RJ “represents a validation of values and practices that were characteristic of many indigenous groups,” whose traditions were “often discounted and repressed by western colonial powers.” source

Another article argues, “It is based on the principle that crime affects people, their families and communities (Strang, 2001).” And that RJ has, “an intention to reduce the violence inherent to the State’s apparatus

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Notice the deft pivot at where the focus is on: “Making sure that students aren’t punished or jailed for actions stemming directly from their own years as victims of crimes and poor upbringing,” but nothing is said about transforming a violent and oppressive system of racialized policing and punishment. The focus is no longer on transforming the system, it is on children as victims of “poor upbringing” (not sure what that means…) or developing better “character.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that schools must have quality infrastructure in place to support children who are surviving trauma, children with behavioral challenges, and create nurturing non-punitive classroom communities. There is a place for classroom conversations, circles, and support for individual learning.

I just do not wish to confuse that with restorative justice, or to have the latter subsumed by the former, a process by which the system would (yet again) cease to be the focus of our collective attention, and we instead turn attention to children as isolated agents of “good choice” or “character.”

It is also being blended with social expectations that seem to have little to do with violence or justice:

One school site says “We aren’t interested in ‘punishment.’ Rather, we want to inculcate the values of empathy, orderliness, and manners in students – lifelong lessons which they will use in future arenas.” This almost sounds like the “good behavior” narratives promulgated by charter schools aiming to “civilize” urban black youth.

Orderliness and manners? There are even some resources for versions of “restorative” practices that focus on Habits of Mind traits like “persistence,” “striving for accuracy,” and “impulsivity control.”

Compare an original/earlier definition of RJ:

“(I)n these communities relationships and victim-offender interaction were personal, and usually led to strong bonds and sometimes even to reduction in deviant behaviour. Most importantly, deviance was seen as a community problem, and a community failure not simply as a matter for the offender to pay or restore.” source

With this more recent (watered down) version:

“Restorative justice is about understanding the role trauma plays on the brain and developing teaching methods that actually are based on the needs of the students.” Note the word “personalized” here which reminds me of “personalized learning” now code for “students staring at a screen” learning. Both seem to be trending.

The difference may seem slight…but it’s significant. The emphasis on “the brain” here gestures toward developing a role for the use of psychometrics for predictive analytics (can we predict who might become deviant or commit anti social behavior?) rather than systemic restoration or healing.

There are already links between the Five Factors personality test (used in predictive analytics and data miners in psy ops) and the Grit narrative. As I have posted in earlier blogs:

There is a growing emphasis on the “affective” learning of students.  Some examples include: “ETS’ SuccessNavigator assessment and ACT’s Engage College Domains and Scales Overview … the broader domains in these models are tied to those areas of the big five personality theory.” Also see Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness

Paul Thomas notes, “grit narratives are also often masks for race and class biases in the same way IQ was embraced throughout much of the twentieth century.”

Bridging grit and personality to restorative justice is merely one more link the in the passage of selling out progressive narratives (justice, peace or restoration for examples) into data profiteering and social corporate engineering. Education reform history is steeped in using such tactics.

See titles like “Justice and personality: Using integrative theories to derive moderators of justice effects” and “The Importance of Perceptions in Restorative Justice Conferences: The Influence of Offender Personality Traits on Procedural Justice and Shaming” to see where RJ language is being blended with new forms of personality testing.

Even Teach for America is on the Restorative Justice ticket.      #Hashtag irony.

Who else might you ask could be leading this hijacking effort? Maybe Chiefs for Change?  who are passing out information using a finely tuned blurring instrument that seamlessly takes you from thinking your focusing on justice, when the shell game in fact is pulling a bait and switch. Note the article entitled: “The connection between grit, resilience, and equity”

What is their agenda? Read on:

“Wilson points out that leading businesses have found ways to diminish hierarchy, to create flatter organizations, and to reinvent work spaces and climates with the needs of real human beings in mind — and have profited as a result. Schools should learn lessons, he says. And they should invest in helping everyone come to a deeper understanding of behaviors that can quickly be classified as insubordination or disrespect, in ways that decrease conflict and punishment.”

