A local coalition of human service nonprofits is getting the mayor involved in a school district controversy when they give out their annual awards this year, slated for a wholesome June 13 ceremony at City Hall to celebrate all things social justice.
If you'll remember, earlier this year after a family complained, Seattle Public Schools took the surprisingly forceful step of suspending a social studies curriculum at small alternative high school the Center School—a curriculum that focused on race, gender, and social justice (and that the complaining parents said made their kid uncomfortable).
While Superintendent José Banda eventually reinstated the curriculum, he forbade the use of one specific portion of the class—a set of discussions and activities called "Courageous Conversations"—saying it was intended for adults and not appropriate for a high school classroom. The class includes an AP literature credit, so its literature is expected to be at an adult level, and schools across the country have adapted the Courageous Conversations stuff for use with students; it was a dumb workaround intended to calm controversy. The teacher of the class and the teachers' union publicly opposed the move as an overreach by the district.
Now the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC), a coalition of noprofits that advocates for social services in King County, is giving the school an award for "encouraging dialogue around race, gender and class," specifically calling out that now-forbidden curriculum. Not only that, but the award they're giving the school is the Mayor's Award and Proclamation—part of the award is that the mayor issues an official proclamation in celebration of the recipient. Apparently, he usually proclaims the day of the awards ceremony a city-recognized day in honor of the awardee, which could be a bit awkward since the situation has been such a bitter controversy at the school district.
SHSC director Julia Sterkovsky tells me the Mayor's Award is chosen by a different coalition member every year, this year by their Nonprofit Anti-Racism Coalition, and SHSC doesn't know who will be accepting the award on behalf of the school. The principal hasn't appeared very supportive of the curriculum or the teacher who used it, but the award is aimed at the school community, not the administration, says Sterkovsky, so it's anyone's guess who'll show up to snag that shiny lucite trophy. The award is totally in keeping with their work, Sterkovsky tells me, because "racism contributes to people not being able to meet their basic needs."
Kay Smith-Blum was elected to the Seattle School Board in 2009 with the promise of a being hard-nosed progressive—a reformer among a board that was, at the time, dominated by a bunch of Seattle Times lackeys who oversaw a multimillion dollar scandal and controversially shuttered South Seattle Schools—while using her business acumen and political skills to get things done. Smith-Blum beat incumbent Mary Bass, a progressive in her own right, who was nonetheless seen as somewhat ineffective. In the years since, Seattle Schools have tilted toward reformers and been relatively scandal-free.
But after that single term, Smith-Blum says she's ready to move on. "I simply have too much personally and businesswise to campaign this summer and I do not feel I can commit to the same level of focus for another 4 years," the co-owner of Butch Blum wrote in a letter to supporters and friends this morning.
And who can blame her?
Our anemic school district is held together with bubble gum and Popsicle sticks, and the board's low profile means that even high-profile fuck ups rarely get the scrutiny they deserve—or the scrutiny is applied years too late—and major advances in the district pass without a whisper. (WHY ANYONE WOULD WANT TO SERVE A SINGLE GODDAMN TERM ON THAT GODDAMN BOARD IS GODDAMN MYSTERY.)
Smith-Blum, who also recently withdrew her candidacy for the State Board of Education, has given blessing to Stephan Blanford as her successor. He will be running this fall and filed today. The seat on the Seattle School Board represents district 5, encompassing public schools in central Seattle. Smith-Blum's letter follows:
Updated with comments from the Bruce Harrell and Mike McGinn mayoral campaigns.
Mayor Mike McGinn joined leaders from Seattle Central Community College today to announce a "major new education initiative" to fully fund tuition costs for 225 financially needy students next year.
"That's 225 families whose lives will be changed forever when these students graduate and step into high paying jobs in Seattle's knowledge based economy," said Adam Nance, Seattle Central Foundation's executive director.
Called Seattle Promise, the fund consists of private donations from Safeco Insurance Foundation and Boeing to an endowment. Each company donated $300,000. Nance said he expects more sponsors to get on board and grow the endowment into the millions to cover many more students in the next few years. "If you want to go to college and can't afford to, we've got your back," McGinn declared.
At a press conference last night, the group of teachers announcing their continued boycott of Seattle Public Schools' use of the MAP standardized test encouraged parents to participate by opting their kids out of the MAP test. The spring window for testing started last week and goes through early June; parents can opt their child out of nearly any standardized test by sending written notice to a school administrator that they wish to do so.
Phil Sherburne, president of the Garfield PTSA, said that parents there "joined with staff at the school" in opposition to this test, that they made it clear to all parents that they could opt their kids out of testing, and that "an overwhelming majority of them did that." Many of the teachers who were speaking on behalf of their schools are also parents and said they had opted their own kids out of testing, urging other parents to do the same.
This boycott has gained national attention, its participants have so far not been disciplined by the district, and it's expanding to other schools—they announced last night that teachers at Ingraham High School and Thornton Creek Elementary are now participating as well, joining the staff at five other schools.
They have a clearer message at this point, too—they're telling the district to "scrap the MAP" by not renewing the test contract for next year.
But it's still unclear what the alternatives will be; a district-led task force on testing seems doomed to fail, and an independent teacher-led group is devising recommendations that likely won't have traction with the district.
