Blog

The Diagnostic Process and Alignment

Warning: It’s dry and illuminating.

I have to take a course on data-driven instruction for my doctoral program in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Y’all should know how I feel about data, but I’m actually learning a lot. More importantly, the landscape of my district is becoming more clear, particularly in terms of racial equity and ethnic studies.

For this course, I have to write a rather lengthy paper on data-driven decision-making. My instructor is having us chunk it out into smaller papers due each week. I’m going to post them here in a special series. I think I’ll call this “Special Edition PhD Series: The Devil in Seattle Public Schools’ racial equity data.” No? Maybe I’ll think of something more catchy, but probably not. I know it’s very Seattle specific, but I’m sure it’s not too different from other districts. Hopefully it sparks a conversation.


District Profile

            Seattle Public Schools is the largest district in the State of Washington. As of October 2018, the district consists of 52,931 students, 102 schools, and 4,519 educators. There are 61 K-5 schools, 11 K-8, 12 6-8, 12 9-12, and 16 self-contained schools. Eighty-two percent of students graduate high school on time. Thirty-one percent of students are enrolled in free and reduced meal programs. Twenty-one percent of students come from a non-English speaking background, and 147 dialects/languages are spoken by students (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.).

Seattle Public School’s mission statement is, “Seattle Public Schools is committed to ensuring equitable access, eliminating the opportunity gaps, and excellence in education for every student,” and the vision statement is, “Every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, world-class education and graduates prepared for college, career, and community (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.).” While the district boasts that, “Our district outperforms the state’s academic average and often perform better than similar district’s nationwide (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.),” the district fails to mention that Seattle Public Schools has one of the largest gaps in discipline and achievement between white students and students of color in the nation, and has been under investigation by the Federal Department of Education because of egregious disparities in discipline rates among racial lines (Dornfield, A., 2017; Shaw, L., 2014).

The disaggregated demographic data from Seattle Public Schools tell us that 48.5% of students are female and 51.5% are male. Students of color are the majority with a 41.8% white student population. One half of a percent of students are Native American, 14.1% are Asian, 14.9% are Black/African American, 12.1% are Hispanic/Latinx, 0.5% are Asian Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and 10.8% identify as two or more races. Fifteen and one tenth percent of students are enrolled in special education and 3.4% have a 504 plan (OSPI, 2018).

Despite the vision statement of closing gaps and providing excellence for every student, disparities remain consistent. White female students graduate at the highest rates while Native American and Latinx males graduate at the lowest rates and are pushed out (dropout) at the highest rates (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.). Black and Native American males are suspended at 6 times the rate of their white peers while attendance rates for Asian Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian and Native American females are close to ten points lower than their white peers (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.).

Standardized test scores continue to underline these racial disparities in achievement. The district website only provides standardized test score outcomes up to the 8th grade because there is such a high incidence of opt-out rates in high school that the data become inconsistent (OSPI, 2018). In 2017, 60% of all students met standard on the “Smarter Balance” standardized test for English language arts. Forty-nine percent met standard for math. When the disaggregated data is analyzed, however, the data is much less favorable. Thirty-three and nine-tenths percent of Native American students meet standard in English language arts and 24.9% for math. Seventy-nine and two-tenths percent of Asian students meet standard in English language arts and 74.5% for math. Thirty-five and three-tenths percent of Asian Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian students meet standard for English language arts and 22.6% for math. Forty and five-tenths percent of Black/African American students meet standard for English language arts and 27.5% for math. Forty-two percent of Hispanic/Latinx students meet standard for English language arts and 30.7% for math. Sixty-seven percent of white students meet standard for English language arts and 55.4% for math. Sixty-two percent of students who identify as two or more races meet standard for English language arts and 49.6% for math (OSPI, 2018).

The district recently created a new strategic plan. While this plan identifies the types of data to be collected to measure success, there is no indication of a plan for analyzing or sharing data (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.). The district has identified a set of strategies to help reach the goals outlined in the strategic plan. The district has a SMART goal it has identified as priority 1, Eliminating Opportunity Gaps, which includes the following strategies:

  • CSIP’s Equity Goals / Building Leadership Teams (BLT) training
  • Ethnic Studies Planning and Pilot
  • Race and Equity Teams (RET)
  • Preventative and Positive Discipline
  • Family Engagement/Partnership
  • My Brother’s Keeper (MBK)

The district does not, however, identify any strategies to monitor the efficacy of these programs, nor are there any data immediately available to determine their current impacts (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.).

Accountability traditionally has been a site-based model in which individual principals and building administrative teams have determined which data to focus on and how to hold educators accountable. The district does have a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) that acts as a form of accountability, particularly for those schools that are struggling with high rates of discipline and low rates of achievement. The MTSS team consists of special education educators, English language learner educators, school counselors, and content coaches for math and literacy. There is no racial equity component of the MTSS team or interventions.

The strategic plan calls for the collection of the following data, again, without any advice on how to analyze data or measure success:

  • Academic performance in early literacy and math for students of color who are furthest from educational justice
  • On-time graduation and college and career readiness for students of color who are furthest from educational justice
  • Social-emotional learning and welcoming school environments for students of color who are furthest from educational justice
  • Families are well-informed regarding district services
  • Improve operational performance in support of student learning
  • Improve diversity of staff and leadership at school and central office
  • Improve cultural competency and responsiveness of educators
  • Improve the environment for employees of color
  • Increase voice and leadership in school and district initiatives for students of color who are furthest from educational justice
  • Improve engagement around school and district initiatives with families and communities who represent students of color who are furthest from educational justice (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.).

There is no public or visible evidence of any system that gives educators access to district-level decision making, goal setting, or planning. There are partnerships between the district and the local bargaining unit, but these partnerships rarely involve classroom educators, and meetings and discussions generally consist of district and union leadership.