With a nudge from researcher and blogger Alison Mcdowell I also did a search on relationships between RJ and social impact bonds. It appears to have been emerging in the U.K.  back in 2015. The article says: “Work with offenders is already delivered on a payment by results basis by the new community rehabilitation companies(CRCs). If an offender who had gone through restorative justice delivered by an independent provider as well as other CRC-funded activities does not go on to commit a further crime, who gets the credit?”

I guess justice is for sale.

-Morna McDermott

 

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The Ballad of Joseph Olchefske: Middle College, Ed-Reform Market Failure, and the March of Online Learning

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What do you think should happen in this scenario?

The superintendent of the largest school district in the state, through mismanagement and carelessness, runs up a crippling 35 million dollar deficit?

If you believe in the efficiency of the market, the answer should be easy.

The superintendent would be immediately fired. Since his actions lost the school district money or in business terms – became extremely unprofitable,  he would never again have a job related to education.

Meet Joseph Olchefske, an expert in finance, and a rising star in Seattle Public Schools in the late ’90s. After the untimely death of his mentor, John Stanford, Olchefske officially became Superintendent of SPS in February of 1999.

Within four years of his tenure, the district would be facing a 35 million dollar deficit and Olchefske would be on the receiving end of two separate votes of no confidence.

Here’s a timeline from the Post-Intelligence which documents the unravelling.

Timeline

Sept. 14, 1995: Seattle Schools Superintendent John Stanford appoints Olchefske to be chief financial officer for district. He had been a public-finance manager for brokerage firm Piper Jaffray in Seattle since 1986.

Nov. 28, 1998: Stanford dies of acute myelogenous leukemia.

Feb. 09, 1999: Olchefske, who had been interim superintendent after Stanford’s death, is named permanent superintendent.

Aug. 16, 2002: Olchefske’s chief financial officer, Geri Lim, resigns in exchange for $51,000, a letter of reference and $1,000 for job-hunting costs.

Oct. 4, 2002: Olchefske announces that accounting glitches and computer problems led to a $35 million budget shortfall.

Oct. 28, 2002: Principals Association of Seattle Schools votes against holding a no-confidence vote.

Nov. 1, 2002: Seattle School Board votes in support of Olchefske.

Nov. 05, 2002: Seattle Education Association, the teachers union, publicly calls for Olchefske to resign.

March 28, 2003: Principals Association executive board votes no confidence in Olchefske.

April 4, 2003: Teachers union votes no confidence in Olchefske. “I’m committed to being superintendent,” he responds.

April 14, 2003: Olchefske resigns.

You would think a 35 million dollar financial meltdown would be a big red flag on someone’s resume. Not so for Olchefske. He immediately landed a job with the American Institute for Research, also know as AIR.

AIR’s founder got his start pioneering psychological testing to screen for prospective combat pilots during World War II. Afterwards, AIR expanded into the area of education and workforce readiness.  As you can imagine, AIR is all in when it comes to the recently updated ESSA and the associated competency-based and social emotional learning.

Middle College

How did Olchefske make the leap from a widely disliked superintendent to Managing Director at the American Institute for Research?

I’m guessing one of his pet projects in Seattle had a lot to do with it.

In January of 2001, Seattle Public Schools partnered with the Simon Youth Foundation to launch The Northgate Mall Education Resource Center, also know as the Mall Academy. This school was added to the Middle College concept within Seattle Public Schools (SPS).

High school students enrolled in the Education Resource Center would attend classes at the mall focusing on skills training such as applied health occupations and vocationally certified school-to-work programs. Students could even work at the mall for credit.