Slog Tipper Oliver just sent us this post from the Dallas Observer about Texas A&M—a university the post's author, Patrick Williams, calls "the intellectual center of bubbadom." Take it away, Williams:
One week—one!—after the U.S. Supreme Court heard hopeful, moving arguments in cases that could advance gay and lesbian people one step closer to full personhood under law, the university's student senate is poised to take a symbolic leap backward in bigotry with a bill that would allow students with religious objections to opt out of paying the share of their student fees that fund the school's GLBT Resource Center.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the student bill was originally called "The GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill," but was rewritten a bit (after an outcry) to the "Religious Funding Exemption Bill.” The school's student senate finance chairman, Fernando Sosa, says that since after the rewrite, it "doesn’t target any specific group... I now support it" because "students should be able to decide where their money goes." Brilliant logic, my friend! Student fees should be completely à la carte. For example, if I were a Texas A&M student, I'd definitely want to make sure none of my student fees funded Mr. Sosa's work with the school senate, since I have a religious opposition to bigotry. Actually, I have a religious opposition to the systematic underfunding of our education system that makes school fees and tuition so high in the first place, so I'd like an exemption to paying for any of it in the first place, thanks so much.
Thankfully, if the student bill passes, it looks like it won't actually be mandatory for the school's administration to enforce it—it's more of a recommendation from the student senate. Unfortunately, a Republican state representative wants to take the issue to the state level. From that Chronicle story:
Zedler, a Republican from Arlington, filed an amendment to the state’s general appropriations bill, SB 1, that would prohibit public colleges and universities from using state funds to fund “Gender and Sexuality Centers”. Zedler’s bill alleges these campus resource centers “support, promote, or encourage any behavior that would lead to high risk behavior for AIDS, Hepatitis B or any other sexually transmitted disease.”
Zedler’s office did not return call for comment. Zedler first gained notoriety for leading a grassroots blockade against a Hooters restaurant set to open near his neighborhood in Arlington and was subsequently elected to the Texas House in 2003.
Twelve school districts sent letters to the state Board of Education by Monday's deadline, indicating their intentions to authorize charter schools. But don't expect any dramatic school turnarounds.
Studies have consistently shown that on average, charter schools do no better than traditional public schools at educating like students. In fact, the most credible large-scale study to analyze charter school performance—from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)—found that 37 percent of charters actually performed worse than traditional public schools serving demographically like communities. Only 17 percent of charters performed better; the rest did about the same.
Still, backers insisted that Initiative 1240 was designed to learn from the experience in other states, and only replicate the best standards here. There are plenty of successful charter schools, advocates argued. For example, many of the 125 schools run by KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program).
The true secret is more money, something public schools are starving to get. In 11 districts in the 2007 school year, KIPP received, on average, as much as $5,760 more per pupil than local school districts, according to a recent study. KIPP leverages this generous supplemental private funding in a straightforward way: giving students more time in schools while placing a reasonable limit on class sizes.
According to a 2012 Mathematica report, KIPP schools provided 192 days of school each year, nine hours a day. That's 45% more learning time than conventional schools provide — the equivalent of four added months of schooling.
We should not be surprised when four extra months results in several additional months of test-score growth.
If we truly wanted to learn from KIPP's example we'd start by amply funding our public schools, enabling them to provide the intensive wrap-around services that KIPP provides. But we don't. No, at comparable funding levels, charter schools are mostly an exercise in privatization and union-busting. I suppose for some, that's a worthy end in itself. But it sure as hell doesn't have anything to do with improving public education.
The Reproductive Parity Act is dead, thanks to the self-aggrandizing coup that made Rodney Tom Senate "Majority" Leader while handing Republicans control of the Health Care Committee. But as Anna explained earlier today, it's not really dead. Even once tomorrow's cutoff passes, the bill can still be pulled to the floor via a "ninth order" maneuver. That is, as long as Tom and the other 24 senators who've claimed support for the bill, truly support it.
The same holds true for the Washington State Dream Act. The bill passed the House on a bipartisan 77-20 vote, and has more than enough votes to pass the Senate. But Higher Education chair Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor) refuses to move it out of committee.
Senator Bailey went further, canceling today's final committee hearing after learning that OneAmerica was bringing in students from around the state to show their support, including over a hundred bused in from Yakima. "The students were down here hoping they'd have the opportunity to talk her," OneAmerica's Toby Guevin told me. "They weren't given that opportunity today." In more ways than one.
But again, Tom and other Republicans are on the record supporting the Dream Act—which would make resident undocumented children eligible for college financial aid, just like they're already eligible for in-state tuition. So if Tom et al really support the bill, they could just sidestep Bailey by voting with Democrats to move to the ninth order. You know, exactly the same way Republicans moved to the ninth order last session in order to seize control and attempt to impose an austerity budget.
These bills are really only dead if Tom allows them to stay dead. Both the votes and the precedent are there to push these bills to a floor vote.
Tom allegedly leads the Senate. The fate of these bills are in his hands.
In case you don't listen religiously, This American Life recently aired a two-part story about Harper High School, a Chicago school where last year, in one school year, 29 current and former students were injured or killed in shootings. TAL sent three reporters into the school to talk to students, teachers, social workers, administrators, and parents this year, and they stayed for five months. The stories they tell are riveting—about how gangs operate much differently than the adults are imagining, how common it is for students to witness horrific gun violence, the weird maps and networks created by gang affiliation and students' deaths, the ramifications for young people who are caught up in what is essentially a war zone, and the effect it has on the adults who are fighting for these kids. (Says one social worker after a student runs away from school and home to avoid the police, "How could I lose him when I'm reaching my hand out? Grab back.")
I've been slowly listening to the episodes over the last week or so, and now I can't stop thinking about them. It's haunting.