Data Analysis

            The data available to analyze all relate to instruction because they inform about who is achieving at various levels, who is engaged in instruction, who is delivering instruction, and how instruction is being delivered. They cover a variety of inputs and outputs including demographics of students and educators, graduation and push out rates, attendance rate, and discipline rates. Each of these data can be measured at classroom, school, and district level. Only testing data is disaggregated by grade level, and it is only disaggregated by content area as it pertains to “tested subjects.” No data exists for achievement in social studies, arts, language, physical education, or other content areas.

While all data can be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, not all the data collected by the district is disaggregated, specifically student climate data and educator data. The district reports on the race and ethnicity of teachers but does not collect disaggregated data on teacher attrition.

A longitudinal study of data would be relevant in meeting the district’s goals of closing achievement gaps, but there seems to be a lack of such data. An analysis of instruction, in particular, would require longitudinal data. Longitudinal data would inform educators how changes in instruction, or lack thereof, have contributed to existing gaps. Only through longitudinal data can themes, patterns, and inconsistencies be discovered. Starting with data about existing gaps is not a systems approach to data analysis (Bernhardt, V.L., 2016).

Data as tools to measure growth need to be formative and summative. Formative data are attendance rates, student climate surveys, historic data, and educator data. Summative data are data on graduation rates and test scores. The formative data are a measure of where we have been and where we are, and the summative data are measures of where we would like to be.

Synthesis

The district’s mission and vision statements and strategic plan are very clearly crafted around the needs of students of color and the disparities in achievement that exist between white students and students of color. The district has a wide range of data available that indicate a need for their stated mission and vision statements and strategic plan.

The districts goals and strategies are consistent with racial equity in instruction and outcomes, but there are gaps in the ways in which they intend to measure the success of these strategies. Despite the wealth of evidence about the inherent racism and ineffective practice of standardized testing (Au, W., 2008), most data used to measure “achievement” are related to standardized testing outcomes, and while most data are disaggregated by race and ethnicity, no data seems to be collected about race and ethnicity. Collecting disaggregated data on teacher attrition, the racial equity literacy level of educators and administrators, and student climate survey disaggregated by race will paint a clearer picture about how educators and students of color feel about instruction and learning in Seattle Public Schools. By only collecting racially disaggregated data on outcomes, education becomes “about” students of color instead of “for” students of color.

 

Appendix

Data Analysis Worksheet

Name of District:                Seattle Public Schools                                                                

Diagnostic Purpose: To improve instruction

Data that are available What do the data tell us? To what extent do they inform us about instruction?
Demographic data Who the students are Alone, they do not. When disaggregated they tell us which students instruction is effective for and which it is not.
Test score data Who is “meeting standard” These data tell us exactly how racist testing is and how we should not align instruction with testing data.
Graduation rates Who is graduating. If instruction is not engaging all students, some will leave school before graduating.
Push out rates Who is not graduating See above
Attendance rates Who is engaged in learning If instruction is not engaging for all students, some students will not make school a priority.
Educator data Who is teaching How well educators are relating to the lived experiences of their students and how that is seen in instruction practices and content
Free and reduced meal data Income levels of families How well educators are differentiating instruction to meet the socio-emotional needs of students
Multilingual data How many students speak more than one language How well educators are differentiating instruction to value the strengths of multilingual students.
ELL data How many students are learning English See above
Special education data How many students need extra services and supports How well educators are differentiating instruction to meet the needs and provide supports
Discipline data How many students are being pushed out and who those students are How many instruction hours are being missed and which group of students are missing the most

 

Data that are not available: Gaps in the data What could the data tell us about? To what extent would they inform us about instruction?
Racial equity literacy of educators and administrators How well educators are prepared to meet the needs of currently underserved students How racially biased instruction practice and content are
Student climate survey data disaggregated by race Which students feel safe and welcomed in their school environment How well instruction is meeting the needs of currently underserved students
Historic data about instruction and discipline How the gaps were created These data would tell us if instruction has been changed to close gaps or if instruction has remained unchanged which perpetuates gaps
Disaggregated teacher attrition rates What the district is doing to retain educators of color Teachers of color have  a tendency to be more culturally responsive in terms of instruction.

 

Data that are available Data that are not currently available
Less Important Must-Have Less Important Must-Have
Test score data Demographic data   Racial equity literacy of educators and administrators
Free and reduced meal data Graduation rates   Student climate survey data disaggregated by race
Multilingual data Push out rates   Historic data about instruction and discipline
ELL data Attendance rates   Disaggregated teacher attrition rates
Special education data Educator data    
  Discipline data    

 

List the data you want to include in this district’s Data Collage/Data Profile.
Element of Data Collage/Data Profile Describe what these data contribute to the Data Collage/Data Profile
Demographic data Without this data we cannot accurately define the gaps and target the groups of students who need the most support.
Push out rates This will tell us who is the least engaged in the education process.
Attendance rates This will tell us who is the least engaged in the day-to-day learning.
Educator data How well educators are relating to the lived experiences of their students and how that is seen in instruction practices and content – who do we have and who do we need?
Racial equity literacy of educators and administrators These data will measure the degree to which the district prioritizes racial justice.
Student climate survey data disaggregated by race These data will give us insights into the experiences of students in school based on their racial and ethnic identities.
Historic data about instruction These data would tell us if instruction has been changed to close gaps or if instruction has remained unchanged which perpetuates gaps.

 

The data profile I am creating consists of the data I believe is the most relevant to the district’s mission statement, vision, and strategic plan. All three involve closing gaps between white students and students of color. These disparities have existed since I began working with this district in 2013 with some disparities increasing in the past year despite a recent push for racial justice. If we are going to address racial disparities, the focus on data should highlight the racial and ethnic backgrounds of students, educators, and outcomes.

