This is the final post in my special series, “Special Edition PhD Series: The Devil in Seattle Public Schools’ racial equity data.” This paper was written in response to the data analysis papers I’ve shared previously in this series. All of the papers are supposed to be read together as one, giant analysis and action plan.
I got some ideas on how we can align data, leadership, and implementation to prioritize critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, at least in the Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction department. There are some fairly big changes coming to leadership, so now would be the best time to do this alignment! Just remember, you read it here, first!
District-Wide Instructional Goal
As a result of Seattle Public Schools’ new Strategic Plan that calls for “…[eliminating] opportunity and achievement gaps…,” “… high-quality, world-class education,” for all students, and “educational justice” (Seattle Public Schools, 2019), it is the goal of the Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction Department to move beyond culturally responsive teaching practices and into critical pedagogy in the service of delivering ethnic studies content. Culturally responsive teaching strategies are integral to the end goal of critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, but culturally responsive teaching is not an end goal because it, alone, is not anti-racist (Castro-Gill, VanDerPloeg, Alonzo, Charlton, Au, Guzmán, 2018).
Ethnic studies and critical pedagogy have been proven to increase results in all the data measures the district has set forth as indicators of successful implementation of the Strategic Plan. Increases in engagement, literacy skills, higher-order thinking skills (critical thinking), multi-lingual and multi-cultural literacy, math skills, science literacy, identity affirmation and safety, leadership and civic engagement, graduation rates, college attendance, and standardized test scores have all been linked to ethnic studies programs (Sleeter, 2011).
Critical pedagogy is a necessary practice in the successful implementation of ethnic studies content (Sleeter, 2011). Critical pedagogy was championed by Brazilian educator and activist Paolo Freire. In teaching literacy to mostly illiterate, poor, laborers in Brazil, he combined the practice of andragogy with the concept he called critical pedagogy. He argues oppression is, in part, the result of “banking education,” in which students are objects, or passive learners, in whose brains knowledge is deposited by oppressors. His answer to this is inquiry-based education in which students learn skills through solving problems they relate to in their own communities, thus transforming them from passive objects to active subjects of their learning and lives (Freire, 1968).
Ethnic studies is the critical study of the histories of various groups of color. It centers the history of power, oppression, resistance, and liberation. Ethnic studies challenges students to explore their racial and ethnic identities and how those things position themselves in history and the present. Ethnic studies expects students to act on their world, much like Freire’s vision of critical pedagogy (Castro-Gill, et al, 2018).
In addition to the goals of the Strategic Plan, the district’s stated vision is, “Every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, world-class education and graduates prepared for college, career, and community” (Seattle Public Schools, 2019b). Critical pedagogy and ethnic studies are proven effective strategies to meet these goals (Sleeter, 2011). As the core of teaching and learning in the district, the Department of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction cannot delay on implementing an action plan to achieve these goals.
Benchmarks and Timeline
Several deficits in the current system have been identified that need to be categorized and prioritized to reach the goal of critical pedagogy and ethnic studies. These are outlined below along with acceptable timeframes for implementation.
In the current structure of Seattle Public Schools, the human resources department is leading goal setting and professional development on instructional practices. There is no shared understanding about why this task has been assigned to human resources when the district has a large curriculum, assessment, and instruction department. The ethnic studies program is housed in the CAI department, so in terms of alignment to meet the goal of critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, instructional goals and professional development should be housed together with ethnic studies.
Michael Fullan identifies what he calls, “Big Ideas for Whole System Reform.” Two of these ideas support the need for this shift in leadership on instruction: resolute leaders that stay on message, and strategies with precision (2010, p4). The ethnic studies program manager in CAI was selected to lead the work of creating a new, ethnic studies program because she is an activist that worked with the NAACP to push the Seattle School Board to adopt a resolution in support of ethnic studies in the district. She has been recognized for her work in the region on racial justice in education (Castro-Gill, n.d.). The executive director of CAI has an undergraduate degree in ethnic studies. Both leaders are educators of color committed to racial justice. The resolute leaders who have consistently stayed on message for critical pedagogy and ethnic studies exist in CAI, not in human resources. The alignment between the executive director and program manager will facilitate the development and implementation of precise strategies. This shift in leadership in instruction can and should happen immediately.
