Monday, January 18, 2016

Times' Story on African-American Boys and SPS

The Times has an article about the district's move to shore up learning specifically for African-American boys.  One thing I didn't realize that's right in the headline is the district is considering a whole office/department for this effort.  (I also didn't know the district was piloting a program towards this effort at Aki Kurose.) 

Part of the push is to try to get more teachers of color in SPS.  From what I have heard and read, this will be a heavy lift.  One, the teacher corps in the U.S. is getting older AND not as many college students are looking to teaching.  (And who could blame them? Buffeted and criticized from all sides, it may not look very much like an appealing career.  Build in the costs of living in some areas and it probably shouldn't be a surprise that despite the need, there may not be enough good teachers of color.

I recall when there was finally something written by SPS about this effort because Wright, Blanford and Martin-Morris made repeated references to the work but nothing was ever published.   One issue was the concern that if this was not made a priority, along with continuing resources, that it would be a splashy headline and not a sustained effort.  I think many parents - in other programs - can relate to that. 

But I cannot see a whole department for one subset of children.  If a whole department needs to be created, they should make a department for ALL students of color who struggle.  Or, this effort could be its own subset that could fit into the Race and Equity department. 

Again, I need to get to reading the research, targeted universalism,  that this is based on.  This is being tried - in a big way - in Oakland, California. 

I don't think you can look thru any one lens and decide why African-American boys aren't doing well in school. The Oakland model seems to include family supports and I think that is definitely the way to go. 

Naturally, you have to consider the costs.  The district is advertising for a "Director - Closing Opportunity Gaps" for between $90-125K.  (Side note: is a range of $35K a lot?)  And, if you are creating a whole department, you'll need some administrative staff for the levels of outreach that are being discussed.


Anonymous said...

Lots of conjecture on your part. Why don't you study up on the issue before posting about this prospect? Because it seems like you're already biased against it.

- Poppyson

Anonymous said...

Barf Barf....give the dog a bone.


Anonymous said...

So typical. Lots of references to racism and prejudice, but I didn't see any references to single parent families and missing father figures.

Black Dads Matter

Lynn said...

From an October Update by Teaching and Learning:
Our goal is to strengthen teacher collaboration around student data to transform teaching practice for the benefit of every student. As we state in our Theory of Action: If schools have high- functioning teams of teachers collaborating to analyze common formative assessments, then teachers will make instructional shifts that result in opportunity gaps closing.

Three key concepts:

1.Formative practice benefits EVERY student. This work exemplifies the concept of “targeted universalism” – the practice of following targeted strategies to reach universal goals. Formative practice targets struggling students but ultimately benefits all students, universally. Our strategies target struggling students, but when we can document that opportunity gaps are closing for them, this helps confirm our overall success. In other words, a boost in their achievement tends to reflect a universal boost for all.

2. Formative practice strengthens teaching. Our data-based focus also helps teachers push past their own potential implicit bias – the sense that students may not be capable of improvement due to perceived class or cultural barriers. With formative practice, every student is evaluated based on data. By providing guidance and models through our formative practice training, we boost teachers’ sense of self-efficacy around student achievement. They believe they are able to reach struggling students because we have created a system of peer support, concrete tools and workable strategies that enable them to do that.

3. Formative practice strengthens students’ belief in themselves. Teachers are expected to engage each student with his or her own data so that he or she can identify where to grow academically – and how to make that happen. This growth mindset can really empower struggling students. When students can identify where they are struggling and are given tools to improve, research shows they are far more likely to succeed.

Lynn said...

Do most people believe that students struggle because their teachers don't have enough data on their learning and don't believe these students can succeed? That assumes that student struggles are caused by events inside the classroom.

Lynn said...

Here's some info from last March on the pilot project at Aki Kurose:

My Brother’s Keeper - Aki Kurose CLC will pilot a new program this year called “My Brother’s Keeper.” The program will primarily focus on our current African American Male students in the 7th grade, but may include some 8th grade students if space allows. The goal of this pilot program is to simply ensure our African American students receive the necessary attention and resources to be academically, emotionally, and socially successful. Through this pilot we will create positive mentorship opportunities that support the student at school, during extracurricular activities, and even on the weekends. We will reach out to the parents/guardians to establish relationships and baselines, and to recruit them to participate in school events as well as a potential service project. The CLC will be partnering with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department’s Y.E.S. Office to access $150 stipends for each student once they complete the 60 hour minimum and a community service project. In addition, this will present a direct opportunity for staff to ensure students are enrolled in and receiving the proper services/programs the school and CLC offer.

Anonymous said...

Here's some info about the school-to-prison pipeline. Relevant I think.

- Poppyson

New Project said...