If you listen to the story, then you'll know that one issue the school is facing is the imminent loss of funding that they were getting for being a "turnaround school"—funding they say is working, if slowly, Funding that pays for those social workers and psychologists and extra teachers who make class sizes smaller. In the wake of the TAL reporting, a donation page for Harper High School has been set up. That donation page is here.
On Friday, Seattle Schools superintendent José Banda released a letter regarding the standardized-test boycott that happened this winter. Saying that "our community has engaged in a deep discussion during the last two months" about the controversial MAP test, he goes on to act like everything went just fine in the end:
I am pleased to report that every school administered the MAP assessment and met the testing deadline.
There will be no discipline of any test administrator. Those teachers who publically [sic] said they refused to administer the test either did not teach a tested subject, or they were not a test administrator.
Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher who became de facto spokesman for Garfield High School teachers when they boycotted the MAP test en masse, is completely bewildered by the letter, though he's relieved that they won't be disciplined by their district. "It's so crazy that I don't even understand how to respond to it," he tells me, "but we're happy with the end result."
The idea that no one who said they were boycotting was actually a "test administrator" is a fascinating and weird workaround for the district. "It depends on how he defines [test administrator]," says Hagopian. Since the district forced school administration to pull students out of class and give the test when the teachers who were supposed to do it refused, "I guess he can just decree that the test administrator at Garfield became the administration," and thus, those newly deputized test administrators did give the test. But in reality, "the test administrator at Garfield is Kris McBride," Hagopian says, "and she's been the most outspoken boycotter of all. This makes very little sense."
Meanwhile, the district has announced a slight relaxation of the MAP policies for the spring round of testing, which starts April 22. Teachers say they're not backing down on their boycott for spring. So it looks like everyone's strapping in for another battle to start in the next few weeks—and since the testing window goes till June 7, it could last basically untill the end of the school year.
Substitute the word "Washington" for the word "California," and this New York Times editorial applies here as well.
The same California State Legislature that cut the higher education budget to ribbons, while spending ever larger sums on prisons, now proposes to magically set things right by requiring public colleges and universities to offer more online courses. The problem is that online courses as generally configured are not broadly useful. They work well for highly skilled, highly motivated students but are potentially disastrous for large numbers of struggling students who lack basic competencies and require remedial education. These courses would be a questionable fit for first-time freshmen in the 23-campus California State University system, more than 60 percent of whom need remedial instruction in math, English or both.
[...] Online classes are and will be part of the educational mix, in California and elsewhere. But they cannot be counted on to revive a beleaguered public system whose mission is to educate a great many freshmen who need close instruction and human contact to succeed. To broaden access and preserve what is left of the public university, California lawmakers will need to change budget priorities that have been moving in the wrong direction for a long time.
I repeat: Distance learning has its merits and its place. But it is not college. And it is not a comparable replacement for the real thing.
It doesn't take a scholar to see what is happening. This sudden embrace of online classes by state legislators—including ours—is not about improving access to higher education; it's about producing bachelor degrees cheaper. Rather than renewing our investment by reversing cuts that threaten the futures of middle class and low income students, we are in the process of creating a two-tier university system that reduces access to higher education while providing the illusion of increasing it.
Lawmakers will use cheaper online classes as an excuse for cutting per student higher education funding even further. That is where we are headed. Anything to avoid raising taxes.
Senate "Majority" Leader Rodney Tom insists that he supports the State Dream Act, a bill that would extend college financial to qualified undocumented immigrants. But he doesn't. He really doesn't. In fact, nobody is more responsible for crushing these dreams than Tom himself.
It was Tom who betrayed the voters who elected him to the Senate as a Democrat, allying himself with Republicans in a naked power grab that gave Tom the "Majority" Leader position, and left Republicans in control of all the top committees. It was Tom's treachery that gave Republican Senator Barbara Bailey the chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. And now that Bailey is refusing to let the Dream Act come up for a vote (a vote it would win), it is Tom, as Majority Leader, who is allowing the bill to die by refusing to use the parliamentary powers at his disposal to force the bill to the floor.
Don't blame Bailey. This is what she does. Blaming Bailey for killing the Dream Act would be like blaming my dog for killing squirrels. No, this is all Tom's fault. Had he not double-crossed his Democratic colleagues—had he not deposed Senator Ed Murray as Majority Leader—then the Dream Act would surely have sailed through a Democratic-controlled Higher Education Committee (with Tom's support, he claims) on its way to a comfortable victory on the floor.
So when smart, hard-working children who had no say over being brought to this country without documentation are denied the college education that would allow them to rise up out of poverty and give back to the nation that has nurtured them, they should blame Tom.
Politics has consequences. Thousands of children will be denied a college education due to the personal ambitions of Rodney Tom. And don't let him tell you (or himself) otherwise.
I'm all for exploring innovative ways to extend affordable access to quality higher education, especially for students who find their vocation in low-paying (if much needed) professions. But I'm really not confident that online-only degrees are the way to go.
The University of Washington will offer a new low-cost online bachelor’s degree completion program in early childhood and family studies. Pending final approval, the program will start in the fall.
[...] The Early Childhood and Family Studies degree, which is the first online-only bachelor’s completion program to be offered by the UW, will prepare individuals to work in child care, preschools, social and mental health services, parent and family support, and arts organizations.
So, um, the UW's first ever online-only bachelor's degree will be granted in program training people in a profession that consists mostly of face-to-face interpersonal interaction? I mean, if distance learning is so magical, why train preschool teachers at all? Wouldn't it be cheaper and more effective to just hand all the toddlers iPads and let them teach themselves?
