Which Comes First? Anti-Racism or Racial Equity

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I recently completed what amounts to a couple of chapters worth of a report on what ethnic studies educators in Western Washington believe they need to implement a successful ethnic studies program. You can read the results on the Washington State Ethnic Studies Now website. One of the discussions sparked by the data I collected is about which comes first – anti-racism or racial equity. The respondents of my interviews believe that anti-racism has to come first because without it, racial equity is just a buzzword. Others in my teacher activist circles believe that racial equity comes first and anti-racism is the end goal. At least one of my friends believes that both can happen at the same time. I’m grateful that I have such thoughtful and critical educators as friends and colleagues. For me, personally, I tend to agree more with the educators I interviewed.

Here’s how the educators I interviewed defined equity, racial equity, and anti-racism:

EquityEvery educator responded that equity means providing access to systems and resources, focusing on groups that are historically and presently marginalized. 

Racial Equity – This term means the same thing as equity, but with a focus on race and acknowledgment of systems of racial oppression.

Anti-racism – This is where there is some variation in opinion among the educators. Every educator used the term “dismantle” in their definition. They all see anti-racism as dismantling racially unjust systems, institutions, practices, and beliefs. A couple educators included capitalism as one system that needs to be dismantled, particularly when it comes to high-stakes testing and standardized, Eurocentric curriculum, and a few white educators included the need to work on their own racism and biases.

In this blog post I want to talk about some differences between terms used in “equity” initiatives in education. I definitely don’t think we can use “equity” to address racial injustice in education. It’s too easily co-opted if it’s not at least “racial equity.” I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, focusing mostly on culturally responsive teaching, but I’m glad I’ve put it off so I can cover some of my new learning and musings. Specifically I want to argue which comes first, anti-racism or racial equity. Ready? Here we go!


Yuck. Multiculturalism is a necessary evil. We can’t be anti-racist or teach ethnic studies if we aren’t including some kind of multicultural component in our praxis, but just yuck. I say yuck because TOO MANY people stop there and call it equitable. In fact, while visiting a principal in Seattle to discuss ethnic studies, the principal was compelled to inform me that they “already do ethnic studies.” “Don’t you see the posters of different cultures in the halls? Our staff is very diverse, too.”


I worked in collaboration with several colleagues to come up with this definition of multiculturalism and why multiculturalism is problematic on its own.

Multicultural education is frequently content about the cultures of different groups, often groups considered non-white, which creates the idea of white being the “default race.” Non-white groups are taught about in terms of “contributions” or other additive language.

The teaching of multicultural content operates from the assumption that the problem of racism is an under appreciation of different cultures, and therefore the solution is the celebration of different cultures. What makes this problematic is that 1) it does not address power 2) in defining discrete cultures, people and cultures are necessarily reduced in complexity. 

Critical multiculturalism can address systems of power, but most incarnations of multicultural education are “liberal multiculturalism” which focuses on surface level culture.

Surface level culture can be defined as the parts of culture that are easily identifiable to people outside of that culture; for example, food, language, dress, music, holidays, and traditions.

Even more disturbing is that multiculturalism is where many teacher preparation programs start and stop in terms of “equity” training for prospective educators. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Equity Literacy for All by Katy Swalwell and Paul Gorski to help you understand why multiculturalism is bad for kids of Color and white trumptaco_horiz2-1024x751kids. Knowing some trivia facts about “other” peoples’ culture gives white people a false sense of being non-racist. A person can know, and even appreciate, various cultures while still being and acting racist. And we know non-racist = racist.


So here I argue that a person needs to be anti-racist before they can teach multiculturalism. Without the critical race theoretical frame, it’s just liberal multiculturalism. It’s surface level information that makes white people feel better about themselves.

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)

I can’t lie. I love Zaretta Hammond’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. I love it because I believe that in another dimension I’m a brain surgeon. The brain is so fascinating. I remember learning in my undergrad program that the brain is the hardware and culture is the software. I also love the analogy that culture is the lens of the camera and frames what and how we see in the world. I believe that. I see how whiteness has warped our sense of culture, what we value, and what we consider unworthy. BUT Zaretta Hammond herself says CRT is not “social justice” nor does it require “anti-bias” training. It’s not inherently anti-racist. I believe it is a piece of the puzzle, but can do more harm when not prefaced with anti-racist pedagogies. As Dr. H. Samy Alim said in a keynote I attended last year at a conference in L.A., “CRT has been picked up and read through a white, hegemonic lens of assimilation.”