The idea of a vocational school at the mall was so innovative, in fact, the John Hopkins School of Education has an article about it on its website. Oh, did I mention Olchefske is an Adjunct Professor at John Hopkins?

Most of all, the Education Resource Center will serve as a catalyst for partnerships between educators and employers and will benefit the mall, its stores, and the students it serves. Junior Achievement of Seattle and Community in Schools are just two of the additional partners who have already committed to provide services and resources to support the students. Young people will receive instruction and on-the-job training for careers in retailing, and there will be management track employment opportunities at the mall for graduates of the retail-training program.

“This is a tremendous program, not only for our students, but for the City of Seattle,” said schools Superintendent Joseph Olchefske. “It represents the kind of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that is so essential if we are to deliver on the dream of academic achievement for every student in every school.”

It’s worth noting the history surrounding Middle College. When first conceived, the Middle College concept was based on reaching high-risk kids through an association of a small school with a strong social justice focus. Adding a solely jobs training, commercially orientated school to the mix was bound to create friction – and it did.

In May of 2015, Superintended Nyland abruptly announced the closure of Middle College at High Point. This was one of the schools under the Middle College umbrella with a social justice core curriculum designed to connect with at-risk kids. There was a huge pubic uproar over the closure.

As the controversy grew, the ed-reform supporting The 74 published a “hero in education” puff piece in December praising the work of Middle College High School at Northgate, Simon Youth Foundation, and its work with at-risk youth.

Today, Middle College at Northgate has a blended instructional model meaning much of the class time is spent on a computer.

Middle College High School @ Northgate is a distinctive educational environment that offers direct and digital academic instruction. It is a student-centered, alternative option that encourages the development of community, personal responsibility, and active learning in the core disciplines of math, science, social studies, and language arts. It is a place to prepare for higher education or career readiness in a small, compassionate academic setting.

Ed-Reform Market Failure

After AIR, Olchefske has continued on his gold-plated career trajectory.

He’s worked for: Educate Online, Mosaica Education, Inc.Calvert EducationEducation Industry Association (EIA)Flex Academies, and Springboard Education in America, LLC.

What do all of these companies have in common?

The privatization of public education and the push to move school online, outside of school buildings, and toward the “anytime, anywhere, learning model”. Viewed through that lens, The Northgate Mall Education Resource Center was ahead of its time.

Way back in 2003, former SPS school board member Don Nielson seemed more worried about Olchefske than the district’s financial trouble.

Don Nielsen, a former school board member and a supporter of the superintendent, was disappointed to learn of Olchefske’s resignation. “I think it’s not in the best interests of the district, but it probably is in the best interests of Joseph and (wife) Judy and their family,” he said. “Anybody that has a complaint with the district is now focusing on him. He didn’t see that going away anytime soon, if at all. As long as he’s a lightning rod, it’s going to be tough for him to lead.”

Nielsen shouldn’t have worried. It seems Olchefske is doing just fine. With the passage of the dumpster fire that is the updated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I would expect him to do even better in the future.

-Carolyn Leith

Look What You’ve Done – An Open Letter to My Mother

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When you announced your plans, at your 70th birthday last summer, to vote for him, I patiently explained why a vote for Trump was a direct vote against the safety and well being of your only two grandchildren. You didn’t listen. You spouted rhetoric about how much you hated Hillary and didn’t trust the government. As we drove away from your house that day I knew in my heart that it would be the last time I would bring my children there. Something in the way your husband blurted out, during lunch, about his gun not being secured while Beezus was alone in your house made me realize that this was no place for my most beloved humans, my children, your only grandchildren.

Over the next few months I tried to appeal to your rational side. I don’t believe you are racist and I know you’re not homophobic. I’ve also always known you to be a feminist, maybe you’ve changed and I just didn’t notice. Maybe I assumed you were still the mother I had in 1969, 1974, 1980. I kept sending articles your way and sharing the writings of your very astute LGBTQ 12 year old granddaughter. You did not budge.