The UW online degree costs $160 per credit – which is about equivalent to $7,000 for a year of full-time study – regardless of where students live.
No doubt that's cheaper, sure. But in every sense of the word. And it's not just the students (and their students) who might not get the value out of this that they expect. If the UW is selling a degree for $7,000 a year (and with relaxed admission requirements), won't that devalue the degrees of students paying almost twice the price? Top schools like the UW stand to cheapen their brand if they're not careful.
The program will be administered by UW Educational Outreach, which received a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant partially funded by the Gates Foundation, to help offset costs of developing the degree. The grant includes offering several core classes in early childhood education free to the public, as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform.
What a great humanitarian Bill Gates is, promoting education reforms that in no way generate profits for the industry on which he built his fortune. (But then, all those libraries Andrew Carnegie built sure did use a lot of steel, so I guess I shouldn't be too cynical.)
I don't mean to come off as a Luddite. There's a place in higher education for online learning. But let's be clear: The main advantage of MOOCs is that they're cheaper. Not better, or for the most part, not even just as good. Just cheaper.
And if our public policy solution to the crisis in higher education funding is focused on making college cheaper, well, in the end, chances are we'll get what we pay for.
The big spenders on the Seattle Times editorial board once again call for taxpayers to subsidize the training of high-tech workers:
[I]n 2012, the study says, the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University denied 1,200 qualified students admission into engineering and computer science because there were not enough seats.
Hundreds of other students were sidelined from health-sciences careers because there were not enough clinical placements.
This is penny-wise and pound-foolish. It limits the future. The Legislature needs to awaken itself and fund as many seats in these disciplines as the youth of Washington can ably fill.
Okay, I don't disagree. The difference is, I actually support raising the revenue necessary to pay for these services, whereas the Seattle Times editorial board consistently opposes nearly all efforts to substantially raise or restructure state taxes. I suppose they might counter that it is simply a matter of having the proper spending priorities, to which I'd demand: Name the children you'd like to cut from the health care rolls. Specify which state parks and prisons and so forth you'd like to close, and how many fewer firefighters and state troopers we need. Tell us which state ferry runs you'd like to cancel, and explain how you propose caring for the sick, the disabled, and the elderly once you eliminate their benefits.
Contrary to all the data screaming otherwise, for years the editors have been echoing the Republican line that the state has a spending problem. So come on. If you want to spend millions more on higher education (and I'm with you on that) but you refuse to raise additional revenue (don't look at me) tell us which programs you want to cut, and explain exactly how this saves the state money in the long run. (For example, we know you hate SEIU 775 and the home health care workers they represent, but home health care is a helluva lot cheaper—and more humane—than warehousing the elderly and the disabled in nursing homes.) In other words: Show your math!
I've shown you mine—I'd like to find some way to add a modest tax on income and/or financial assets to our revenue mix, while ending hundreds of millions of dollars a year in nonproductive tax preferences. Of course, we need to remain forever vigilante for ways to deliver government services more efficiently. But after years of budget cuts, I can't see any substantive savings left on the spending side of the ledger.
Now you show me yours.
Or does your entire path toward fiscal sustainability consist of freezing and/or slashing public employee salaries and benefits?
K-12 schools and the community colleges need to encourage more students in math and the sciences, so that more will be knocking on the universities’ doors and will be ready. That means recruiting high-quality teachers.
Because if we know anything about labor markets, it's that nothing makes recruiting high-quality teachers easier than freezing their salaries, slashing their health care benefits, and taking away their defined-benefit pensions. (Not to mention relentlessly bad-mouthing teachers and their unions as you constantly do.)
Again, I absolutely agree with the editors that we need to spend more money on higher education (if not so much with their devaluation of the liberal arts). But unless and until it drops its knee-jerk opposition to all efforts to raise the necessary tax revenue, the Seattle Times has absolutely no moral authority to tell lawmakers how to spend the money.
I can't believe I missed this: The New Yorker picked up on the Garfield High School teachers' boycott of the MAP standardized test last week, and among the wordy meandering on pineapples (a former testing controversy), they come down hard:
In sum, students are taking an exam that doesn’t really count, on material that may or may not be relevant, and producing results that may have nothing to say about them or their future. If you subscribe to the notion that education is preparation for life, then these students have received their first primer on the soul-crushing routines of bureaucracy.
And so the MAP brings us to the very point at which teaching and testing have diverged. When students are forced to take an exam like the MAP two or three times a year so that they can be better prepared for other, more important exams, the assessment is no longer a partner to curriculum. The assessment has become the curriculum.
h/t Melissa Westbrook at Seattle Schools Community Forum.
I don't really have much to add, except to say that this is exactly where we're heading here in Washington State:
The education capitalists have a great plan. We starve the universities by reducing their state funding so much that students can’t easily graduate in 4 years. Then we get our lackeys in the state legislature to pass a law forcing schools to accept online classes as credit. That opens up the possibility for gigantic MOOCs that has two benefits. First, we can cut state education funding even more. Second, we can make a ridiculous amount of money through the continued privatization of education.
[...] I mean, there won’t actually be jobs for any university graduates. And they won’t have actually learned anything. But what do we care? We just made $50,000 in the last 4 years off each student!
I'm not opposed to online courses in theory, but anybody who pitches them as a replacement for the traditional university experience is selling you a load of hooey. But, you know, the market! Yay!
When Seattle Public Schools superintendent José Banda sent out a letter last Friday that ordered the temporarily suspended race and gender curricula at the Center School to be reinstated, he offered four specific recommendations that were to be implemented "as soon as possible."