Districts all over the country have jumped on the CRT bandwagon precisely because of what Dr. Alim said. And because the word “culture” is more palatable than “anti-racist” they can’t wait to “do” CRT. They read the book and are suddenly experts creating and implementing Pinterest worthy CRT strategies (seriously – search “culturally responsive teaching” on Pinterest). UntitledThe problem is most educators can’t even correctly define CRT. People frequently confuse culturally relevant teaching for culturally responsive teaching. They further confuse culturally relevant teaching with culturally relevant pedagogy. Words are important in these conversations, but because we don’t dig this deep in professional development, people use these terms interchangeably which works to dilute their meaning, and thus their efficacy.

First, culturally relevant teaching is using content that is relevant to students. Culturally relevant content does not have anything to do with anti-racism unless that’s what you make it about. We can use Minecraft to teach kids engineering and call it culturally relevant. Culturally responsive teaching, the way Zaretta Hammond wrote about it, is about instruction. It’s about being responsive to the varied needs of your learners and rejecting a one-size fits all approach keeping in mind that culture is the software of the brain. Again, you can use culturally responsive practices in a classroom and never teach about race or oppression, or even consider them in lesson planning.

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings is responsible for the term culturally relevant pedagogy, introducing it about two decades ago. Culturally relevant pedagogy goes further than CRT because it calls for educators to create sociopolitical awareness in their students. Dr. Billings, however, recently wrote a chapter for the book Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies in which she says culturally relevant pedagogy doesn’t go far enough; even it isn’t anti-racist. So here I argue that when an educator hasn’t studied critical race theory in depth, they can do more harm with all of the types of teaching and pedagogy discussed under this CRT heading.

Racial Equity

Here I’m at a point where I believe we will not achieve racial equity if we aren’t first anti-racist. I can see how both can be done at the same time, but even that comes with the danger of making decisions called “racial equity” without the proper anti-racist analysis. I used this graphic with my sixth graders as a vocabulary inference tool.


My students worked together to define equity and how it’s different from equality. To paraphrase their definitions, equality means everyone starts out the same and equity means everyone ends up the same. When I think about this argument of which needs to come first, I go back to this image. In order for everyone to end up the same, or get what they all need (apples), we first had to dismantle and reconstruct the system (boxes) used for people to get what they need. To achieve racial equity in education we have to be anti-racist first and dismantle then reconstruct education.

Counter Revolutionaries in a Time of Crisis

Image credit: Seattle Times

Paulo Freire warned us about counter revolutionaires. He defined them as “revolutionaires who became reactionary.” But in times of crises, like now with the COVID-19 pandemic, how do we prevent revolutionaries from becoming reactionary? Freire gave us an antidote for counter revolutionaries: dialogue. Right now, April 5th, 2020, is an interesting time to watch leaders and previous revolutionaries react to this crisis. People who used to be at odds with one another are suddenly allies, supporting each other for the sake of “getting through this.” I suppose, to a certain degree, I understand this. However, hidden beneath the “let’s all get along” narrative is the “don’t talk about bad leadership” mandate; essentially, restricting dialogue and critical analysis about leaders who were once considered lacking. We see this on the national level with many leaders calling to rally behind Trump because he is the president. And here, in Seattle, many are calling to rally behind our district superintendent. It’s an interesting phenomenon. How does a global pandemic make a poor leader better overnight? Why is criticism taboo during a crisis?

Critical Dialogue Is More Critical Than Ever

Upon reflection, I can see why, during this time of crisis, people who don’t regularly work with me would dismiss my continued call outs of the superintendent of Seattle Public Schools; from the outside I probably look like a perpetually angry malcontent. It’s true I am angry a lot, but most of my time is spent on creating, collaborating, and laughing with people in my community. I love the work I do because of the people I get to work with. Calling someone out only comes after communication has broken down or has been intentionally shut down.

The superintendent actively and routinely shuts down dialogue and acts without collaboration. This is a person who has repeatedly earned criticism and disapproval from a wide range of community members. Whether or not I agree with each of these actions, the fact remains there is a plethora of examples of her poor judgment. She cancelled a Native American after school program and an after school program focused on academic support for Black students, has led the cover up of several teacher abuse stories for which she was slow to apologize and left many families feeling like her apology was severely lacking, continues to ignore claims of racism from students and staff, and continues to refuse to support a meaningful ethnic studies program despite the fact the school board has unanimously supported it and various student groups, including her own student advisory group, demand it. She has offended and alienated educators of Color who have become leaders on a national level in ethnic studies.