The process I used in selecting these data was researching the data that are readily available on the Seattle Public School’s website and the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website. I used this worksheet to help me find the data that are available versus the data that are not available or are not collected. In some instances, the data are available but not disaggregated by race or ethnicity. I then went through the list of available and unavailable data and prioritized them using the district vision and mission statements and the strategic plan as guides.

Demographic data are important because we are focusing on specific groups of students in our district goals. All data, especially demographic data should be disaggregated by race and ethnicity in order to ensure we are analyzing the correct data to meet our goals. I chose to include push out rates instead of graduation rates, because graduation rates tell us how well we are doing with instruction and push out rates will help us determine whose needs we are not meeting. While push out rates are a summative assessment of engagement, attendance rates are a formative assessment. Student climate data are often left out of this discussion. They are often used in building level discussions on how teachers can improve practice and instruction, but I have not seen them as part of the district level planning. I have left out testing data because of their inherent racism (Au, W., 2008).

The last few data sets are about educators instead of students. I believe that focusing solely on students is deficit thinking. We do not need to fix the kids. We need to fix the system that is failing the kids. Since the district claims it is committed to racial justice in schools, key data that are missing is how literate educators and administrators are in racial equity. Racial justice initiatives are only as effective as the people creating and implementing them, and our district has neither mandated district-wide training on racial equity nor does it have a way to assess the levels of racial equity literacy in its staff. It is also important to know the racial and ethnic backgrounds of educators since studies show student engagement and success is linked to the racial and ethnic background of their teachers (Anderson, M., 2015).

Historic data about instruction is important because it seems that the district strategic plan is beginning and ending with achievement gaps. In her book, Data, Data Everywhere; Bringing all the data together for continuous school improvement, Dr. Bernhardt emphasizes the need for data to show an organization where it has been, where it is, and where it needs to go (2016). The district’s strategic plan skips the first layer of data analysis. This is particularly important in terms of instruction and assessment, because we tend to do more of the same in hopes the outcomes will change. Data on previous instruction and assessment is needed to understand how gaps are created. Data on the types of instruction and assessment are needed, not only the outcomes of each.

 

References

Anderson, Melinda. (06.08.2015). Why Schools Need More Teachers of Color – for White Students; Nonwhite educators can offer new and valuable perspectives for children of all backgrounds. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/08/teachers-of-color-white-students/400553/

Au, Wayne. (2008). Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality. New York, NY: Routledge.

Bernhardt, V.L. (2016). Data, Data Everywhere; Bringing all the data together for continuous school improvement. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

Dornfield, A. (06.08.2017). Fewer Seattle students are getting suspended, expelled, data show. KUOW. Retrieved from https://kuow.org/stories/fewer-seattle-students-are-getting-suspended-expelled-data-show/

OSPI. (2018). Seattle Public Schools [Data set]. Washington State Report Card. Retrieved from http://reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/summary.aspx?groupLevel=District&schoolId=1&reportLevel=State&yrs=2017-18&year=2017-18

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.). About Seattle Public Schools. Retrieved from https://www.seattleschools.org/district/district_quick_facts

Shaw, L. (27.03.2014). A year later: What’s up with school discipline case in Seattle? The Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/education-lab/a-year-later-whats-up-with-school-discipline-case-in-seattle/

Guest Blog: Uncle Zyad by Bruce Jackson

Bruce Jackson is a special education educator at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle. He is a leader in the ethnic studies movement, a union leader in SEA’s Center for Racial Equity and Social Equity Educators, and ethnic studies curriculum writer for Seattle Public Schools. He is a teacher activist!

Below is a speech he gave at this past Friday’s Black Lives Matter at School Week rally. Thank you, Bruce, for permitting me to share this with my readers!


When I was 10 years old, my uncle, Zyad Shakur was murdered on the New Jersey turnpike while fighting to protect the unalienable rights of black people in this country. After his death, his family, my aunt Louise and cousin Craig moved in with us. A few days later she started receiving threats on her life and the life of her son.

My uncle was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, those organizations felt they owed a great debt to my uncle, so from that day on, there was an armed presence in and around my home. Consequently, there was no lack of people in our home that knew a lot about black people, black history and our people’s place in the struggle for liberation of all people. From that day on, I had mentors who would not let me fall.

I had proud, strong black men in my circle. I attended breakfasts with community members who would ask me about what I was learning in school and give me questions for my teachers about those topics, questions that would tip the conversations in class toward the topic of social justice. When I asked these questions in class, I would usually stand alone, or other students would use me as a way to avoid the teacher chosen topic of the day. I would usually lack the depth of knowledge to defend myself against my teachers, and due to my curiosity and these contradictions, I would often end up in the principal’s office asking those same questions. I remember asking those questions in relation to what I was being taught in school, in terms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I would often end up bringing those questions home to my mentors where I would be given the answers and rebuttals with no class time for the discussion necessary for the depth of knowledge I craved.

I wanted to create an ideology, something that made me stronger in the face of grief and loss. That didn’t happen in school, and at an early age, I knew that there was more to knowledge than what I was being told in school, that there was more to being black than poverty, ignorance, and slavery. As my mentors told me more about my uncle, I started to see my education as a gift I had no right to squander, a gift that no one had the right to twist and shape into a master narrative that omits the proud truths of my ancestors and the ancestors of the marginalized groups I lived and learned with.

My uncle was murdered while trying to create an Black Studies program in elementary and middle schools in New York and the surrounding areas. He was murdered while fighting for many of the demands we are still asking for with Black Lives Matter At Schools movement: Ethnic Studies, More Black Teachers, and a move toward Culturally Responsive treatment of people of color in this country, a strengthening of our communities. Why is this such a difficult thing to give? Why is the truth such a guarded secret? I still have questions.