The first was to stop using a part of the curriculum called "Courageous Conversations," which had been adapted by the teacher of the class, Jon Greenberg, from a staff training. The training was convened and paid for by the district and led by Glenn Singleton, who is the author of this model for discussion and teaches it nationwide. It's not just a lesson or two, but a sort of framework for how to have difficult discussions about race, and it sets out rules to keep the discussion fair and honest and helpful. Participants are asked to agree to stay engaged with the discussion, to expect to experience some discomfort, to "speak your truth," and to expect and accept a lack of closure on such a complex and charged topic.
At the Seattle Education Association's representative assembly meeting last night, they voted "overwhelmingly," according to union president Jonathan Knapp, to encourage the district to remove that particular restriction. "Academic freedom is an important consideration," says Knapp, and teachers need to be allowed to "make professional judgments about what they should be teaching." He also said the union's position isn't actually that far from the district's—the district says this training was aimed at adults and is therefore age inappropriate. But the Center School is "not teaching it to kids, they’re teaching it to seniors," Knapp says—some of them are legal adults, some of them are just months away. They're expected to be preparing for the adult world of college and work. He says he understands "it's tough for the district" when they get a parent complaint, but that there haven't been complaints in the past, and that with any challenging curriculum, "eventually you’re gonna come up with a complaint or two."
I asked him if he thought it was funny that in the same set of recommendations, Banda said the syllabus had to be resubmitted to the College Board for AP approval—to make sure it was being taught at the college level. "We grasped that irony," laughed Knapp. The district thinks the discussions on race shouldn't be taught at an adult level, but the English lessons should be.
Greenberg, for his part, says he "objects" to the ban on lessons using the Courageous Conversations framework. "They are age-appropriate for seniors in a college-prep school," he says. Students I spoke with on Friday were of the same mind. School district spokeswoman Teresa Wippel maintains, via e-mail: "The Courageous Conversations model was intended for staff training. The specific intent of that training was not to use the model for students in the classroom."
We've been getting outraged tips this week about an item in Magnolia-area public school Catharine Blaine K–8's school fundraiser auction this year. In among the "VIP Parking Spot" and "Kindergarten Movie Night" items, there's one that stands out:
THE FIRST ANNUAL WHITE TRASH TEA
We’re not in the 98199 anymore! Here's your chance to experience the "other side of the tracks" at Blaine’s First Annual White Trash Tea! Grab your trashiest girlfriends to sample the finest in Crock Pot cuisine, Twinkie trifle, a variety of fun cocktails and, of course, teas. Everything will be served on plates from Safeway's "Bonus with Purchase" collection, natch. The tea will be hosted at the not-so-trashy [name of place redacted], located on Capitol Hill.
Cost: $40 per person
Limitations: Up to 14 people
We e-mailed the PTA to ask if they were mocking the poor, as our tippers said, and they sent us a statement: "This event has, in fact, been pulled from the auction... There was never an intent to mock, as you say, any specific class of people, and as soon as there was concern from a parent, the event was pulled." They point out that it was never in any materials distributed to students, only parents, and that it was aimed only at adults. They also point out the truth: "Our PTA Board and Auction Coordinators are all parent volunteers who have worked tirelessly this year to raise the funds to gap the shortfall in both the money we receive from the district and the state."
So! There you have it. People have been asking, and we dutifully report. Y'all are adults, you shouldn't have made that joke, the outrage was predictable—and fair. Schools being broke is no excuse to be offensive; 11 percent of Blaine students are on free/reduced lunch, and those families are part of your school community. But really: LET'S ADEQUATELY FUND OUR MOTHERFUCKING PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, HUH?!? Yeah.
Just got word from the school district via a letter from Superintendent José Banda that "the race and gender units of the course are to be reinstated." (Background here if you haven't been following.) In the letter, which I've posted in full below the jump, Banda says, "I cannot stress enough how much I value curriculum on race and social justice" but also that "these are subjects that must be taught in ways that are age appropriate and non-threatening." He says he encouraged the committee reviewing the curriculum to "help come up with a solution that will allow us to keep these important conversations, but will also make sure the curriculum is taught in a way that does not harm any student." They came up with a series of recommendations and the course is now set to continue.
It's easy to see this as a straight win for the teacher, Jon Greenberg, and the students who organized in support of the class—curriculum reinstated! Yay!—but here is the first of the committee recommendations Banda says he is "implementing... as soon as possible":
The race unit curriculum should be age appropriate and taught in a non-threatening manner. The class should not use the “Courageous Conversations” activities, which were intended as training for adults. The District has used this as professional development and it was not intended for use with students.
That "Courageous Conversations" framework, in which students have mediated discussions where they're encouraged to speak openly about personal experiences based on their own racial and ethnic identity, would likely be considered by the teacher and students alike to be a core component of the curriculum, and as Banda says, has been used with educators in the school district. The other recommendations—that parents be notified in advance when "classroom activities could potentially cause a high degree of emotion for students," that the AP standards the class is expected to meet be reviewed and its syllabus resubmitted to the College Board—are less threatening to the curriculum's intent. A last note that the "manner in which the course is taught must not violate" school board policies that prohibit intimidating, harassing, or discriminating against students based on race or gender, seems a little opaque. Was that happening here or not? This letter doesn't really say; it only confirms that this teacher should follow board policies, which we could assume he already thought he was.
I've contacted the teacher and student organizers for comment, and will update as soon as I hear back, but for now, a lot of students on Facebook are just all-caps yelling, "WE WON!"