"But I cannot see a whole department for one subset of children. If a whole department needs to be created, they should make a department for ALL students of color who struggle. Or, this effort could be its own subset that could fit into the Race and Equity department"

I see this project moving along similar to SPS's Department of Early Learning. The Gates Foundation was instrumental in Early Learning and putting a new department within SPS. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be involved and they will provide grant funding to move the project along and SPS staff will do the work of the Gates Foundation.

I'm confident there will be data, data collection and I have to wonder about loss of student privacy. As is, the Road Map Project collects information on student discipline.

Here is the mayor's letter to Dr Nyland:

It is clear: The city and community will come-up with a plan, which will be placed upon Seattle Public Schools. There will be tremendous pressure for the board to accept the plan.

Teach for America touts themselves for providing a diverse teaching community and Teach for America EXPECTS to be in Seattle Public Schools in 2017. I certainly hope part of the city's plan does not include Teach for America.

LMM said...

I would like to know the names of who is on this advisory board and which ones went to California.
Anyone know?
Thank you.

mirmac1 said...

Good luck with that LMM. This initiative has had very little transparency.

Jet City mom said...

Are dropout rates of Latino and Native kids still the highest in the district?
Are drop out rates no longer the indication of how a students doing?
We have closed or are closing schools that provided a place for students who didn't fit into the traditional model of a comprehensive school.
I do not see how providing more support for a student to fit into the same square box is in anyones best interest.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Poppyson, I haven't seen enough documentation about what the district wants to do. If you have it, please send it to me or post it.

The district did put those rates in the one presentation I saw and yes, different issues - dropout rate, lowest math scores, etc - applied to different groups. I'd have to check but I think Native Americans have either the lowest grad rate or dropout rate.

"I do not see how providing more support for a student to fit into the same square box is in anyones best interest."

This may or may not be the case but until there is a definitive plan put out, I don't know.

Another Project said...


The Seattle Times did a story. You will find a few names in the article/

Anonymous said...

I am curious to hear from anyone who has participated in the pilot program so far and what their thoughts are. My 5+ years of experience with SPS and SpEd/Advanced Learning/General Ed/FRL has taught me that when they offer to increase services, or any kind of contact for that matter, I decline and solve the problem on my own. To this day, increased "help" from SPS is always a bad thing. I hope this program is different but I just don't see how it possibly could be?

SW Mom

dan dempsey said...

In the USA the highest dropout rate is for Alaska Native/ American Indian so how is that group doing in the SPS?

Jet City Mom wrote:

"I do not see how providing more support for a student to fit into the same square box is in anyone's best interest."

Best interest who cares look at most of USA Ed over the last 15 years .... its all about same square box for all. Currently in Arizona: High School graduation requires 4 years of Math... 1 yr Algebra, 1 yr Geometry, 1 yr Advanced Algebra, and one addition year of a class with significant math content.

Anonymous said...

More on the push for one-size fits-all:

In WA state =>

Students and educators should be aware that required state high school math assessments starting in 2015, and required for graduation for the Class of 2019, will include Algebra II content.

The State Board of Education intends for the third credit to be a rigorous, high school-level math course that will serve the student’s education and career goals. Courses in which the majority of the math is at a K-8 level would not qualify for the third credit. Traditional math examples may include, but are not limited to: statistics, discrete math, linear algebra, and mathematical modeling.


To keep WA graduation rates high means a whole lot of faking will be happening.

Check the 2015 NAEP data for WA 8th graders judged to be "proficient"

47% of White kids

13% of Black kids

65% of Asian Americans

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Looking at the city's stats, the number of mortality and morbidity, dropouts, truancy, incarceration, and what I and others see first hand, I can understand the focus. Like many here, I like to see the plan and objectives for this.

With the increase number of shootings related to gangs in the past several years, I like to seen more from Bruce Harrell, Eric Pettigrew, SPD (Officer Cookie is the first face most people think of, but she alone isn't enough), and Marcellus Turner, our City Librarian, in looking at ways to lead with the schools, but there hasn't been the same urgency as for HALA, charter, SPL branding, and SPD plans for black lives matter protest. I'm not sure where the Urban League and NAACP is in all this and for young people, I don't think they know either. One place to start if people reading here want to do something is mentoring.

If the schools gotta do it all, then maybe this is where they are hoping to start. Again. People can say why bother. On the other hand, how can we not. I don't know the chance of its success without more focus and real work from SPS, city hall, SPD, and community leaders coming together with the community and schools. Seattle is losing its African American families, old and new, as more are leaving because they can't afford to live here. There's anger at the feeling of being left behind and resented. This isn't a unique feeling, but for the small community which found a home in the little part of Seattle they were allowed to settle, losing that and founding themselves dispersed is a painful process.