The above examples are only examples of how her leadership continues to harm largely communities of Color. There are also several examples of how she has alienated large swaths of affluent, white families. Though I agree with some of the decisions that angered white families, like the adoption of Amplify Science and the dismantling of the highly capable/gifted cohort, the ways in which they were implemented demonstrate her lack of concern for collaboration and her dismissal of classroom educators. For example, she pushed the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) program on Washington Middle School (WMS) despite a no vote from the educators at WMS. While many educators expressed support for TAF, they explained the no vote was a result of a lack of communication from Juneau about how TAF would be implemented and how it would impact their jobs. And just this week, Juneau showed her contempt for educators again by sending out a Hunger Games style mandate that educators show up for childcare duty on top of their teaching jobs (currently complicated by transitioning to an all virtual environment) without so much as mentioning her intent to the teachers’ union.

There have been several attempts by all of the people and organizations impacted by this poor leadership to collaborate and reasonably address these issues through dialogue, but it only falls on apathetic ears. After the superintendent interrupted a regularly scheduled ethnic studies work meeting, chastising the group for not completing a task that her own cabinet members blocked the group from working on, some members of the group asked for an apology. The superintendent’s response was, “I’m not prepared to have that conversation today.” When I look back at these examples of poor leadership, I’m left to wonder how much resentment and anger could have been prevented with dialogue. And now, when we should be hypercritical of leadership, particularly how leaders communicate, some are asking to give her grace by not vocalizing criticism – restricting dialogue.

Counter Revolutionaries are Contradictions to the People

“Almost never, however, does a revolutionary leadership group perceive that it constitutes a contradiction to the people. Indeed, this perception is painful, and the resistance may serve as a defense mechanism. After all, it is not easy for leaders who have emerged through adherence to the oppressed to recognize themselves as being in contradiction with those to whom they adhered. It is important to recognize this reluctance when analyzing certain forms of behavior on the part of revolutionary leaders who involuntarily become a contradiction (although not antagonists) of the people.” – Freire

This is something I keep with me always as I reflect on my responsibility as a “leader”. I put that in quotations because I continue to be a reluctant leader. But this is something I’m seeing happen in our current reality. I understand the desire to rally behind a leader and work together through these challenging events, but it feels more reactionary than revolutionary. Some might say a crisis is the best time to react. I disagree whole-heartedly. A crisis is the best opportunity for a revolution. Why rally behind a leader that has repeatedly demonstrated their inability to successfully lead when right now is the time exceptional leadership is required? I think that’s why Dr. Fauci and Governor Cuomo are gaining popularity. They are voices of reason that counteract the poor leadership of the president, made painfully more visible during this crisis. Similarly, we are seeing in public education how this crisis is opening the wounds of racial, class, and disability disparities and how many of the superintendent’s actions have exacerbated them since her arrival. Now is the time for revolutionary action, not reactionary solidarity.

I urge those in leadership to reject reactionary solidarity and embrace revolutionary action and leadership. When we think of centering students and communities of Color, is the current leader the best person for the job? If the answer is no, how does a global pandemic improve their leadership qualities and abilities? I urge all people to continue to engage in critical dialogue and not allow their fear of the present erase the harm of the past and the future neglect of the communities we serve and fight for.

The Fight for Ethnic Studies and Educators of Color in Seattle Public Schools

“My name is Tracy Castro-Gill. I am the daughter of Richard Castro and Rita Hust. I am the descendant of the Mexica and Celtic people. I am the 2019 PSESD Teacher of the Year and PhD candidate writing a dissertation on retaining educators of Color through Ethnic Studies pedagogy and curricula. I am Xicana, chingona, and pissed off.”

This is how I started my public testimony at the February 26th Board meeting of Seattle Public Schools. I went to testify in support of my colleagues, educators of Color who are being sidelined by Superintendent Denise Juneau’s agenda to dismantle the Ethnic Studies Program that was conceived and built by this group of educators. Several educators from the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group showed up to testify about their experiences with racism and other forms of abuse they face as educators of Color in Seattle Public Schools. Many students, parents, and other educators came to testify against the district placing me on administrative leave.

Below is the video of all the testimonies and below that are the transcripts of several testimonies, including the rest of mine. This fight isn’t over. These educators and students are not walking away to allow the district to check a box and call it done. They can’t undo the seeds that have been planted!

¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

Transcripts (posted with the authors’ permission):

Jon Greenberg

What a system we have.

You, our elected officials, are our hope to make things better, but you are unpaid with virtually no staff and for information you primarily rely on highly paid executives farthest away from the best part of education: the youth.

When abuse in this system happens, and it extends far beyond those KUOW articles, our only recourse as educators is to come to you because often times our administrators are port of or the source of the problem.

And of course, the boss of these bosses, who you hire, sits up there with you. So for me to tell you in two short minutes the truth of what’s actually happening on the ground I have to risk retaliation.