UPDATE 1:34 p.m.: Just got a call from Zak Meyer, the student organizer who I spoke with at the beginning of this whole thing. He says he's read the district's decision, students have heard about it, and "everyone is glad... We got our class back, that's big." But they're still curious about "the ramifications of what [the district is] suggesting." Banda says the curriculum needs to be resubmitted to the College Board for approval, which Meyer says is confusing, since the social justice unit isn't AP, the literature part of the class is, and so there's no reason to review that. (Humanities classes are interdisciplinary classes that cover both social studies and language arts at the Center School.) Also, he wondered, "What’s gonna happen now? Is this gonna lead to more micromanaging from the district? If this happens to any teacher who teaches social justice—their curriculum is brought under constant scrutiny—what teacher is gonna want to teach this?" But for now, everyone's "excited," he says. The regular curriculum will start on Monday.
The Mercer Island School District will kick off its "One to One" iPad initiative next month by distributing free iPads to all 10th and 11th graders. The iPads will be used by students for the remainder of the year, returned for the summer, and then redistributed in September.
Say what you want about the economic disparity that allows districts like Mercer Island to hand out iPads while other districts struggle to pay for more basic needs, but I'm guessing that this technology will be the norm in schools, not the exception, by the end of the decade. The advantages over traditional textbooks are too obvious and numerous to list. This is the future.
But there's one huge advantage that might not be so obvious about this inevitable shift away from print and toward digital: It breaks the power of the Texas Board of Education to dictate what is and is not in our nation's textbooks. Because Texas is one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the English-speaking world, publishers would tailor their texts to the state's demands, making textbook approval a highly politicized process in the conservative state. And the economies of scale of printing, warehousing, and distributing meant that the rest of the nation would get these Texas-approved textbooks too.
No more. In the digital realm, publishers are adjusting their content to the curriculums of individual states. For example, Texas students can continue to get history texts that teach that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, while the rest of our nation's students can learn the truth. A triumph of technology.
Anyway, as the parent of a Mercer Island High School student (no, I don't live there, my daughter's mother does), I'll be watching this experiment with great interest, and no doubt will report back my own observations.
I knew this would be a rollicking good time! At tonight's school board meeting, which was a pretty full house, a roster of people connected to the Center School signed up to speak during the public testimony portion, all in favor of the immediate reinstatement of the race and gender curriculum there. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here for background.) You have to sign up days in advance, so they'd all planned ahead and many had brought statements to read.
I want to transcribe much of what was said, since it was passionate and multifaceted, but there's only so much space on the internet (ha-ha! Not true), so I've put a pile of it, from students, alumni, parents, and other teachers after the jump below. All throughout, there was wild cheering when people made statements the audience agreed with and after each person's testimony.
The teacher whose curriculum has been suspended, Jon Greenberg, also spoke. When he started by mentioning the curriculum suspension, the room erupted in hisses and boos.
He said the process leading up to the suspension of the curriculum was full of "missteps and mistakes," reiterating that the investigation seemed to go no further than interviewing the complaining family and himself, and that his principal, Oksana Britsova, "never met with me to request curricular changes" before he received a letter directly from the superintendent. (She previously hasn't returned my call for comment; generally, members of the press are being referred to the district spokesperson.) He also mentioned that it seemed problematic to shut down a curriculum about race due to the complaints of one white family, who in their interactions with him have asked him "not to use racial terms" in class—in a unit on race, he said, that's "mind-boggling." He also mentioned that "the reality of the Center School is that students of color feel uncomfortable in our school on a daily basis. Who is filing a complaint for them?"
Mikayla Crawford-Harris, a former Center School student who went on to be a student teacher there with Greenberg and is now a teacher at Rainier Beach high school, said she couldn't help but think, through this controversy, of her students, and the "learning environment they're in every day: ants, rodents, holes in our walls, holes in our desks... It is the most hostile learning environment." And her students have "continually complained about it" to the district, to no avail. "I wonder what it would take for those students to be heard. What is it about the student that did complain [at Center School] that got them heard?" she wondered.
After public testimony concluded, board member Michael DeBell addressed the crowd by saying, "Good to see Center School again!" (Their activist student body has testified before.) Then the school board got refreshingly honest for a few minutes.
Board member Sharon Peaslee told the crowd her daughter attends Center School, and she knows her daughter "will benefit enormously from this class. I hope that it’s reinstated very soon." She continued: "I find it very interesting that we're being investigated as a district for racism as far as our discipline practices are concerned, and that this issue would come up at Center School at this time." (She's talking about news of a US Department of Education investigation into whether black students in Seattle Public Schools are disciplined "more frequently and more harshly" than white students.) She said the district runs the risk of "denying institutional racism"—wild applause, and I heard an amen—"and we cannot do that. We need to own our racism wherever it exists. We need to confront it. And we need to change it."
Board member Betty Patu echoed that: "There is a lot of racism that goes on in our school district," she said, after quoting Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. "There is a process that we have to go through, but I can tell you, I believe that this class should be reinstated."
During a break, I spoke with Superintendent Banda, who said nothing's changed about the process this complaint is going through, that it's still up to Shauna Heath, the executive director of curriculum and instruction at SPS. "It was a very formal complaint," he said, resulting in a review of the class to make sure "it's in line with how the curriculum should be taught," and the "suspension [of curriculum] was pending that review." He said his understanding is that the race curriculum was mostly finished and that the class wouldn't be starting the next portion, a unit on gender, for a couple weeks, and the review will be done before then.