As for hiring more teachers of color, I wonder if SPS aggressively recruit in the South and in urban cities like Chicago and LA. I noticed in my progressive school in a progressive neighborhood is very big on raising money to buy goats for World Vision, doing food drive, collecting toiletries and socks for the homeless, dutifully every MLK day, has an assembly, and has a to die for walking school bus to save the earth. But the one time the school had an AA principal, that person was scrutinized for her language usage, how she dressed, what she drove, and if she was a good "fit" for the community. She wasn't and didn't last very long. I also watched as older teachers of color retired or moved on to be replaced by much younger, single, mostly female, and white teachers. Progressive Seattle can be a tough place to settle without money and if you don't "fit" in.


Lynn said...

Some data was provided in this attachment to the agenda for a November board meeting. 2015 graduation rates were lowest for Hispanic students (64.2), followed by American Indian (64.3), Black (68.6) and Pacific Islanders (81.8).

What really surprised me is the enrollment data on page five. Two years ago there were only 390 American Indian students enrolled in the district. That's just an average of 30 per grade. Given the push for reopening the American Indian Heritage high school, I had assumed there were more. How could a high school for 120 students work - assuming they'd be willing to enroll and bus across the city?

Lynn said...

Is there data available anywhere on district employees and race? According to the 2010 census, about 7% of the city's population (18 and older) is Black. Is that higher or lower than the percentage of Black teachers, aides and school administrators?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why 1) this program is being targeted towards African-American boys - and doesn't include Native Americans, Hispanics, or Pacific Islanders. Also does anyone know if this program would include kids from immigrant/refugee families from Africa? Seattle has a growing east-African population.

I also don't understand why girls are left out - is there any data to show that African-American girls graduate at higher rates than African-American boys?

Lastly, I am skeptical that adding a high level director will make any difference. I wonder if that money would be better spent on additional family support workers, afterschool and summer tutoring, etc. (i.e. direct services to kids and families - not a high level bureaucrat).


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lynn said...

If boys get worse grades because they don't turn in homework, we should stop grading based on homework completion. That isn't a teaching or curriculum issue, it's a grading issue.

Lynn said...

I should have signed that 'a girl who did no homework.'

Maureen said...

I don't have a solution, but I wonder if targeted programs like this just increase the impact of "stereotype threat," so African American boys think that they must be really awful at school since so many people seem to expect them to be awful at school. I also question the strategy of adding another layer of administration. Why not add more school counselors whose primary job is to show (all) kids that they notice if they aren't coming to school and do whatever they can to get the kids into classrooms? Kids can't learn if they aren't there.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"People can say why bother."

Nope and don't try to pin that on anyone here because no one is saying that. Asking questions is not the same as saying "why bother."

SPS has targeted black colleges (and most are in the South) and their teaching schools. The report back is that those students are highly coveted and sought after.

Again, this is based on the Oakland model of "targeted universalism" where the early research says that helping one at-risk population lifts up other at-risk populations. Trying this with what is considered the most at-risk population - AA males - is where you start. I still have to do my reading on this one.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reprinting for Anonymous (no anonymous comments please - give yourself a name):

"I think there should be an office for not just boys of color but all boys. Boys don't do as well in school as girls. The teachers don't hold them accountable well enough to turn in their homework. The method of teaching we have in our schools just doesn't work as well for boys. You will notice this across the board. Anyone who has sons will tell you their sons don't do as well as their daughters.

I think a taskforce could benefit all boys by making some changes to curriculum."

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pm said...

Did you really post a tirade against a program aimed at helping African-American males on MLK day?

Lynn said...

Your definition of tirade seems a little loose.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No kidding; that thread is not a tirade.

Anonymous said...

"A new, national study finds that black students are about half as likely as white students to be put on a "gifted" track — even when they have comparable test scores.
Nonblack teachers identify black students as gifted in reading 2.1 percent of the time. Black teachers are three times more likely to identify black students as gifted in reading: 6.2 percent of the time. That's the same rate as for white students, no matter the race of their teacher."


Lynn said...

The Atlantic also covered this study.