Why must we glorify our oppressors in education? Why must we glorify criminal acts by praising that “Louisiana “Purchase” that “Manifest Destiny” all the while downplaying the genocide they caused? Why must we glorify racism by ignoring merciless acts of dehumanization like slavery, Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, Native re-education schools, in this Master Narrative? Why can’t we glorify those who fought against these acts of cruelty? Why can’t we create our own heroes in history? Why can’t we praise humanity? Why can’t we join the human family? I want to teach our children to be humane beings on this planet, citizens of a world that needs their creativity, citizens in a species that will not survive without them. How can we save ourselves from self destruction when we teach history in its current form?
My uncle died 19 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. He died moving the ball forward, moving the ball ever further away from ignorance and closer and closer to enlightenment. I am honored to help him push that same ball forward 40 years later. I am honored to live for the people, the humane beings on this planet. I am privileged to know my history, to know that I am capable of much more than the current master narrative believes I am. I want to share that dignity of knowledge with all who are willing to listen.

We have so many stories to tell, Stories of great heroes fighting and dying for justice, Stories of communities rising and demanding more from themselves and from those who govern them. Stories of our rise after being knocked down by the forces of ignorance. We, as educators are obliged to tell these stories, to hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. As educators, we are required to teach an equality in education, we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

When we fight for our education, we fight for the rewards of independence. If we do not teach about the structures of life on this planet and how to maintain those structures, we are denied our rights. If we do not have critical knowledge about the cultures and ethnicities that fill this planet, if we are not free to interact with all people, we do not have liberty, and our rights are denied. If we cannot see happiness in as many of its forms as possible, we cannot understand it, we tend to pursue what we are told to pursue, and our rights are denied….we have to do better.

No more murders to deny self evident truth. I would have loved to have known my uncle, to have joined him in his struggle to make education benefit all people, but all I was left with was a ball that needed to be moved forward. I am not alone in my desire to see this ball moved forward. Many of us are in this audience now, there’s Tracy Castro-Gill, Head of the Ethnic Studies Department pushing, pushing that ball forward, There’s Jesse Hagopian, the first educator to teach Ethnic Studies in the city pushing, pushing that ball forward. Sitting among you is the NAACP Youth Coalition, students making the same demands as I made all those years ago pushing, pushing that ball forward. Help us push this ball forward to the top of the hill. Then release it with me.

Mandy Manning for President! (of WEA)

MY FIRST ENDORSEMENT

I’ve never had the opportunity to endorse a candidate for anything. Until now I’ve never been in a position to garner enough attention for an endorsement, but I am so happy that my first endorsement is for Mandy Manning for WEA president!

Mandy is the ONLY candidate running for State union leadership that I consider a teacher activist. The other candidates do the usual photo op “activism,” but Mandy is the only educator running for office that puts her name on the line and shows up for students who are the most marginalized.

I have to admit that when I first heard Mandy speak at the WEA representative assembly in 2018, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh, great. Another white savior teacher.” Mandy spoke about the work she did as an ELL teacher in Spokane, working mostly with immigrant teens. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Mandy as part of the 2019 Washington Regional Teachers of the Year cohort. It was then Mandy changed my mind about her. I am the only teacher in the cohort who identifies as a person of color, and when the topic of race and racism came up that night, Mandy was there to call out the whiteness in the room. When the topic changed to LGBTQ rights, my non-binary child was telling their story and ended up in tears. Mandy was the first out of her seat to comfort my child and thank them for telling their story.

 

MANDY’S COMMITMENT TO JUSTICE THROUGH ACTION

mandy-manning-trump.jpg

 

I don’t know if I would have agreed to meet with “Individual 1,” but Mandy did, and she did in teacher activist fashion making a bold statement with the pins on her dress honoring the LGBTQ community, trans rights, and immigrants.

mandy_manning_in_front_of_students_0

When invited to speak about the experiences of immigrant students, Mandy passed the mic to the students themselves to tell their own story.

img_3351

Mandy organized a teach-in in Tornillo, TX, to protest the concentration camps for migrant children, but it doesn’t begin and end with the teach-in. Mandy has created a movement and a network of educators across the U.S. called Teachers Against Child Detention.

50104936_293330741541800_3481395851849367552_o

Now, she’s running for WEA president, but she’s not running the typical campaign in which the candidate is expected to schmooze and curtsy to the powerful. In fact, she’s not really promoting herself in ways I’ve seen other candidates do. She is not interested in pretenses, nor does she need to be. She is the real deal. Her actions speak for her legitimacy, passion, and experience. Mandy is a fighter, and she’s proven it.

 

THE OTHER CANDIDATES

Honestly, I’ve only spent time with Mandy and one other candidate, Phyllis Campano, who is running for WEA vice president. Phyllis is currently the president of Seattle Education Association. Phyllis is the typical politician. Phyllis doesn’t rock the boat. Phyllis doesn’t seem to be interested in making real systemic change, and will go the way of the status quo if it benefits her political career. Seattle Education Association has made great strides toward racial equity in Seattle Public Schools, but don’t get it twisted. That’s almost completely thanks to the genius of Marquita Prinzing, Director of SEA’s Center for Racial Equity and Marquita has had success in spite of Phyllis, not because of her or her actions.

I met Stephen Miller during the Teacher of the Year retreat in September, 2018. He’s charming and personable. Other than that I don’t know much about him. I did, however, as mentioned, attend the 2018 WEA representative assembly in which the level of racism in that conference room was astounding. White educators came to the microphone saying things like, “colored people.” One white educator claimed she should be allowed into safe spaces for educators of color because she teaches a Spanish class and knows the culture. Stephen was there… and that was it. Nothing was done by any of the leadership in the room to call out or restrict these racist actions. It took the educators of color in the room to organize an impromptu protest and demand an apology. I believe that had Mandy been there, she would have stepped in.