And retaliation is EXACTLY what’s happening to Tracy Castro-Gill. She is one of the few who embodies the rhetoric of racial justice that you unanimously passed, and the system, which you represent, smacks her down.

What would it cost you to listen to and partner with the educators of Color your strategic plan is supposed to protect? You are violating your own strategic plan.

You can’t stop ethnic studies. The youth have now tasted a better system and they are hungry for more.

Andrea Chorney

Dear Members of the School Board,

Becoming an Ethnic Studies educator doesn’t happen overnight.  It is a journey marked by the willingness to continually learn from the past and the present.  To reflect on our own identities and biases.  To take time to incorporate the lived experiences of students into the curriculum in meaningful ways that leave students with deeper knowledge of their identities, history, and ultimately, a sense of agency as they begin to see themselves as changemakers in their lives and communities.  But I am talking today about my most recent experiences that have illustrated both the transformative power of ethnic studies for students, as well the challenges to this work within systems that, despite well-crafted words to the contrary (strategic plan), continue to uphold racist policies and ideas.  I’m sharing my experiences because I know it is through learning each other’s stories, that we will build understanding.  It is my hope that by taking time to read my letter, you might understand some of the demonstrated successes of Ethnic Studies and some of the barriers to implementation happening right now.

Most of my career has been spent in large comprehensive middle or high schools.  In this environment, I have been acutely aware that despite our best efforts and belief that all students can succeed, we know that while 82% of white students will graduate form high school, the numbers drop to 72% for African American, Latinx, and 62% for Native students.  How can we say we are preparing all students to be college and career ready, when this is clearly not the case?  We know that we work in an institution (public school) that has been greatly affected by a history of racist policies and ideas, that continues today.  Incorporating Ethnic Studies into all subjects is one important way to work to dismantle this legacy of racist ideas.  Unfortunately, the forced leave of Tracy Castro-Gill has dealt a hard blow to the moral of teachers who have volunteered their time and in many cases sacrificed their health, to this work.

This month, I worked with other anti-racist educators at Denny Middle School to coordinate our Black Lives Matter at School Week, which was recently highlighted in a detailed article on the SPS website.  We saw this work as integral to creating a “Pro-Black agenda…and normalization of centering of Black voices in Seattle Public Schools, “as stated in the 2020 Board Goals and Objectives.  We see this as a springboard to continue this work at a school-wide level all year.  It is important to remember that most of the lessons taught were written by members of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group. The history of this week in SPS, which has led to a nation-wide movement, is linked directly to the work of Tracy and Ethnic studies advisory board.  It is telling, that Tracy was put on leave at the beginning of this week.

In addition to BLM at School Week, Denny’s racial equity team has worked hard to incorporate anti-racist professional development.  We were disappointed that the Ethnic Studies, CRT, and Racial Literacy trainings were at capacity and we would not be able to participate in those trainings.  This is clear evidence of the need to hire more Ethnic Studies teachers of Color to support Tracy in bringing this vital work to all schools that want it.  Now, with the Ethnic Studies training on hold, it seems as if any progress or momentum we have for implementation is at best stalled, and at worst, erased.

In 2011, I began work as an ELL specialist at a small alternative school called Middle College High School in West Seattle.  During my years at this school, I was able to see first hand the transformative power of teaching Ethnic Studies through the lens of critical pedagogy.  As I helped students to edit their personal statements and college essays, they allowed me to learn about their stories. And what I learned changed my view of what education could be forever.  It also created an enhanced sense of urgency that continues to this day in my teaching.

Many students credited the school with literally saving their lives, but it’s important to remember that is wasn’t about “saving” students.  Rather, we were able to expose students to tools they can use to transform the odds set against them. For some, they were able to connect with the curriculum for the first time. They felt that they were learning “the truth” that they hadn’t learned in regular history class.  They studied power and oppression as well as resistance and liberation.  They learned about the importance of their own cultures and identities.  The small setting allowed students to connect with each other and with teachers in vital ways they could not do in a large school.  They brought their lives into the classroom and we met them where they were and worked with them to help them see where they wanted to go.

The first and last time, I testified before the School Board was in solidarity with these students as we protested the sudden and unjust closure of MCHS at High Point.  In addition to the impact the closure had on some of the most vulnerable students, at least 6 teachers of color, all expert Ethnic Studies teachers, were displaced.

For the last 5 years, I have been working at Denny Middle School, where I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with Tracy Castro Gill at Denny and later as one of the members of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, which consists of 22 teachers of color.  At Denny, none of the progress we are making around incorporating Ethnic Studies, would be possible without the leadership and hard work of Tracy.  She has been able to build a powerful coalition of teachers of color, community groups, University professors, authors, students, activists, etc. We don’t do this work alone.  We work together.  But we are also, for the most part, volunteering our time for what we believe in.  We get pressure from our building administrators to not be out of the building for work sessions or professional development.  We get pressure to teach curriculum “with fidelity” even when we know this does not meet the needs of the students in our classes.  We know that many teachers of color, have had to take medical leave or are on the verge of burnout.  This is not sustainable.