"That's not true," Mr. Greenberg told me outside the board meeting. "It's not happening because he told me not to do it." They would have been transitioning into the gender unit now; instead they're doing "a lot of rhetoric and state government." He has not heard anything more from the district since this story got media attention.
Again, Heath's decision on the curriculum, which the district has said "cannot be appealed," is due by Thursday, March 14.
More on the board meeting after the jump.
The US Department of Education wants to know:
African-American students are suspended from school more than three times as often as white students from elementary schools to high schools.
More than one-fourth of black middle schoolers have received short-term suspensions every year since 1996. Native Americans are disciplined more often than Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Now the U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether Seattle Public Schools discriminates against African Americans by disciplining them “more frequently and more harshly than similarly situated white students,” department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said Tuesday.
Only an investigation will answer this question. But Seattle Public Schools certainly seem to have applied double standards over the years. The district shuttered a bunch of schools in 2009 in South Seattle, which has a much larger population of people of color, despite protests from African American communities and demographic studies that showed the population would grow in those neighborhoods (now the district is in the process of re-opening some of those schools). And when teachers at Garfield High School in the Central District complained recently that the MAP standardized testing wasn't effective and performed a major boycott, the district ignored their complaints and ordered teachers to administered the test anyway. In other words, the district had little sympathy for the schools in blacker and browner neighborhoods. But holy cow, when there was one, single, tiny complaint about a racial justice program last month at the Center School—close to lily-white Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods—what did the district do? They suspended the whole racial justice curriculum because talking about race in school might be creating an "intimidating educational environment." So, uh, punishing black kids more harshly and closing their schools doesn't make for an "intimidating educational environment"?
Let me be clear: These anecdotes and these suspension rates alone don't prove there's a double-standard at play, but they help explain why the Feds want to get to the bottom of this. It will be great to see what they find.
Over the weekend, I reported on a dustup over the senior humanities curriculum at public high school The Center School, where a parent recently complained about a unit on race in the seniors' Citizenship and Social Justice class. According to Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel, next Thursday, March 14, is the last day for the district's curriculum and instruction director, Shauna Heath, to hand down a final decision on whether and how the race and gender portions of the class can be taught in the future.
In the meantime, both KIRO and KOMO have picked up the story, running pieces on air last night about the controversy that focused on current students who are furiously organizing to save the curriculum. (Video for KIRO is here, and KOMO's is here.)
I've been talking to parties involved, and it sounds like tomorrow's school board meeting may be a showdown: Students, alumni, parents, and the teacher whose curriculum has been suspended are all planning to testify.
As I mentioned before, I'm a graduate of the school and took the class in question, so an entertaining part of this situation for me is knowing that this class—and the school itself—has a heavy focus on learning how to get involved in issues you care about. Students and alumni have quite a bit of practice in civic engagement—commenters on the last post pointed out that they've seen students from this class testifying at city and county budget hearings. While a core group of students continues to plan a response, what I hear from them is not just careful and well reasoned arguments in favor of retaining a beloved curriculum but also a larger sense that they believe they have a right to be involved in this discussion. It's a level of engagement that'd probably be surprising if you didn't know the school and its students' history of activism.
KABUL — The two men accused of orchestrating Afghanistan’s largest banking scandal were sentenced to five-year prison terms Tuesday, more than two years after stealing more than $800 million from Kabul Bank, about 5 percent of the country’s GDP.These two only? It seems when the music stopped, they found themselves without chairs.
In 2010, the scandal threatened to destabilize Afghanistan’s fragile economy. Its adjudication has since been considered by many as a litmus test for both the feeble Afghan judiciary and the government’s efforts to reduce rampant corruption.
What the report also reveals is that the banking sector has boomed during the long war, and much of this wealth has, of course, ended up in a few hands...
The more than $500 billion invested by the United States in Afghanistan since 2001 has been a boon to Afghanistan’s banking sector... But the vast majority of bank loans, investigators would later discover, went to fewer than two dozen people or companies, many with connections to the government.What's happening in Kabul is identical with what is happening on Wall Street.
I now want you to watch this remarkable video of an experiment conducted on capuchin monkeys...
The question is this: How is it that we humans, like so many other primates, have an inherent and deep sense of fairness, and yet this fairness is rarely reflected in our societies? To answer this question you need Darwin and Marx. You need Darwin to explain, in evolutionary terms, the reason why real, biologically grounded feelings of fairness were positively selected in our species. And Marx to explain why we have failed to express these real feelings in (or why they are distorted by) the structure of our large-scale societies.
It’s not every day that we get news tips from concerned high-school students fighting a curriculum change. But I got a call yesterday from Zak Meyer, a senior at The Center School (the public high school in the Armory at the Seattle Center), wanting to know if I’d heard the rumors about the suspension of his school’s race and social justice curriculum.
Full disclosure: I’m a graduate of the school, and I’d taken the class Meyer was talking about. Rumors were, indeed, racing across social networks and among alumni that something weird was going on. I asked him to fill me in.
Seniors had come in to humanities class on Monday, Meyer told me, and when they started a student-led portion of class where they talk about what happened to them over the weekend and then connect it to what they’re learning, the teacher said he had to shift the conversation away from race or gender. That’s tough, because they’re just finishing up a curriculum unit on race and social justice. Students were baffled. The teacher, Jon Greenberg, couldn’t explain the situation until Friday, when he got an all-clear to talk.
It turns out there was a parent complaint to the district about the class, which resulted in Greenberg, the sole senior humanities teacher, receiving a letter from the superintendent of schools. The letter instructed him to stop teaching two specific units of his humanities curriculum while they were investigated by the district: the race and gender units.
