SEATTLE TIMES: Why Have Seven Decades of Gap-Closing Failed in Seattle Schools?
Print Friendly and PDF

From the Seattle Times:

Racial equity in Seattle schools has a long, frustrating history — and it’s getting worse

Updated January 12, 2018 at 5:19 pm

For at least seven decades, Seattle Public Schools has pledged to eliminate the gaps in achievement between students of color and their white peers. But even as district leaders swear their latest efforts are more than just another round of rhetoric, the gaps continue to grow.

By Neal Morton,  Seattle Times staff reporter

This past spring, the archivist for Seattle Public Schools unearthed a yellowed slip of paper that C.S. Barbo, former principal of Meany Junior High, had tucked into a time capsule in 1963 alongside a plastic toy gun and book of student poems.

In three brief paragraphs, Barbo lamented what he called the “cultural, racial and economic disadvantages” that he believed slowed the learning of some of his students.

“If this box is ever opened,” his letter reads, “I would assume the problems we face today in understanding the racial differences will have been resolved. Personally, I trust this will happen.”

More than half a century has passed since Barbo wrote that letter, and since then, the district has repeatedly pledged to raise the performance of students of color.

Asians, who are as numerous as blacks in Seattle public schools, have no color, apparently. They’re invisible-colored.
Each time, its efforts have fallen flat or fizzled — often for lack of funding or political will.
It’s too bad Seattle doesn’t have any philanthropic billionaires to solve this problem.
The latest initiative started five years ago, when the School Board set 2018 as the deadline for significantly reducing the gaps in achievement among ethnic groups, which a Stanford researcher recently pegged as some of the largest in the nation. …

In many public appearances, Superintendent Larry Nyland, who is white, has echoed Barbo’s lament, and has called eliminating the gaps “a moral imperative” that affects everyone who wants “a vibrant Seattle in the future.”

Even the city has chimed in, spending roughly $40 million last year to help in the effort.

But while Nyland has raised hopes, at least in the district’s central office, critics say they’re seeing the same old routine they’ve witnessed for decades: New committees recycling old recommendations, teachers sitting through yet another round of training, and a revolving door of administrators engaged in one more cycle of planning.

In the meantime, the inequity appears to have gotten worse: In their 2016 report, Stanford researchers found black students in Seattle tested three and a half grade levels behind their white peers. In an update in 2017, they found that gap had widened to 3.7 grade levels.

… Over the past year, Purcell and her staff scoured the archives as part of an initiative to chronicle the history of equity and race relations in Seattle’s public schools. Her search yielded dozens of long-forgotten training manuals, thick binders of task-force reports and other dusty administrative files that show Barbo wasn’t the first — and hardly the last — to wonder when the district would fix its racial gaps.

In her search, Purcell found documents dating back to 1947, when the School Board voted to hire more diverse teachers. That same year, the district hired its first black educator.

Other records highlight the board’s pledge in 1966 to provide educational opportunities to all students and its plans, in 1989 and then again in 2013, to ensure educational excellence and equity for every student. …

I’ve read hundreds, probably thousands of this kind of article since I became interested in the subject in 1972. Here’s a rare statement:
Indeed, education experts and researchers from across the nation couldn’t name a school district where racial gaps in achievement don’t exist.
I found a few in 2015:
In contrast, the smallest white-black gap (only 0.04 standard deviations) is found in McDowell County, West Virginia.

… the Stanford researchers’ most equal district, McDowell County, which JFK made into a symbol of Appalachian poverty, is notorious for having just about the worst whites in America. Male life expectancy in this coal county is only 63.3 years.

So one solution to racial inequality, evidently, is to have most of the whites with something on the ball, such as rocket scientist Homer Hickam, the McDowell County hero of the movie October Sky, move away. (The population of this coal-mining county has fallen by 80 percent since 1950.)

Something similar has happened in the city with the second-smallest white-black gap, Detroit, where the public schools are now only 3 percent white, and five out of every eight white children left in Detroit live in poverty.

Other districts with small white-black gaps include similar Rust Belt blue-collar towns such as Hamtramck, a Detroit suburb recently in the news for having a majority Muslim city council.

Back to the Seattle Times:
Nyland, however, says commitment is more important than money.

“If you don’t believe that you can move the needle,” he said, “no amount of money is going to help.”

You can’t faith-heal The Gap without faith.
… Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
[Comment at]
Print Friendly and PDF