What would be sustainable?  To start with, we need to reinstate Tracy Castro Gill so that she can continue to build on the work she has begun and continue to collaborate with teachers of Color who know about Ethnic Studies.  We need to value our teachers as experts and listen to teachers of Color.  SPS must  create safe spaces to do this anti-racist work. This is mandated in the strategic plan  Strategic Plan, Policy 0030: Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity.   This work will move forward when the district is willing to listen to and hire Ethnic Studies teachers of color who have been doing this work.  Hiring an outside consultant, will be counter productive to the collective work of Ethnic Studies.

SPS can’t claim to be anti-racist, but at the same time, continue to dismiss and demean the work of teachers of color who are leading the way.  I hope you can see that what is happening to Tracy Castro-Gill is symptomatic of the district’s mistreatment of educators of Color, especially those who are doing anti-racist work.  The district is sabotaging ethnic studies, despite the Board’s resolution of support, passed unanimously in July of 2017, and despite the superintendent’s own Student Advisory Board recommendation of mandating ethnic studies.

We can’t build a Culturally Responsive Workforce by mistreating and dismissing powerful teachers of Color, like Tracy Castro-Gill and the Ethnic Studies Task Force.

So here I am again, five years after the closure of MCHS at High Point, advocating for the Superintendent to once again listen to the teachers who have experience with Ethnic Studies.  This is not a new movement.  This is not a top down movement.  Continuing this work will be one step towards SPS’s stated goal of decolonizing our leadership spaces. We know the research supports the implementation of Ethnic Studies in order to reach those students who are indeed furthest from educational justice.

Elisa Yzaguirre

My name is Elisa Yzaguirre and I’m a teacher at Denny International Middle School and a member of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group. I’m here to address the Seattle Teacher Residency Program Contract that sites strategy to recruit and retain educators of color.  The fact that I’ve had the privilege of teaching content through an ES lens for the past few years has directly impacted the learning of students of color and white students in my classes, because for many of them it is the first time their own ideas are reflected in the content they receive in a formal school setting.  It values and validates the lived experiences of my students.  As a bilingual teacher of color, who is skilled and passionate about this work, I still receive pushback for doing it There is pushback for taking time for professional development, there is pushback for not teaching curriculum with fidelity, even when I know it is not the best thing for the students in my room. In the long run, it is not sustainable for me to continue to work in an environment where my expertise is not valued. This is in direct contrast to the Seattle Teacher Residency Contract.  Leadership for ES must come from the educators within our district who are already qualified and willing to lead.  We are all in this struggle together for the agency and liberation of the students in our diverse classrooms  from a historically racist educational system.

Tracy Castro-Gill and the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group have made great progress in bringing Ethnic Studies to Seattle Public Schools.  For example, the Black Lives Matter in School Week can be seen as integral to creating a “Pro-Black agenda…and normalization of centering of Black voices in Seattle Public Schools,” as stated in the 2020 Board Goals and Objectives.  Although this week of action has generated increased interest in Ethnic Studies, it seems that now, with the Ethnic Studies training on hold, any progress or momentum we have for implementation is at best stalled, and at worst, erased.

Tracy Castro-Gill

My name is Tracy Castro-Gill. I am the daughter of Richard Castro and Rita Hust. I am the descendant of the Mexica and Celtic people. I am the 2019 PSESD Teacher of the Year and PhD candidate writing a dissertation on retaining educators of Color through Ethnic Studies pedagogy and curricula. I am Xicana, chingona, and pissed off.

In the summer of 2017 I led an effort to recruit educators, mainly womxn of Color, to the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, then called the Ethnic Studies Work Group. Each of the members of the ESAG have since become leaders in their own right. These leaders go into their schools, union, community, and sometimes beyond the city and state borders – unpaid or on their own dime – to learn and teach about critical praxis and Ethnic Studies, NOT culturally responsive teaching. You know why? Because their skills and knowledge far surpass CRT practices, which should be the floor, not the ceiling. These leaders are well versed in critical and culturally sustaining pedagogies because they are leaders of Color; they live and embody these practices.

In my role as the Ethnic Studies Program Manager I am their friend, colleague, and biggest fan. Words cannot express how proud I am of their accomplishments and the growth they’ve experienced in the three years we’ve been together. Our work is garnering national attention and being used in classrooms around the world. Though I am their peer and equal, I hold a place of privilege with the title “manager” which makes me ultimately responsible for their well-being.