And then the morning after, when the rest of the nation was mourning our loss, when my 6 year old was too sad to go to school-trying to grasp why grown ups would elect a bully for their president, you went on Facebook to gloat in his victory. You told us that he would fix everything that was wrong with our country. When I reminded you that you had chosen to vote against your own granddaughters’ well being, you chose to ignore me.

And now it has begun. First he and his cronies, white men who have never known a day without extreme privilege, have made plans to dismantle my children’s health care coverage. We are income eligible for Apple Health and since enrolling after the ACA was enacted my children have received free medical and dental coverage. In the past, when my daughters, your granddaughters, were uninsured we didn’t take them to the doctor except in the most extreme of circumstances. It has been such a relief to know that they have finally been receiving the medical and dental care that all people deserve. Beezus is worried about how we will be able to afford to continue with their now regular dental visits. I’m worried too.

I’d like to take a brief aside to mention why it is that my children are eligible for free health care coverage through the state. Am I unemployed? No. I work full time, more than full time usually, about 50-55 hours a week. I am also a college graduate, Dean’s list UW 1996. But I happen to do “women’s work”. I am a child care provider, one of the most feminist and necessary occupations in our country. I am here every day making sure that six other American families can go to work. I make about $11 per hour.

But I digress, back to health care. We should be ok, we’ve gone without healthcare before, but I worry a lot about my friends’ children with asthma and life threatening allergies, and of course all of our friends with Type 1 Diabetes. What about you and your other friends with MS? You use Medicare, didn’t you think to worry about all of your friends with pre existing conditions and how a lifetime spending cap would affect them? My elderly neighbor feels lucky he had his heart attack early in November. His 11 day ICU visit to Harborview came in at just over $200,000-his portion will be about $1,500. But what will it be for my neighbors who have their heart attacks after Paul Ryan has his way with Medicare?

But maybe you’re like your president and think my neighbors don’t matter? After all many of them are black and brown and certainly some of them don’t pray to your Christian God. My next door neighbors are Muslim, recent immigrants from Iraq. The next house down, Muslim also, from Somalia. In fact of the twenty children who live on my block, only 2 of them are white, your granddaughters. Maybe you were counting on their whiteness to save them from this new administration and it’s devastating policies?

But it won’t. Because you made me a liar. And this is what pains me most of all. When your granddaughter came out at age 9, I told her this was the best time, best city and best family to grow up gay. Your granddaughter already knows Mike Pence thinks she should be electrocuted. And now Donald is sponsoring the anti LGBTQ “First Amendment Defense Act” that would legalize discrimination against your granddaughter in all aspects of her life.

Your vote made my daughter unsafe. Your vote made my friends’ trans kids unsafe. Your vote made my friends’ gay sons unsafe. You know who made me an ally though? You did. You worked at the phone company in the seventies when it was one of the only safe work places for the LGBTQ community. They were relegated to working as phone operators on the night shift with all of the others who were seen as weirdos and freaks. And you being a night owl, and something of a freak yourself, loved that shift and loved going out dancing at Shelly’s Leg after work with all your wonderful Gay and Lesbian friends. You were the one who taught me about the struggles of trans people when our friend Kelly, who had once been our big beautiful black friend Eric, was going through his transition and surgeries. You were the one who introduced me to Gay marriage when I was 4, in 1974, when we went to your friends’ house and they showed me the photo album of their recent nuptials and I mistakenly asked, “but where’s the bride mommy?” I’ll never forget how those two lovely men took my hand and explained to me that THEY had gotten married. I have carried that moment and their pure joy, with me always.