Janie White is the candidate running against Phyllis. Janie is a woman of color and a classified employee. I have heard amazing things about her from both Mandy and Marquita. I am, sadly, no longer a member of WEA, but I would be honored to vote for a woman who has the respect of both Mandy and Marquita, and though I’m no longer a union educator, I am a unionist and an educator at heart. Don’t vote for the status quo. Vote for women who will bring real change to how things are done in our state! I am excited to see what a Mandy/Janie leadership team will bring to education in Washington State!

When Principals Get a PASS: How the principals’ association in Seattle Public Schools is fighting to uphold White Supremacy

Racial Equity History

In 2012, Seattle Public Schools created Policy 0030, Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity. Between 2012 and 2016, however, little was done to further this policy and hold educators accountable for meeting its goals. In 2014, the Department of Equity and Race Relations was created in an effort to support racial equity teams in buildings. The district only committed to 10 schools in the first year, and after a push from the Seattle Education Association, committed to another 10 the next year.

Despite the best efforts of the leaders in D.E.R.R., district and building leaders supported systemic barriers at every turn. In fact, educators who pushed for racial equity were targeted and punished, like the educators of color at Middle College High School, all of whom were displaced when the school was shut down, and some of whom were accused of communism by then Chief Academic Officer, Michael Tolley. There’s also the case of Jon Greenberg, Center School educator, who was disciplined for teaching his curriculum on race and gender when one white family complained their student was discriminated against in the class.

In 2016, The Seattle Education Association formed the Center for Race and Equity, now called The Center for Racial Equity. This body in SEA, led by Marquita Prinzing, has been organizing members, most of whom are educators of color, to lobby for, educate about, and demand racial justice in our schools. This led to a successful campaign to bring ethnic studies into Seattle Public Schools. One goal of the ethnic studies initiative is to open access to professional development on racial equity literacy to all educators, including non-classroom teachers. Hundreds of educators have participated in these offerings in the first semester alone.

Superintendent, Denise Juneau, recently released her new, draft Strategic Plan with strong wording that proclaims racial equity to be at the core of our teaching and learning. It reads:

When we focus on ensuring racial equity in our educational system, unapologetically address the needs of students of color who are furthest from educational justice 1, and work to undo the legacies of racism in our educational system…

By:

  • Allocating resources strategically through a racial equity framework
  • Delivering high-quality, standards-aligned instruction
  • Creating healthy, supportive, culturally responsive environments from the classroom to central office
  • Directly and consistently working in partnership with families and communities who represent students of color who are furthest from educational justice; and
  • Making clear commitments and delivering on them

Then we will eliminate the opportunity and achievement gaps and every student will receive a high-quality, world-class education.

“Unapologetically.”

Racial Equity Reality

As of today, every single education association affiliated with Seattle Public Schools but one has passed a resolution of support for both ethnic studies and Black Lives Matter at School, including the Seattle Education Association, Washington Education Association, National Education Association, the The Seattle Council PTSA, and the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors. The one organization that’s missing from that list? The Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools (PASS).  This is unsurprising considering some of the reports my colleagues and I have heard from educators about the barriers many principals are putting up in their buildings when it comes to racial justice*.

Educators report building principals restricting access to teaching materials for both ethnic studies and Black Lives Matter at School. Principals are also denying educators time to learn about and plan for Black Lives Matter at School even when their educators are asking for it and after every principal and assistant principal in the district participated in a professional development session where they were handed tools and materials to take back to their buildings with the expectation of preparing for the upcoming week of action and learning. And that’s not the worst of it.

Educators reported last year that many principals refused to allow educators to wear Black Lives Matter at School t-shirts, let alone teach about it, citing the racist phrase, “All lives matter.” It’s been reported to me that another principal invited police officers into their school during the week to show students how “nice” police officers are. I can’t even begin to imagine the trauma some students experienced having a uniformed officer on campus after one of the worst years of police brutality in recent memory. Young Black and Brown children watch television like any other person. They see images of people like themselves being brutalized and murdered by police. In many cases, they have seen it first hand. School is supposed to be a safe place, not one that preys on traumatized children because the building leader is ignorant.

Then There’s Roosevelt

The image used for this blog post comes from a former Roosevelt High School student, Satchel Schwartz. I’m not even going to explain how or why this image and corresponding news article are offensive and racist. If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be reading my blog – any of it. This is the latest in a series of racist incidents at Roosevelt.

It cannot be defended.

Defending it is upholding White Supremacy.

Students have reported such racist incidents as being called the “N” word by peers without adult intervention; being bullied and discriminated against by their teachers; scheduling “Kindness Month” during Black History Month, and now this. It’s been reported to me that a video of students using the “N” word was actively covered up by the building administration. You can read more about it in Satchel’s own words here. With all that’s happened at Roosevelt, and the silence from PASS on racial equity, this does not surprise me. What it does is infuriate me into action. It should be having the same impact on you.

What Do We Do?

I think about this question and am asked it a lot by my peers. Policies and Strategic Plans are only as good as the people acting on them. We cannot expect the Superintendent to act alone. We must stand behind the shields created for us to fight this. We have the language from the Superintendent: “Unapologetically ensuring educational and racial equity.” Yes, those are fighting words. A former colleague once proclaimed, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Educators: this is a call to action. We must hold these administrators responsible for their obstructionism to racial justice. We must protect our students from this harmful practice of preventing us from doing the work we know must be done. It’s not, “What do we do?” It’s “What will we do?”

If these have been your experiences with building administrators, please share them in the comments. We can no longer allow them to act in the shadows. Their efforts to uphold White Supremacy must be exposed.

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”

Eli Weisel – in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day

*It’s not just white principals.