The next step in leadership change is to align the leadership within CAI so that critical pedagogy and ethnic studies are the focal point of all curriculum, assessment, and instruction. The department of curriculum, assessment, and instruction consists of the various core content programs and specialty programs like the arts and library services. If critical pedagogy and ethnic studies are to be universal, all decisions made about adoption of curricula, resources, instruction, and assessments needs to be filtered through an ethnic studies lens. Therefore, the ethnic studies program manager should be elevated to director status, just under the executive director in the organization chart.
Currently, the model is that the ethnic studies program manager is at the same level, institutionally, as the program managers of all other content areas. Other content area managers are under no obligation to follow the lead of the ethnic studies program manager. This does not facilitate the development and implementation of precise systemic strategies as outlined by Michael Fullan (2010). This shift in leadership also can and should happen immediately.
Lastly, to be sure alignment of goals, values, critical pedagogy, and ethnic studies reaches school buildings, and therefore, students, the practice of site-based decision making needs to be dismantled and replaced with a tighter version. Effective systems find the right balance between too tight of control and too loose of control (Fullan, 2010).
The current, site-based model is too loose because building administrations frequently choose to opt out of district adopted goals and curricula, or they implement goals and curricula in ways they were not intended. For example, the district recently adopted a new, K-5 literacy curriculum and even though the collective bargaining agreement between the district and educators’ union has an academic freedom clause that gives educators the right to use professional judgment in instruction (Seattle Education Association, 2015), principals have been reported to sit in on classrooms with a script from the curriculum to be sure teachers are teaching it with fidelity. Dr. Kinoshita, the Executive Director of CAI, has explicitly stated on several occasions that he is opposed to “fidelity” in implementation of curricula, and culturally responsive and differentiated instruction should be employed. Conversely, principals have refused to implement ethnic studies (Castro-Gill, 2019) even though it is a board goal (Seattle Public Schools, 2019a).
This inconsistency is a result of the too lose status of alignment between district goals and vision and site-based decision making. Fullan suggests a remedy to this is to have clear non-negotiable goals that must be met by each site while allowing freedom for each site to determine the best way to achieve the goal (2010). The fact that so many principals are opting out of doing any work on critical pedagogy and ethnic studies is dismissive of the fact that this is a prominent goal of the district that the community has repeatedly demanded (Dornfeld, 2019).
In response to the overwhelming evidence of the inherent racism in standardized testing (Au, 2008; Kendi, 2016), the first change to how data is collected and used to drive decision-making in Seattle Public Schools is to not use standardized test data in any decision-making. This change must happen right away. Outlined below is the process of eliminating and replacing standardized test outcomes in data-driven decision-making.
Begin with historical data and missing data.
To align with best practices in data analysis outlined by Dr. Bernhardt, a longitudinal analysis of data needs to be initiated as soon as possible (2016). Unfortunately, some historical data is missing or incomplete, particularly disaggregated student and family perceptions data, data on achievement for all subject areas, needs data from families and students, and racial equity literacy levels of educators. A gaps analysis needs to be conducted for the types of data that are missing that have not already been identified. To build collective capacity and intelligent accountability, this should be performed with various stakeholders, including, but not limited to, students, families, and educators (Bernhardt, 2016; Fullan, 2011).
Disaggregated student and family perceptions data will replace standardized test score data as the central focus of measuring success in data-driven decision-making. While testing mandates are beyond the control of district leadership, how the district operationalizes racial justice and equity is not. Research has concluded that focusing on racial justice initiatives like critical pedagogy and ethnic studies increases all measures of success, including standardized test achievement (Colgren & Sappington, 2015; Sleeter, 2011). The focus of the district moving forward will be on creating safe and just learning environments in which students and families measure how successful the district is at accomplishing its goals, instead of test scores, via disaggregated student and family perceptions data. The district has the capacity to begin this strategy immediately.
Align goals, data, practice, and accountability.
To create an alignment between the goal of achieving racial justice via critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, data needs to begin to be collected on the levels of racial equity literacy among educators. The measurement tools needed to collect this type of data will be created, again, with all stakeholders. The data will be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and gender of educators. The development of measurements can begin immediately and be concluded within the next 12 calendar months.