And what about your granddaughters’ education? That’s something that has always been important to you. They’re both Special Education students, you know that, so maybe you know that your president’s pick for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, didn’t know about the federal protections my children are afforded through IDEA. She would prefer I be given some vouchers so that my children might attend a parochial school or one of the full day online, screen time schools. Betsy DeVos doesn’t care about my children and their right to an amply funded high quality education at a public school by highly trained union teachers. But I know you did. You and my father made sure that I attended the finest public schools in our city. In fact, you were so discouraged with the lack of racial diversity at my neighborhood school that you enrolled me as a “voluntary racial transfer student” in 1978. I rode the bus all the way from Lake City to John Muir Elementary because you believed it was important for children to grow and learn in diverse schools.

I believe that too. That’s why my children go to a very diverse public school. A science school, by the way. Up until recently science didn’t seem very revolutionary but it is now that our Forrest Service is on the forefront of the resistance movement simply by speaking their truth and the daily evidence they see of climate change. Our science school is breeding its own resistance movement. Twice already the middle school students have held classroom walk outs in opposition to your president and his position on our Civil Rights. Both of your granddaughters were out on the sidewalk in front of school chanting, “This is a Safe Place!”

And they are right. Our city, Seattle and our friends in nearby Burien, have declared our cities, Sanctuary Cities. Your president has said that he will withhold funding to penalize us for this but our city’s Mayor Ed Murray held a press conference yesterday in direct defiance of that threat. We shall not be moved.

And then there is the earth. But if you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for the safety of the children, and your own friends, I’m guessing you don’t care about the earth either. Your granddaughters do though. They wept when I showed them the photos of the brave people who have camped out all winter to protect all of us, and our Mother, from the pipeline. Water is life.

But your president is only concerned about protecting the life of the unborn. Smugly signing away funding for Women’s access to reproductive health care services by global organizations, simply because some of those providers might also provide, or just mention abortion services? That photo of he, and the other white men in their suits signing away women’s health care was so vile, so unsettling-their hatred for women so palpable.

I still feel powerful though. I can thank you for that too I suppose. You didn’t know how to drive so we walked and bussed all over this city when I was a little girl. Often just the two of us, after dark. You were never afraid. If anyone tried to bother us you always said, “Move along now, move along,” quietly but firm. I took that quality from you and I’ve passed it to my girls. But I am loud. Our girls are so powerful, too, marching through the streets with 150,000 of our friends who believe that your president is wrong. We had signs from their Uncle Derek and the girls had pussy hats from my old friend Sara in Jersey and DIY buttons. They looked like mighty Power Puff versions of young revolutionaries as they chanted and marched for miles and miles.

I believe that me and my people will make it through this time, but I also believe that you and the people you have chosen to lead us are going to do a lot of damage that will not be easily repaired. Irreparable. What you’ve done is irreparable. I will work to clean the mess. I will march and post. I will display signs of commitment, Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights Matter, Muslim Rights Matter, Immigrants Rights Matter, LGBTQ Rights Matter, Worker’s Rights Matter. And most important, I will do my job as a Citizen and a Mother to raise 2 voters who always think of the greater good of ALL people and our earth, first. When that time comes, we will truly be able to say it was WE not he, who made America great again.

-Shawna Murphy
Editor’s note: To learn more about Shawna’s work, please read Fighting for Fairness: A Family Portrait in Activism from Seattle’s Child. 

Wayne Au, PhD: How a whiter Seattle creates more education inequities

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Dr. Wayne Au is an Associate Professor of Education at the School of Educational Studies at University of Washington, Bothell, and an editor for Rethinking Schools, a magazine focused on issues of educational justice. He is a product of Seattle Public Schools (Garfield Class of ’90), and he earned his BA and MIT from The Evergreen State College. He also taught in Seattle Public Schools (including teaching at a program for drop outs) and in the Berkeley Unified School District before getting his Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction with a minor in Education Policy Studies, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is published widely, including multiple articles in top-tier, peer-reviewed education journals, two solo-authored books, three edited books, and a long list of book chapters and magazine articles.

Dr. Au is also an advocate for public education.