The researchers have warned against drawing the conclusion that non-black teachers are biased against black students, and their study isn’t definitive about what’s causing the underrepresentation. They do, however, cite a number of hypotheses, including that “racialized teacher perceptions” may in part explain why educators interpret their students’ behaviors and abilities in inconsistent ways. “What a teacher may attribute to precocity for one student may be considered disruptive behavior for another,” they write. Conversely, teachers of color may recommend minority students for gifted education at higher rates. Or black teachers may simply be more effective in both motivating black students to improve their own performance and engaging with parents, who are often instrumental in getting their children screened for and enrolled in gifted-and-talented instruction.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Right, I saw these and was going to put them up separately but now they are here. I haven't read the first one yet.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, the why bother isn't a challenge, but asked why? Why past programs didn't work out? What affected past outcomes? Can this new strategy work? What will be different in this approach? Will this be more of the same? If so, why do it again? Among people who have had loved ones shot or have been victims of violence or deal with the constant threat of it, or are dealing with the isolation, fear, anger, and frustration of our youngsters, there just might be a different take on what's happening in the schools and where the concerns are.

Maybe my postings on the other thread made things uncomfortable to speak about stereotypes and racism. It's your blog and you have the right to control it. I don't have an agenda in that thread beyond the fact that I disagree strongly with the Asian stereotypes. I don't care if it's NYT's Kristoff promoting it or an educator or a journalist or readers. That might be too confrontational and uncomfortable for readers here. I think there's a huge divide in perceptions. Perceptions matter. They affect how you treat others as a group and as individuals. Why is it ok for families to supplement or sign their child up for EPGY math or have children in award winning orchestra, but not ok and becomes pushy for Asian families to sign up for classes outside school or learn to play the violin well along with the electric guitar?

MLK's dream is still a dream. That dream seems more out of reach today. That's scary, Some very fine people chase that dream
because it's a worthy goal or a moral thing to do. Many others pursue the dream because they want the reality of opportunity and economic security, they want their voice to matter, and they want to be treated with respect and fairly as individuals.

James Lovell said...


Not to derail the conversation, but the number of American Indian/Alaskan Native students listed as enrolled in SPS has more to do with the method of documenting race than it has to due with actual enrollment.

That number typically reflects the number of students who had submitted a 506 form - a DOE Title VII eligibility form. This ANNUAL form requires that the child, the child's parent, or the child's grandparent has proof of membership in a federally recognized tribe, band, or group. The amount of money that SPS receives for these services from the Feds is based on this number.

The actual number of youth who are AI/AN is almost certainly higher - probably three times as high if not more. A combination of factors contributes to this, including the burden of documentation for services that may or may not be accessible, the challenge of acquiring tribal enrollment documentation from different bands around the country, the desire to remain un-identified (as that identification has been the grounds for fairly incredible atrocities in the not-so-distant past), and the challenge from the district to acquire appropriately filled-out forms (and historic lack of direct service staff to go out and retrieve forms or ensure completion without first building trust.)

I am lucky to have a mother who fought to complete her education & develop bureaucratic navigation skills so she could be a support to her own children and other Native youth in Seattle - but the process for receiving services from this funding stream (and being a consistent part of district counts) is a high-bar for marginalized populations. The current services offered through Huchoosedah, community organizations, foster homes, and myriad community supports are making a difference - but there's a much, much higher demand than there is a supply.

As an enrolled tribal member who benefited from these services, I see any efforts by SPS to work with a marginalized population as paramount, including (and especially) the African American males initiative.

In Solidarity.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reader, thank you for fleshing out your thought. I agree with your first paragraph and SPS should examine what they have done before, successes, failures and lessons learning. That's hugely important.

I think you were referencing the article I had found about a divide at a high school between white parents and Asian parents over rigor and workload. The latter is the issue; I honestly don't think there is any racism involved. I think there are likely confusions about culture and education since many of the parents are immigrants.

I am fine talking about race but I don't want to see anyone here bullied if they are not in total agreement with another person's view especially around what programming in SPS looks like.

James, thanks for that background and viewpoint. I think it would be useful for communities to band together for better outcomes.

Tresanos said...

I am a teacher. I would LOVE the district to support all of us at all schools to put a greater focus on African American boys. I believe yhat targeted universalism holds promise. In the same way, research shows that best practices for English learners actually benefit all students. It's great to see any addressing of institutional racism and perpetuation of gaps. Yes it would be helpful to include other groups but I sure appreciate starting with the group that has received some of the worst our society has to offer. Now if SPS can put some real muscle behind reduction of gaps and reduction of disparities that woukd be a welcome step.

Anonymous said...

@Tresanos, can you explain how exactly you think targeted universalism would work in the classroom? What would you do differently, with students and on your own? It's all quite mysterious, and it's hard to see how it will "lift all boats." Maybe some boats beyond AA males, but all boats?


Anonymous said...

Oh GOD enough with the PC stuff. We build schools, we staff schools. Children of all colors are treated the same. Attend or not, but stop this racist anti- white BS....or else SPS will lose support. I'm tired of communities of color complaining, stay in your country of origin if you don't like our ENGLISH speaking school system.

BS stops

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