The Weaponization of Leaders of Color

image source: https://atlantadailyworld.com/2015/09/29/education-experts-discuss-diversity-leadership-at-clayton-state-university/

District: We are committed to equity! Look! We hired a (fill in a non-white identity here) to be our new Director of Equity/Diversity/some other colorblind term! We also created this handy dandy policy that includes “woke” words like “diversity,” “equity,” and “welcoming environments.”

Community members: Great! We want to participate in the national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action! Our kids need to know we’re supporting and seeing them.

POC Director of Equity/Diversity/some other colorblind term: Um, yeah… about that. We can definitely teach about Black people, but we can’t call it that. We should just focus on closing the achievement gap. If we teach kids skills, they’ll do better!

Community members: Can we call it Ethnic Studies?

POC Director of Equity/Diversity/some other colorblind term: Yes! Great! We can teach about ethnicities! We’re all about diversity, equity, and other colorblind terms! Can we do Ethnic Studies at the next Multicultural Potluck Night?

Educators: No… that’s not what Ethnic Studies is. Ethnic Studies challenges the Master Narrative.

POC Director of Equity/Diversity/some other colorblind term: Yeah, we’re totally doing that in classrooms right now! Look at XYZ Elementary School! They have a ton of teachers that are different ethnicities and they’re all teaching about narratives.

Educators: Yeah.. that’s not how it works, either. Ethnic Studies teaches about systems of power and oppression and encourages civic activism for racial justice.

POC Director of Equity/Diversity/some other colorblind term: Oh, then no. That’s too confrontational. Students aren’t ready to learn about those types of things. Let’s bring police officers into classrooms to show students how nice they are, instead.

 

Sound familiar? The above arguments are all arguments I’ve heard from Black and Brown administrators about doing racial justice work. These arguments come from several districts, not just mine, but many of them are from my urban, “progressive” district. One might expect these kinds of arguments from white administrators, but when they come from POC administrators my blood boils! I feel like I’ve been betrayed, but it’s something more than that. I call it the weaponization of leaders of color.

We know that racism has never gone away. It’s shifted to meet the new culture and paradigms. We are talking more openly about race and challenging old colorblind ideologies, so white supremacy needs to adapt to survive. One way I see it happening is through this weaponization of POC (people of color for those just joining us). Organizations manipulate POC in leadership positions to shield the organization from actual change. There are many ways they do this, let’s examine three and talk about how to respond.

 

THE ILLUSION OF “DIVERSITY”

 

All organizations, but especially school districts who want to appear to be progressive and woke, have learned the art of diversity illusion. In my district, they can go to a school and say, “Look at how diverse our staff here is,” without telling you that most of the POC in the building are janitors, food service workers, clerical staff, and instructional assistants. I am not disparaging any of those positions. As a former classroom teacher, I have a deep understanding of the important role each of them plays in a properly functioning school. When this is used as proof of “diversity,” though, it reinforce stereotypes about the types of jobs POC are valued for. It also ignores all of the data about how important it is to have POC, especially Black, classroom teachers.

The illusion comes in several other forms, but is most harmful when it’s in the form of school and district administrative positions. You know that Black principal that’s put in a white school so everyone can see them? That Black principal is also under so much scrutiny by the white parents they can’t act on any kind of racial justice, or even look like they might.

You know the Latinx administrator who leads a dual language immersion school? They’re the same one that blocks access to Ethnic Studies because they’re afraid it will take time away from the Spanish speaking kids working on literacy skills to pass the standardized test that’s only given in English. This administrator may or may not believe that it’s also in the students’ best interest to assimilate and be as white as possible. They will never share their belief, though, because if they do think that they will get chewed up by the community they serve, and if they don’t, they may face consequences from their supervisor. It’s much easier to go with the colorblind “just teach skills” argument.

 

WE VALUE ALL WHO VALUE WHITE SUPREMACY

 

I get it. Being a POC in a leadership position inside of a racist organization is no cake walk. In fact, it’s not easy regardless of your position, but being in a leadership position pulls you in more directions. You can’t make everyone happy, and you are constantly in fear of losing your job and/or status. Guess why? Because it happens all of the time for POC! It’s a legitimate fear.

I understand that on many levels, maintaining the status quo is a survival technique. One, if you’re a POC you’re already being watched more carefully than others. Two, you have to work twice as hard and keep your nose twice as clean as your white colleagues to survive. And three, you’re probably given a job or problem that nobody else wants to do. Status quo is easy and safe.

But! Even if you want to challenge the status quo there’s another layer. You earn rewards and accolades for maintaining it. Challenging it gets you targeted and isolated. You know that great POC administrator everybody loved because they were actually doing great work, but disappeared one year never to be heard from again? There’s also the POC Director of Equity/Diversity/some other colorblind term who was probably promoted because they demonstrated in a previous role that they’re really good at status quoing and diffusing attempts to create real change. Oh – then there are the awards for administrators who “close gaps,” even though all of the research tells us the tests are racist. See my previous post on how “closing gaps” is code for denying students of color a real education.

They’ve all been weaponized.

 

YOU DON’T GET A PASS

 

I have been in rooms and seen how this issue plays out. There’s a suggestion on how to tackle racism in schools or how to achieve racial justice. Now remember, most educators are white, so there are mostly white people in the room. There’s some debate, but the majority of people agree it’s a good idea. One POC stands up and says they’re against it. They don’t even have to give a reason why. Next thing you know, the debate is shifting. Other POC stand up and say, “No. We still think it’s a good idea.” But the white folx in the room don’t know what to do. They know they’re supposed to listen to POC, but now their brains are on tilt. Who do they listen to?