This article was originally published at the Seattle Globalist:

How a whiter Seattle creates more education inequities

A recent Stanford study found that, of the nation’s biggest cities, Seattle has the fifth largest test score gap between black and white students in grades 3 through 8. According to the study, African American students in Seattle are 3.5 grade levels behind their white peers. Our city and state should be rightfully concerned.

However, in order to make sense of this achievement gap, it is important to understand the relationship between standardized tests, race, gentrification, and poverty in Seattle.

Economic and racial inequalities are intimately connected to standardized test scores.  Such tests are notorious for reproducing race and class inequalities, and it has been well established that standardized test scores correlate most strongly with wealth and affluence. Indeed, factors outside of school — including food insecurity, housing insecurity, lack of adequate healthcare, exposure to environmental toxins and other issues associated directly with poverty — can explain most of a student’s test score.

This connection between socioeconomic class and standardized tests is important because Seattle has changed. Seattle has gotten Whiter and more affluent in recent years.  In 2013 Seattle was 67 percent White, an almost 2 percent bump from 2010. In 2014 Seattle’s median household income was $71,000, almost 20 percent above the national average.

However, despite Seattle’s increasing wealth overall, Black families have gotten poorer. The Seattle median household income of Black Families in 2014 was only $25,700, down 13.5 percent from 2012. Black families are leaving the city too. The Central District was almost 80 percent African American in the 1970s, and it has decreased to 20 percent today. Many south suburbs now have a higher percentage of African American residents than Seattle’s 7.9 percent.

The decrease in Seattle’s African American population along with the sharp decrease in Black household income signals the likelihood that, in the face of rapid gentrification, Seattle’s Black middle class is leaving the city. One result is that the middle class Black children who would have scored somewhat better on the tests have left too. Another result is that the those African American children still in the city are even more disproportionately poor, where 42 percent of Black people in Seattle under the age of 18 live in poverty.

Given all of this, a significant Black/White test score gap in our city should not surprise anyone. Poverty and unequal access to resources are the one thing standardized tests are good at measuring.

I know from personal conversations that a lot of educators and parents are trying to make sense of Seattle’s test score gaps. Some say it is the fault of teachers. Some fault the state legislature for not meeting their constitutional mandate to fully fund education. Other culprits include district discipline policies and a curriculum that is alienating and not relevant to our kids.

All of these factors do have some responsibility. The recent destruction of alternative schools and programs with social justice, anti-racist curriculum demonstrate Seattle Public Schools’ resistance to materially support content aimed at connecting to the identities and lives of Black children. Teachers need to have a stronger and more critical racial consciousness. The state legislature has failed to fully fund public education funding for years now. Our district discipline policies and practices have consistently produced racist outcomes.

These are all issues we could and should take up if we are interested in improving Black student achievement in Seattle schools. We could implement culturally relevant curriculum and support it with well-funded training and resources, develop stronger and more critical racial awareness among teachers, staff, and administrators, increase the numbers of school counselors, psychologists, and family support workers, end punitive and racist disciplinary policies and practices, push the legislature for full funding, reduce class sizes, ensure access to more art, P.E., librarians, and recess and longer lunch periods.

All of these suggestions would go a long way to making schools more engaging and better places to learn, and they are all changes that can happen relatively quickly. However, if policymakers are interested in educational equity, instead of focusing on the Black/White test score gap , which is an overly-narrow and inherently flawed measure of achievement, they would do better to take issues like affordable housing, food security, access to quality healthcare, and living wages as seriously as any educational reforms they might propose.

Black Lives Matter to Teachers in Seattle

200 plus teachers from Seattle, Renton and Highline met in downtown Seattle on Friday, February 6th to stand in solidarity with people around the country to say “Black Lives Matter to Teachers”. Traffic was blocked as teachers lay down in the intersection of 4th Avenue and Pine Street. Fortunately, there was no pepper spray, no military gear, tanks, Humvee’s, no incidents or injuries.

It was a peaceful yet powerful protest.

#BlackLivesMatter

 

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