Professional development has already been developed by SEA’s Center for Racial Equity. The district will partner with and learn from CRE to build capacity for all educators in the district (Seattle Education Association, 2019). This can happen concurrently with the development of measurements. At the end of the 12-month period, a process will be created to add racial equity literacy as a component of evaluations for all educators, including administrators, teachers, and instructional assistants.
Systematize and sustain goals and data.
Currently, the district lacks a consistent and reliable data feedback loop. Protocols that require regular reflection on data and action based on reflection do not exist. Frequently, professional development and PLC work consists of “analyzing” data, but, because of the site-based decision-making model, there is no way to determine if action is taken and on what level or with what degree of fidelity. Part of the work of aligning goals, data, and implementation is to create a data feedback loop that includes district and building implementation of practices (Mandinach & Jackson, 2012).
A strategy to systematize the alignment of goals, data, and implementation at the building level is to require that schools remove testing data as a measure from success in their continuous improvement plan and replace it with student and family perceptions data and other measurements previously indicated. Currently, most school CSIPS do not include any perceptions data, which is in direct conflict of best practice (Bernhardt, 2016). This change in the systemic use of data can happen immediately.
The goal of the district is to achieve educational justice for students of color. It is counter-intuitive to start with data to achieve that goal when data did not create the injustice. Systems of power and oppression laden with racial bias created the disparate outcomes between white students and students of color. In order to correct the disparities, the focus should be on racial equity, not data or the measurement of data. Currently, professional development on “closing gaps” is heavily focused on analyzing data. This needs to immediately change to focus on racial equity literacy. Equity literacy is defined as putting equity at the center of all decision-making and systems (Gorski & Swalwell, 2015). It challenges the deficit model of starting with gaps (Bernhardt, 2016).
All professional development will start with racial equity literacy before educators are tasked with analyzing data and finding gaps in the types of data that are available. This will give educators a more critical lens to evaluate data for racial equity. This work needs to be on all levels of the system using systemic PLC models. A feasible goal to align racial equity PLC work between district, building, and educator level is no more than 12 calendar months. The work needs to start at the top, so leaders have a deep understanding of racial equity literacy before they create and facilitate racial equity professional development. Racial equity literacy frameworks need to be employed at each PLC level to ensure educators are recognizing bias and inequities, responding to immediate needs to correct them, redressing long term bias and inequities, and creating and sustaining policies and protocols that systematize racial equity in every aspect of their work, including data analysis (Gorski, 2017).
When racial equity literacy is embedded in every level of PLC work in the district, collaboration and collective capacity for racial justice will be effectively facilitated between district, buildings, and educators (DuFour & Reeves, 2013). The changes in district organization and leadership will streamline this collaboration. A focus on racial equity literacy instead of data and standardized testing outcomes will make the work of meeting the goals to implement critical pedagogy and ethnic studies a reality.
One immediate way to get closer to racial equity is to center the wisdom and leadership of educators and administrators of color who have high levels of racial equity literacy. There has been a recent shift in leadership in the district that included demoting leaders of color, particularly Black men. This trend needs to be reversed immediately. Those leaders of color who are still in the district need to be immediately restored to their previous positions. This includes the executive director of CAI, who previously held the title of Chief of CAI.
Leaders of color tend to be inherently more versed in racial equity literacy, since they personally understand the impacts of racial bias and discrimination. Educators of color tend to be inherently better equipped to lead on the creation and implementation of critical pedagogy and ethnic studies because they are the subjects of their own histories and experiences. This is not to say any educator or leader of color is preferred. Racial equity literacy is still a prerequisite, but people of color should be at the core of this work and decision-making.
While the goal of this plan is to implement critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, the result of working toward that goal will be a shift in the system that creates a space made with and for students and families of color with leaders and educators driving the work. The current structure of the district, its initiatives and structure are for white leaders, students, and families who are trying to save students of color. This is the essence of white paternalism and saviorhood. One of the themes of ethnic studies as defined by Seattle Public Schools is “history of resistance and liberation,” which highlights the work of people and communities of color fighting against oppressive systems (Castro-Gill, et. al, 2018). This is the route Seattle Public Schools needs to take. This is what critical pedagogy and ethnic studies can and should create in the goal to achieve educational justice for students of color.
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