They listen to the POC whose opinion makes them the most comfortable!! Duh. If you didn’t see that coming, maybe you shouldn’t be reading this post! Now, if there are legitimate reasons for the one person who is opposed, generally, the other POC in the room will back them on it, but all it takes to shift the power dynamics in a room of mostly white people is the opinion of one POC. I see it happen ALL THE DAMN TIME! I can deal with this when white people do it, but when POC do it, it causes twice as much harm because the white people will be harder to convince after hearing the safer option from a POC.

Who knows why they do it? It could be because of all the things mentioned in the sections above: the increased pressure; the intersections of identity, positionality, and personal safety; maybe they’re counter revolutionaries, as Freire calls them – people disillusioned with the fight. I don’t really care why they do it. I’m here to say they don’t get a pass.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” Angela Davis

If you are a POC in a leadership position doing this shit YOU DON’T GET A PASS. If you want to maintain the status quo, great. Do it and be quiet about it. Get out of the way for those of us who are willing to take the risks. And to my other POC colleagues who agree what what I just said, you don’t get a pass either. We all need to be calling this shit out. White people aren’t going to do it, and shouldn’t do it. We need to stop supporting POC leaders just because they are POC “leaders.”

Schools of Distinction Awards Ceremony Keynote

That picture tricked you into thinking this was going to be a fun post. Ha!

As Teacher of the Year, I was invited to speak at an awards ceremony called Schools of Distinction for my educational service district. The schools were chosen according to how well they have improved their standardized test scores on the Smarter Balance Test (SBA) over a period of the past five years for math and English language arts (ELA). Before I accepted this opportunity I made sure that I could use my time to speak on any topic.

In case you are just now joining me on this blog, I am wholly opposed to standardized tests in any form.

I started by opening my keynote reading the entire text of Ibram X. Kendi’s article, Why the Achievement Gap is a Racist Idea. You can read it here. Below is the rest of my speech I put together based on data about the schools being honored at the event.


I start with that [article] because I realize that we’re here to honor schools who have improved testing scores, and in my district when I go to professional development about this topic they say, “Where do you find that in the data?” That question is mostly directed toward people who try to challenge standardized testing. So, I’m going to show you where I find [how the achievement gap is a racist idea] in the data.

Slide3

The top bar shows the overall racial demographics of students in the State of Washington. If we look at the schools that have been selected, we can see which racial category was the dominant category in schools chosen as Schools of Distinction. We can see that the majority of schools chosen are predominantly white schools. I want to quote Ibram X. Kendi, “Standardized tests have become the most racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black minds and legally exclude their bodies.” This is shown in the data. The only place we see that has a predominantly Black population is high schools. No other schools that have predominantly Black populations have been selected, or the percentage was lower than 1% so it doesn’t show up on the graph.

I went through all the schools selected [there were 91 across the State] and I found out which schools have majority student of color populations, because in those schools we should see that those students of color have improved or are doing really great. I’m going to focus on elementary schools because they have the most complete data. In high school lots of kids opt out of testing, thank goodness.

Here are schools that are majority Latinx schools; their ELA and math SBA scores.

Slide5

This is the only school being recognized tonight across the state where the students of color are performing at the same level or higher than their white and Asian peers on their SBA test scores. The only one! And that’s for any racial group. That caught my interest of course, so I went on Google and Googled up Chester H. Thompson Elementary. I discovered that they have a dual language immersion program! These kids are learning their culture. Their culture and language are being valued in their school. That’s why they’re doing better!

Slide6

Slide7

Slide8

Now, remember. These are the schools where the Latinx kids are the majority.

Slide9

This one looks promising until you look at the measurement. That top bar is only 50%, so even though at this school the Latinx kids are doing better than the white kids, they’re still underperforming compared to their white and Asian peers across the State.

Slide10

Slide11

Slide12

Then I went and found the two majority Black elementary schools, both in Seattle Public Schools.

Slide14

Slide15

I focused on Black and Latinx kids because once you start looking at data for individual schools, some schools don’t have students of color and some literally only have 1 or 2. The test results aren’t displayed in those cases for fear of being able to identify those kids. I looked at the State scores. Latinx kids are scoring in the 40% range statewide for math and about 30% for ELA. Black kids score about 30% for math and ELA. Asian Pacific Islander kids – about 30% for math and ELA. Native American kids – about 30% for math and 20% for ELA.

Slide16

These are the demographics for the state for ethnic and racial categories on the left. On the right are the demographics for our region. I wanted to put this up here to show that in our region, we have the most diverse student population in the State. This issue is an imperative in the State, but this data shows it’s even more of an imperative for us in Puget Sound Educational Service District.

I know this is a celebration and I thought long and hard about what I was going to talk about when I came here, but my responsibility is to the babies. When we’re failing them we can’t celebrate.

As a Mexican-American woman, when I hear “standardization,” I hear “assimilation.” Standardized testing upholds Whiteness as the ideal. We are forcing our kids of color into white holes they don’t fit in. They are shoved into these holes kicking and screaming. This is why discipline rates are off the charts for kids of color; because they’re not being valued in the classroom.

“The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.” That doesn’t just apply to skin color, or religion, or gender. This applies to ways of knowing, learning, and being in the world. Standardized testing doesn’t allow for that. Until we stop toxic testing, our kids of color will never succeed.

Thank you.

When the Devil IS the Data

Image source: http://www.edtpatips.com/edtpa-analyze-your-students-performance-with-an-item-analysis/ (it will be ironic after reading)

If you’re like me, you hate talking about your kids in terms of data and numbers. There’s something very dehumanizing about it, but other than that, it never quite sat right with me. The more I learn about racial justice in education, and the more I work as an administrator, the more clarity I have about that uneasy feeling that comes with the Data Talk. As a social scientist, I was taught how to have a healthy skepticism of Data. The thing is, while many educators are social scientists in practice, most of us have not been trained to be social scientists or how to critically assess Data. Administrators understand this, and can use Data as a tool of social control in three easy steps!

 

STEP ONE: DETERMINE THE PARAMETERS OF THE DATA

How often do you, as an educator, have the opportunity and ability to determine the Data you are using to guide your practice outside of your classroom? Do you and/or your colleagues determine the Data used to set building-wide or district-wide goals for your students? Or is goal setting driven by Data provided by administrators? Conversely, how often are you provided Data by administrators meant to guide your practice within your classroom walls? If you have more than cursory input to the Data used to guide your practice within or outside of your classroom, you are one of the lucky few.

The criteria, assessments, and surveys used to collect Data are almost always created by administrators or corporate education entities. Generally, the Data these tools were created to measure are Data that will help the creator, not the child. For example, standardized testing data. Test results are generally not available to educators until the following school year after students have left their classrooms, or at the end of the school year, in the case of computerized testing. This makes it easier for corporate education publishers to create materials that are “Common Core Aligned” or “Easy Test Prep” for the next school year. Entire curricula costing thousands of dollars are marketed and sold as a way to increase test scores. They’re bought in the summer and aren’t measured for efficacy until April or May when it’s too late to get a refund…

These same corporations lobby our elected officials who pass laws requiring tests and then pass more laws about how administrators are to be evaluated on their job performance according to test scores. Teaching and Learning are then informed by the Data parameters set by these groups, not by educators or students. And when students fail the tests because they’re experiencing trauma, food insecurity, racism, homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, ineffective teachers, or any other thousands of reasons, we create more Data to further dehumanize children to explain why they aren’t passing the tests. Are they truant and how often? Are they bad kids who get suspended? And when someone says, “Hey, wait. What about the whole child?” questions are added to assess how “safe” kids feel at school. But come on, we know that the only reason we look at “Whole Child Data” is in service of the first set of Data parameters.

 

STEP TWO: DETERMINE THE PURPOSE OF THE DATA

When’s the last time you were asked to analyze Data in order to help a student become a good human being? I would really like to have some Data to help me understand how to actualize critically conscious, self aware human beings. That would be amazeballs. Oooh… I know… why don’t “Failing Schools” look at Data collected about educators, like the racial demographic of educators in the building. I mean, I know that data is collected in most places, but when determining why students aren’t “achieving,” is that ever something anyone looks at? Or how about Data on how well educators are using culturally responsive teaching practices? I think it would be great if we collected and analyzed data on the content used in classrooms and ask, “How well does the content challenge the Master Narrative?”

No, we stick with Data on the child and what they can and can’t do and why they can or can’t do it. We don’t look at Data about the barriers students face at home, in the school, in the classroom, city, district, country, etc. Looking at The Whole Child feels an awful lot like Blaming The Whole Child. Sometimes we do notice when there are high rates of poverty and bring in supports like weekend food programs, more counselors, after school programming, and even free healthcare. That’s awesome, and I’m so happy kids have access to that in some places. Ask yourself, though, “What is the purpose of these services that come from analyzing Data?” The ultimate goal is always to increase test scores. “If kids have food they score better!” administrators say, as if they had just discovered some new chemical element. Rarely do we hear them exclaim, “If we provide food for all of our students, we are a better society!”

If you are a teacher activist who actively challenges this purpose of Data, you have probably heard something like, “We must do what’s in the best interest of the kids,” as if doing things for the purpose of being good and just people striving toward a good and just world is not in the best interest of kids. Administrators will do almost anything to convince educators that high stakes tests are what’s best for kids. “They won’t be successful later in life,” “Knowing how to test well will help them in college,” “We will know how to better educate our students with the Data that is produced by the tests.” All of those claims have been debunked here, here, and here, and that’s just a start.

 

STEP THREE: HIDE BEHIND THE DATA

“Show me where you see that in the Data.” This is how a professional development session began on how to analyze Data through a racial equity lens.

*Insert screeching brakes sound here*

Let me inhale deeply for a moment…

Yes, we were asked to analyze Data whose parameters had been set and purpose determined BEFORE a “racial equity lens” had been applied, and then we were told to use the Data to respond to people who might challenge the Data by telling them, “Show me where you see that in the Data.”

“Ms. Castro-Gill,” a school counselor might say, “this Data is confusing to me, because this student, Amelia, who by all other accounts is an exceptional reader, failed her reading test. Her father passed away over the summer. Maybe that’s her difficulty.”

“Show me where you see that in the Data,” I’m to reply.

“Ms. Castro-Gill,” a concerned paraprofessional might say, “many of the students I work with confide in me their teachers are racist and frequently send them out of the class for being ‘disrespectful.’”

“Concerned paraprofessional whom the students trust and love, please show me where you see that in the Data,” I should respond.

Sit with that for a moment. Sit with it and then take a minute to look at kittens, then come back to the conversation.

cute kitties

There we were looking at predetermined and pre-defined Data trying to figure out how to use it to “close opportunity gaps” that are created by the parameters and purpose of the very same Data. Oh, the circular logic is hurting my brain. Then, if anyone points out this circular logic, we are told if the Data doesn’t support our claim, then our claim is logically false. Now I feel like I’m typing in circles.

Data is not inherently neutral. Data can alert us to trends, but it’s up to us to look past the Data to see what its parameters and purpose are and who set each. If we know our Data comes from biased, and almost always racist, creators, it’s ok for us to look at other Data or create our own Data. Wait, I’m gonna go a step further and say it’s not only ok – it’s our responsibility. When I tell people Data exists that can point us to solutions for biased Data I am sometimes asked where to find it in the school district’s database.

“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them.” Assata Shakur

The Devil isn’t IN the Data. The Devil IS the Data. Challenge the Data. Push back on it. Ask for better Data. Create your own tools of liberation for you and your students.