Your actions are speaking so loud we can’t hear your words. The word is “unapologetic”; the action says “know your place”. The words are “diversity of staff”; the actions say “vendidos”; The word is “anti-racist” but for educators of Color the actions are unfettered harm, trauma, and abuse. When it comes to the well-being of my friends and colleagues and anti-racism I do not come to play. We drew a line in the sand and district leadership is choosing to cross it.

Savanna Jamerson

During our struggle to retain the programming aligned with principals of Ethnic Studies at Middle College High School, the Seattle School Administration showed its true lack of support for both teachers and students of color.

Initially, Middle College was meant to be an alternative, college preparatory high school dedicated to underserved students of color and other marginalized students. Teachers of color taught Humanities courses modeled on Integrated Studies at Seattle Central College, based on a critical pedagogy that analyzes systems of oppression.

Years leading up to our being pushed out in 2015, we objected to :

  • Eurocentric, online computer instruction that merely tests proficiency in Googling answers, and to Bill Gates’ Big History tokenism.
  • Military recruiters holding whole-school recruitment presentations.
  • SPS privileging the needs and wants of Middle College host institutions, over those of our students.

Instead, we insisted on training students with the habits of mind for success in college and providing inspirational, transformative, and relevant instruction.

School Administration aligned itself with primarily white staff who criticized us as inflexible and arrogant about our curriculum and pedagogy, and accused us of “teaching the students to be communists.” Had I time travelled back to the McCarthy era of the 1950’s??

Strategic moves were taken to get rid of all of us.

After directing the staff NOT to accept any new students the West Seattle Middle College closed based on “low enrollment”.

Two educators of color were placed on administrative leave and escorted out to the school by security as if they were criminals.

Some educators were “reassigned” to predominantly white schools, where they would be scrutinized and made to feel uncomfortable.

Our letters and public testimonies, were met with the unspoken, dismissive, message, “This too will pass.”

I liken this experience to your current treatment of the manager of Ethnic Studies. Anyone publicly critical of deeply rooted systemic racism and oppressions, will be met with retaliation and pushed out.

Bruce Jackson

Now is the time. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill, We have been building a road forward for ethnic studies for 5 years now, a road forward that leads our students out of the humiliating conclusions of the master narrative and into the sense of hope that lies in that road we have built. We have much more work to do, but the road has been laid. Now is the time. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill. We have fought back against racism in public schools by creating a curriculum and framework that demands to be heard, a curriculum and framework that speaks to the student population of Seattle Public Schools, a curriculum and framework that expands our understanding of identity. Our relationship with power and that lends strength to educators, parents and students alike. Now is the time. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill, we have built connections that touch our entire nation. Through WEA,NEA, the State and local government, We have knocked down closed doors and demanded a seat at tables denied to people of color since the founding of this nation. We have opened closed eyes and pointed them in the direction of Seattle. The nation is watching us. Now is the time. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill, we are flying in spaces designed to make us crawl. We are teaching in spaces designed to keep us ignorant. We are creating in an environment of redundancy and denial. We are becoming more than that environment allows. Under the leadership of Tracy Castro-Gill, We are leading this district in a direction of hope. Open your eyes, you can see the road we have built. Walk it with us.

My Views on Assessments in Critical Pedagogy

Hi! It’s February – Black History Month and Black Lives Matter at School Week starts Monday, February 3. My district kicked off this month by placing me on administrative leave for calling out acts of racism! And, fyi, we’re still waiting for the apology we demanded last month…

I am taking this break to reflect on the why of my work and how I can do it in a sustainable way that protects my mental well-being as well as my economic well-being while also not giving up on the community I love.

As such, this month’s post is a paper written for my doctoral program on my philosophy of assessment. I may have something to write about for March’s installment pertaining to my current situation, but I feel like this is a strong piece and a required shift in how we view assessments.


There are two types of assessment used in education: formative and summative. A formative assessment is generally defined as assessing students’ needs and using data collected from these assessments to guide instruction. A summative assessment is generally defined as assessing the cumulative knowledge and/or skills gained from an activity, lesson, or unit. Formative assessments are seen more as informal, such as exit tickets or assessing group discussions, while summative assessments can be very formal, like end of year standardized tests (Frey & Fisher, 2011).

The Ethnic Studies Program in Seattle Public Schools aims to create an instructional model in which summative assessments are synonymous with evaluation, which Dr. Cullen defines as an analysis of a program (Laureate Education, 2017) and formative assessments drive curriculum and instruction. The Ethnic Studies Program uses a critical pedagogy model that views learning as cyclical and ongoing, therefor requiring all assessments be formative, even those conducted at the end of an activity, lesson, or unit (Freire, 1968). While the educator may not continue with students past a semester or school year, the students are expected to continue their learning beyond individual teachers’ classrooms, and assessments should be just as student-centered as instruction.

