Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chief Sealth's Self-Examination

Fascinating story from KUOW this morning on teachers and administrators efforts to find out one thing lead to the discovery of another.
Chief Sealth High School in West Seattle had a big problem. As one of the most racially diverse in the Seattle school district, Chief Sealth was known for the disproportionate number of students of color being disciplined and suspended.

Teachers and administrators at the school realized they needed to make some changes.


So they turned to Filiberto Barajas-Lopez, an education professor at the University of Washington. He went into the school to survey staff and students. He began by looking at discipline rates but found there was much more going on.
He says one thing that really stood out was the teachers appeared to be supporting students who were more academically inclined and were generally white.
"Students felt that the response was different and varied and it was problematic. And I think that presents some kind of tension between teacher and students and it creates, to a certain degree, some distrust about whether they feel comfortable asking teachers for support."
What's interesting is the teachers say they did not know this was happening in their classrooms.  And, I would surmise that there could be more than racism to blame for why students don't reach out to some teachers.

There could be cultural issues - is that racism or lack of PD for teachers to make sure they don't alienate some students.

It could be that a student tried once and the teacher was busy/having a bad day and then the student decided the teacher wasn't going to help him/her.

What I really liked was that the school did not try to figure this out on their own and sought outside help.  To me, that's the best and most neutral way to find answers.  (I'll have more to say about this when I write my thread on the Garfield PTSA's meeting with a review of the Honors for All program.)
Barajas-Lopez also said the study results are positive for the students too.

"It's an opportunity to provide students with a platform to voice," he said. "We make a lot of decisions and choices about youth and what's best for them and rarely do we include them in this process. We're hoping that these are important lessons, not only for Chief Sealth, but also for other schools in the district."
It would be interesting to do a survey a year from now and see what students say then.

I requested the survey and the results from the district.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The SPS systematic racism charge does not stick...so tied of this.

For arguments sake let's pretend it is true then the entire school board should resign today.

End PC

Anonymous said...

"He says one thing that really stood out was the teachers appeared to be supporting students who were more academically inclined . . . "

Isn't this a good thing? When positive behavior (acting "academically inclined in a school) is rewarded, you generally get more of it.

Common Sense

Outsider said...

Imagine that, supporting academically inclined students. Someone didn't get the memo. Sealth will be a paradise for sure once they stop supporting academically inclined students. Meanwhile, just gimme a voucher and I'll stop caring what they do.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Common Sense, c'mon. You don't "reward" students with attention. ALL students deserve the opportunity to have access and attention from their teachers. There are a myriad of reasons why some students do better than others academically and teacher attention cannot be based on student outcomes.

Of course, support academically inclined students but don't turn others away.

Stan said...

Unevenly applied discipline is a serious issue. And a lot of people suffer from the unevenness. We've seen it nationally with police brutality increasingly captured on film so that people who would NEVER be treated that way by a police officer get to "see" it unfolding. It's horrifying.

These inequitable situations don't just magically appear out of nowhere, presto!, when the kids reach the age of majority. Inequitable treatment happens at every age in pretty much every conceivable venue.

At our elementary school, girls went unpunished for all kinds of *&#$%. But the boys? They got punished for the stuff the girls got away with. Students of color and students with disabilities (not-yet-diagnosed and diagnosed) got punished like crazy. For the same stuff!

My white child was suspended back in elementary school for normal kid behavior at recess (because we attend a low-income school). All my friends' kids attend high-income schools and they had never heard of a single suspension in the histories of their elementary schools. The wealthy-neighborhood schools don't suspended kids for normal kid behavior. Remember the federal probe? Yeah, there was a reason for that. Thank goodness for the moratorium on out-of-school suspensions.

But this kind of varying-level-of-support-for-students-based-on-teacher-stereotypes has all kinds of effects. They found that one reasons girls haven't traditionally done as well in math classes as boys is that teachers didn't respond to them the same as boys. A boy gets the problem right and the teacher says, "that's right. Now what would happen if we did this...?" A girl gets the problem right and the teacher says, "that's right" and moves on to the next kid. These things matter.

Can there be any doubt that uneven discipline and support matter?



Anonymous said...

@ Melissa, if you get more info on the study will you share it here? I, for one, found the KUOW piece to be so vague that it didn't really tell me much at all. Students feel "the teachers appeared to be supporting students who were more academically inclined and were generally white." Did they observe interactions to see if that's actually the case? Was it all/most teachers, or just a few? And what type of "support" are they talking about? I have no doubt that some teachers are biased in their treatment of students, but a deeper understanding is essential to tackling the problem.

Anonymous said...

Quick note: this was not just a case of a professor coming in to do a study. This process was designed and led by our school's Race and Equity Team.

Sealth Teacher

Outsider said...

All the teachers I have seen in Seattle are quite professional and know their business reasonably well. