Saturday, May 12, 2007

Equity and Race Relations in SPS

So I hadn't gone to this area of the SPS' website in a long time. I was reading another blog where what is in this area was largely railed against by many people. It's hard to know what to say because it's a quilt of many different squares, some of which make sense and others, well, not so much.

For example, on the calendar (which the staff takes pains to say they tried really hard to cover everything), I see things that I don't get. One is National Tartan Day for the Scottish. What? And they leave out Ramadan (which is a pretty important, monthlong Islamic tradition).

For some of the terms/definitions used, I have a hard time believing both the Superintendent and Board signed off on these. Oddly, Darlene Flynn is quoted but as a "Race and Social Justice Trainer" but not as a Board member.

They have many types of professional development opportunities for SPS employees which is great. However, they have one presenter, Sakara Remmu, who has been at many Board meetings and has been openly hostile to the Board and has addressed them in a derisive manner. She has mocked the Board and the Superintendent publically on their cultural awareness. I cannot believe she has been hired to teach cultural competency to district staff.

The website area has a FAQs section and one question they try to answer is "What about the melting pot idea?" and it's pretty much dismissed. I'm not sure the melting pot idea is the issue (or is valid anymore for the US); the issue is whether we live in a shared society. I was watching a documentary on Israeli and Palestine children and one Palestian child had moved to the US during adolescence. He said he was astonished at how so many different kinds of people live in this country and freely express their differences and yet live fairly harmoniously. And that is the beauty of the United States. This ability to embrace and yet not restrict anyone's right to be who they are. But, at the end of the day, we need to be a country. We can't forget that even as we try to educate ourselves on differences and how to be sensitive and open about them.

I remember a conversation with my mom (and Happy Mother's Day to all the moms) years ago. She was describing her life during WW III (she was a teenager) and how everyone rationed and participated in blackout drills. I asked her how the government got everyone to go along with this (you'll have to know that I had this discussion with her during the Vietnam War era). She just looked at me and said, "Honey, there was a war going on. Thousands and thousands of guys were gone and we left behind had to do what we can to support them. It was our duty." The reason I bring this up is because if we constantly look for what divides us, we may never be able to unite for any common cause. We have thousands of soldiers in a war and yet most people go on as if nothing were happening. (This may be a bad example because of the differences in circumstances between WW II and this war.) But maybe a better example was right after 9/11. I remember thinking that this was our Pearl Harbor. The world was mourning with us and offering support and help. We had so much momentum for good will and crossing barriers that separated us both domestically and internationally. And it got squandered.

Education is the great leveler in this country (for many people). My point is if we only talk about what divides us, if that is the sole basis of any conversation on race and culture, what is going to unite us? Is that possible and is it important?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Middle schools are a place where equity and race relations teeter. In Seattle the traditional middle school is a giant black hole. Think how much more rich middle school social studies curriculum could be. From the ADL website: "Teachers Notes: Talking About Diversity With Students. It is important for teachers to spend time thinking about how they can most effectively raise complex issues such as hate, bias, scapegoating, and exclusion with their students. Commemorative activities for the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision provide an important opportunity to explore these issues in the classroom. However, educators should keep in mind that these conversations should not be limited to a commemorative event, or other special programs, holidays or activities but instead, messages about understanding and respect should be a part of everyday business in the classroom. Creating inclusive, respectful classrooms is an ongoing effort, and working for social justice and is a life-long endeavor."

Teachers please walk that walk. I am aware of a middle school
where teachers do not respect one another, they do not respect administration and unfortunately as you might guess do not garner respect from their students.
The district ought model 'equity' by providing it to it's own students.

classof75 said...

In viewing the courses available- I didn't see much information re Asian populations- working with students who are GLBT/come from GLBT families/first gen college/high school dropouts.

Much more diversity in the district than what can be delineated by color.
Nothing about special education.
Why are more students "of color" in sped than other classifications?

How are students who qualify for 504s but are able to take AP classes and go on to graduate from college being served and how can we educate staff not to marginalize them?

Are we educating staff and the community to acknowledge and reach diversity that is not visual?


Of course when diversity isn't visual- it doesn't make for the photo-ops.

classof75 said...

if that is the sole basis of any conversation on race and culture, what is going to unite us? Is that possible and is it important?

Common ground is critical IMO

Look at how the republicans ahve gotten together to decide what their agenda is.
Democrats are divided and so have more difficulty because we can't decide priorities.

http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/
research/rockridge/valuesmovement

We all need a voice- if we don't want Seattle to go the route of other major cities where more people are moving out than moving in, and where there is a hole between the rich and poor because the middle can't afford to live in the city anymore- we need to give more than lip service to middle class concerns

Anonymous said...

Class of 75- you said:
Common ground is critical IMO
and followed that with
We all need a voice

Do you see the contradiction? Currently the vision (such as it is) of the Seattle schools is distinctly tilted towards the latter. But if we're just a jumble of competing interests, how is common ground ever achieved?

American public schools came of age when the middle class defined the image of the country. That's no longer the case, but instead of actually facing the new challenges posed by the decline of the middle class and the rise of competing interest-groups, educators have hitched their wagons to an ideal of 'diversity' that is never clearly articulated, and treated as an unblemished good, which anyone who's paying attention can see is not true.

I'm not advocating the opposite point-- that diversity is a plague or a liberal conspiracy or whatever you hear on Rush Limbaugh. I'm saying that the shift away from a relatively coherent vision to a kaleidoscope of competing visions presents a welter of problems, and we are fools to pretend otherwise.

classof75 said...

I believe in neighborhood schools
I think students should have a choice- but I also believe that if they live= for instance in the Ballard reference area= and they cannot get into Ballard- they should be given one of their top three choices

Students who don't live in the Ballard reference area, should not be attending Ballard, when neighborhood kids can't get in

That is what I mean by "everyone being heard"- I attend meetings frequently in district and even among those who also are involved- some are heard more than others-

Common ground I think would be same rules applying to all.
all schools funded equally= with exceptions made for FRL & SPED
PTA money over $____ per school goes to city PTA to disperse according to need voted on by PTA members

Students attend neighborhood schools and are guaranteed neighborhood schools- if not enough room, then portables can be added like when I went to school.

If they choose to attend elsewhere, then they provide their own transportation- FRL gets vouchers or if demand warrants a yellow bus.

Schools are given support and incentives to increase parent involvement and participation
inc staff-

All hires except in emergencies are done while school is in session
Parents are encouraged to participate.

If you are a principal for instance who waits till last minute to announce your retirement- so that last minute interviews are being done in the summer- you get to come in without pay in the fall to help with transition

We already have competing visions- and it isn't going to get better with new supe
HEr idea of choice for parents is private school.

I want to see our district a microcosm of our city
not a city that is 75% Caucasian and a district that is 44% Caucasian

I want to see families encouraged to stay in the city and send their kids to public school
not be told- theres the door, don't let it hit you on the way out

Anonymous said...

Class of 75 , you say....."PTA money over $____ per school goes to city PTA to disperse according to need voted on by PTA members"

This will never happen. It best not ever happen. And when, and if it did, I would be out of this district so fast it would be funny (of course, I'm white, middle class, so nobody would care anyway).

PTA is our last hope for a school that provides a well rounded, enriched experience for our children. Once this is gone or minimized, many middle class families will flee. It means mediocrity, and many won't stand for it.

Rather, we should look to foundations like Ther Mercer Island Foundation, in which the district runs a non-profit, to fund raise and write grants, which is supported by the Mercer Island business communities, and shared equally among schools in the district. This of course, is on top of PTA money.

PTA's have been raising money for THEIR schools since we were kids. It works. Don't mess with it.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's what burns me up.

From the web site:

"Our goals are to eliminate the achievement gap by:

1. Increasing the effectiveness and relevance of instructional support services for all students.

2. Eliminating systemic barriers to student achievement.

3. Working with staff to increase their cultural competence and therefore, their ability to provide culturally responsive instruction, effective cross-cultural communication and improved decision making.

4. Examining curriculum for its anti-bias and multicultural contents

5. Reviewing and revising board and district policies and procedures to effectively address the needs of students of color.

6. Improving partnership with communities and families of color.
"

Hmmmm. How many of these steps have been demonstrated to close the academic achievement gap? Not so much, would be my guess. Here's what's missing from the list:

Identify students working below Standards and providing them with an extended, intensive, and enriched educational experience designed specifically to bring them quickly up to Standard.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon. above who makes the point that PTA money was raised by school communities for their school and it will not work to try, by caveat or rule, to wrest that money away and put it into another program. Why? Because market share is crucial. Those parents will vote with their feet. I know; I'm one of them. I have many friends who also look at the great system of Catholic schools, etc (which have reasonable tuition), and say to ourselves, if it gets to a certain point, we're out of here. People will gamble with almost everything but their child, and the District does not seem to get that. Every child brings between $4,500 and $8,500 per head from the State. The loss of any enrolled student is a huge loss for the District that a few PTA dollars cannot be spread to cover. District enrollemtn is falling every year. Lose just 100 students and our District is out almost half a million dollars! It is human nature to want to choose rather than be told what to do. It would be a serious mistake to try and exert top-down control over individual PTA's and their budgets. If that were to occur, the best new business idea in Seattle would be opening a new k-8 private school. Lots of customers!

So how can PTA's address the achievement gap? Many PTA's are exploring programs to aid the Alliance or other schools. Many school communities also contribute to the wider Seattle community. I agree with Charlie Mas that if the District were to engage in a serious marketing campaign, many more middle class parents would be attracted to the schools. And if at the same time there were a city-wide initiative to support a foundation (like the Alliance) for all schools, I think a lot of PTA's would climb on board. Of their own choice! Contrary to what might be assumed, many parents would like to help struggling schools, not just their own school. However, the District does nothing to encourage altruism. Example: the situation which occurred at Madrona. In my mind, it all goes back to the District's institutional culture, which fails to value openness and parent involvement. Classof75, I'd like to see us as parents not replicate the District's prescriptive, coercive approach.

Anonymous said...

Is this about PTA money, who raises it, who gets it and how it gets distributed, FRL & SPED or neighborhood kids not getting in to Ballard? This is very dissapointing, I feel more concern than ever before.