Assessment as a Driver of Instruction

The Ethnic Studies Program calls out culturally responsive teaching and critical pedagogy as key to instruction in addition to content that is explicitly anti-racist (Castro-Gill, et al, 2018). Both instructional models are categorized by Dr. Wilson (n.d.) as “Personalist” and “Social Interaction”, which closely align with the ways in which education scholars define learner-centered instruction and/or curriculum (Cullen, Harris, & Hill, 2012). In a learner-centered model, students are assessing themselves and their peers in nearly every interaction as they drive the learning. Teachers, in the role of facilitator, are eventually freed from direct instruction in a process Frey and Fisher (2011) call “gradual release of responsibility” wherein the goal is to instruct and model tasks and then observe and formatively assess independent and collaborative learning.

Richmond, et al (2019) argue that strong learner-centered curriculum starts with a strong learner-centered syllabus. As such, the Ethnic Studies Program aims to create curriculum and instruction that is backwards planned, starting with what students will be able to do and understand when they graduate from high school instead of what teachers plan to teach. To assist in this backwards planning, the Ethnic Studies Program has created a series of content-specific frameworks with guiding questions (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.). These questions are meant to help educators backwards plan, starting with what students need to know and be able to do which then informs formative assessment. Having a strong backwards plan creates an environment in which teachers know exactly what to assess students for, even in the simplest of interactions, such as academic discussions among students and their peers. Black and William (2010) argue this model, which focuses on the interactions happening inside the “black box”, or classroom, is key to raising standards and improving outcomes for students.

Field Observations

            An exemplar of the model described above is the sixth-grade ethnic studies world history classroom of Andrew Chase at Denny International Middle School. Andrew uses four guiding questions from the Ethnic Studies Framework that inform his curriculum and instruction for this year-long course (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.):

  1. How have power dynamics changed throughout history?
  2. What role do the natural environment and cultural geography play in the development of humans?
  3. How are systems of knowledge – science and technology – influencing power and oppression?
  4. How can we critically analyze the biases created by power dynamics and leverage this to change oppressive systems today?

He uses these questions to first develop end of unit assessments which inform the lessons, activities, and informal assessments students will engage in throughout the year. As described earlier, Andrew views each assessment as formative, including end of unit assessments, which are nearly all collaborative, small-group projects. Andrew’s syllabus uses student-centered, collaborative language like “we” and “us” that centers the expected experiences and outcomes of students rather than the content Andrew will deliver.

A typical class period starts out with what Andrew calls “Social Vision”. This is an entry task that activates prior knowledge and asks students to make inferences about a picture, graphic, video, and/or quote related to the day’s lesson. Students first engage in an “elbow partner” discussion responding to prompts provided by Andrew. They then have silent time to write down their thoughts about the prompts and the discussion with their peers. Andrew then asks for students to share out their inferences and come to some consensus on what the “Social Vision” means. This is a formative assessment that helps Andrew understand what direction the day’s lesson may need to take to fill in gaps of understanding.

Students then engage in some form of collaborative reading, like a jigsaw, or “data mining”. The latter may take the form of looking up information in an atlas, a textbook, or online source, but it is almost always collaborative. During collaborative work, students are assigned roles (scribe, researcher, reader, project manager, etc) and each student is assessing how well they and their peers are performing their roles. During this time, Andrew is checking in with groups to informally assess their understanding of the task and content.

End of unit assessments are almost always collaborative, and students assess each other on effort and collaboration using Common Core Standards for speaking and listening as a guide. Since Andrew uses the four guiding questions for a year-long course, the course is cyclical and thematic in nature, which allows Andrew to use end of unit tests as formative assessments because students are expected to apply themes to future units. For example, in a unit on the Agricultural Revolution, students learn about how human settlements negatively impacted river-valley ecosystems. Students will use this knowledge in the next unit on sustainability and climate injustice, particularly pollution in the Duwamish River in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle where many students at Denny International Middle School live.


Critical pedagogy asks that students become and remain life-long learners committed to critical analysis of their environment with the purpose of eliminating injustices. To prepare students to be critical and just citizens, an effective Ethnic Studies Program must view all assessment as formative. Summative assessments that are more evaluative in nature signal to students that learning is over. This is not a message the Ethnic Studies Program wants to send to young people. A critical, cyclical student-centered model of instruction creates an environment in which all assessments are formative and learning is never summed up.