A coalition including the League of Women Voters, the Washington Education Association, and El Centro de la Raza, sent a letter to Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson today, requesting that he institute legal proceedings to remedy constitutional violations that arise from I-1240, the charter schools initiative:
Specifically, the Charter School Act improperly diverts public school funds to private non-profits in violation of the Washington Constitution and is otherwise unconstitutional on multiple grounds...
The letter, drafted by attorneys at the Pacifica Law Group, enunciates at least seven areas in which the Charter School Act violates the state constitution. I've yet to read through the cited case law, so I'm not yet in a position to evaluate the strength of these arguments, but on the surface several of them sound fairly compelling. More later, after I've had a chance to read this through.
I've got a request into the AG's office to talk to Ferguson about the prospects of challenging the initiative, but the request certainly puts him in a difficult place. Part of his job as AG is to defend to state law, and the Charter Schools Act is now state law. Considering what's at stake, if there are strong arguments it's hard to imagine that somebody doesn't sue, but it will be curious to see how this ultimately plays out.
With zero notice Sunday, just one day before it was heard by the Ways & Means Committee, millionaire state Senate Majority "Leader" Rodney Tom (R-Medina) filed a bill that would eliminate defined pension benefits for most state and public school employees, replacing them with a risky 401-K-style savings plan that would subject future retirees to the whims of the market. SB 5856, of which Tom is the sole sponsor, would apply to all future public employees and all current public employees under the age of 45.
That means if you chose a career as a school teacher twenty years ago, trading the opportunity to strike it rich in the private sector for the promise of a secure retirement, you are totally fucked.
Of course, a lot of states have catastrophically underfunded their public employee pension plans. But not Washington. No, Washington has the second strongest funded pension system in the nation, with an enviable overall funding ratio of 98.1 percent. So I'm not exactly sure what the problem is that Tom is attempting to solve by denying teachers and other public employees the pension benefits they were promised.
But don't you dare start complaining about it, because under a second Tom-sponsored bill, SB 5242, public school teachers would lose all job protections, meaning they could be fired for any reason at any time, and with no legal recourse. And we're not just talking laid off—we're talking fired with cause:
(5) If a displaced nonprovisional certificated instructional staff member is not assigned to a nontemporary position with mutual agreement by May 15th of the school year following the displacement, the superintendent may initiate notice of nonrenewal of contract as provided under RCW 28A.405.210. Lack of assignment under this section of a displaced certificated instructional staff member to a nontemporary position after eight or more months, including cumulative time spent in successive assignments to temporary positions, constitutes grounds for a finding of probable cause under RCW 28A.405.210.
And how does a teacher become "displaced"...?
(2)(b) "Displaced" means a certificated instructional staff member assigned to a particular school no longer has an assignment to that school as a result of a request for reassignment by the certificated instructional staff member, a principal, or the district administration; change in program; change in enrollment; or implementation of a state or federal accountability intervention model.
So, you know, don't be a trouble maker. All your principal needs to do to get you fired is request your reassignment. Because the real problem in K-12 education today is that teachers are too empowered.
I had hoped Tom would have used his role as Senate Majority "Leader" to help push through the funding package necessary to pay for the billions of additional K-12 dollars needed to satisfy the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision. But rather than giving our schools the funding they need, Tom is focused on taking away the pension benefits and job security that teachers already have. That's education reform, Rodney Tom style.
WASHINGTON lawmakers should repeal the never-implemented paid-family-leave law.
The state should focus its limited resources on higher priorities, such as the state Supreme Court mandate for more education funding.
So if I'm reading this editorial correctly, the Seattle Times is urging lawmakers to repeal a never-implemented, unfunded paid-family-leave law so that they can focus these same nonexistent resources on education. Yup, that pretty much describes the Republican approach to McCleary.
The secret to fixing bad public schools is that there is no secret. There are plenty of great public schools in the nation, and there are plenty of formerly bad public schools that have since been turned around. Take for example Union City, New Jersey, a once-struggling, mostly poor, mostly immigrant district that now boasts a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent, ten points above the national average:
Ask school officials to explain Union City’s success and they start with prekindergarten, which enrolls almost every 3- and 4-year-old. There’s abundant research showing the lifetime benefits of early education. Here, seeing is believing.
One December morning the lesson is making latkes, the potato pancakes that are a Hanukkah staple. Everything that transpires during these 90 minutes could be called a “teachable moment” — describing the smell of an onion (“Strong or light? Strong — duro. Will it smell differently when we cook it? We’ll have to find out.”); pronouncing the “p” in pepper and pimento; getting the hang of a food processor (“When I put all the ingredients in, what will happen?”).
Cognitive and noncognitive, thinking and feeling; here, this line vanishes. The good teacher is always on the lookout for both kinds of lessons, always aiming to reach both head and heart. “My goal is to do for these kids what I do with my own children,” the teacher, Susana Rojas, tells me. “It’s all about exposure to concepts — wide, narrow, long, short. I bring in breads from different countries. ‘Let’s do a pie chart showing which one you liked the best.’ I don’t ask them to memorize 1, 2, 3 — I could teach a monkey to count.”
Union City didn't achieve its turnaround with Teach for America, charter schools, or a relentless regimen of standardized testing. Instead, the district empowered its best teachers to design a new curriculum, and it invested in high quality early learning.
We could do that here in Washington State. But we don't. Because we refuse to spend the money. Instead, we'll just continue to blame the teachers and put our faith in the market to do for K-12 education what it did for, say, the banking and housing industries.