Black, P. & William, D. (2010). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(1), 81-902. Retrieved from https://eds-a-ebscohost-

Castro-Gill, T., VanDerPloeg, L., Alonzo, A., Charlton, J., Au, W. & Guzmán, G. (2018). Seattle

Public Schools anti-racist content and practice definitions. Seattle Public Schools. Retrieved from

Cullen, R., Harris, M., Hill, R. R. (2012). The learner-centered curriculum; Design and

implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Frey, L. & Fisher, D. (2011). The formative assessment action plan: Practical steps to more

successful teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2017). Models of assessment [Video file].

Baltimore, MD: Author.

Richmond, A. S., Morgan, R. K., Slattery, J. M., Mitchell, N. G., & Cooper, A. G. (2019).

Project syllabus: An exploratory study of learner-centered syllabi. Teaching of Psychology, 46(1), 6-15. doi: 10.1177/0098628318816129.

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.). Ethnic Studies Frameworks. Retrieved from

Wilson, L. O. (n.d.). The second principle: Models of teaching. Retrieved from

Open Letter to Denise Juneau, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools

Wouldn’t it be nice if my blog could be focused more on the good work of the educators of Color dedicated to Ethnic Studies in Seattle Public Schools? I intended for this blog to be a tool for activism and information, but with as much gatekeeping and interference our program is up against, it seems this blog is more the former than the latter. I hope that one day, soon, we won’t have to fight so hard for the Ethnic Studies program and this blog can be more for information and sharing joy. In the meantime…

Superintendent Denise Juneau,

At a school board meeting on January 8th, 2020, there was a conversation about creating ethnic studies courses students could enroll in to earn graduation credits. At approximately 2:01:30 in this video of the board meeting you make a statement that includes the words, “I hope teachers on there [Ethnic Studies Advisory Group] will really take this seriously because the only people that will lose out if this does not happen are students. And so that’s my message to the ethnic studies advisory council: Please come together, look at these courses, decide whether they can be approved for ethnic studies for cross-credit because we really want our students to be able to have access next year.”

Superintendent Juneau, there are a few things the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group (please learn our name) would like you to know. We are in our third year of “coming together” as a group of dedicated educators of Color. We have “come together” despite threats from our principals, mistreatment, gatekeeping, and exploitation by administrators in Seattle Public Schools, and threats of physical violence from the community. We have “come together” to create the very foundation upon which today’s Ethnic Studies Program currently sits. We “come together” despite the fact you have refused to staff the program to make it sustainable. We “come together” despite the fact we frequently do not get paid for the volumes of work we have created. We “come together” because we are the adult versions of our current students; radicalized by our own experiences with institutional racism in education – both our personal education and as educators in Seattle Public Schools. We are so committed to this work, despite severe lack of support, that four educators from our group are on medical leave for stress induced by racism perpetuated by our employer.

We came together in November to begin the work of writing course descriptions you mentioned in your statement, only to have that work appropriated when the Ethnic Studies Program Manager, Tracy Castro-Gill, went on medical leave for stress induced by racism perpetuated by her employer. In December, we came together and met with Dr. DeBacker and Dr. Perkins, who informed us they had tasked a separate group of educators to complete the work we had begun; educators who have not been vetted to do such sensitive and important work. However, you chose to lay blame for incomplete work at the feet of the group of educators who have built the Ethnic Studies Program. Not only did you choose to make such an ignorant and offensive statement, you also implied that the Advisory Group is purposefully working against the effort to create course descriptions for cross-crediting.

We “come together” now to demand a public apology for the disrespectful statements made by you from the dais on January 8th, 2020. Educators of Color are watching and hoping that you will deliver on all the promises you are making.


The 21 members of the Ethnic Studies Advisory Group:

Alma Ramiro Alonzo, Montlake Elementary School

Akin Alston, Mathematician, Educator, and Entrepreneur

Kaitlin Kamalei Brandon, Leschi Elementary School

Tracy Castro-Gill, John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence

Andrea Chorney, Denny International Middle School

Flordelrio Correa, Interagency High School

Jennifer Dunn, Southlake High School

Donte Felder, Orca K8

Jon Greenberg, The Center School

Heather Griffin, Chief Sealth International High School

Tara Hofmann, John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence

Amanda Hubbard, Kimball Elementary School

Bruce Jackson, Aki Kurose Middle School

Savanna Jamerson, Interagency High School

Lisa Rice, Franklin High School

Rogelio Rigor, Interagency High School (retired)

Deven Shah, Broadview Thomson K8

Shraddha Shirude, Garfield High School

Justin Vinson, Franklin High School

Tess Williams, Cleveland High School

Elisa Yzaguirre, Denny International Middle School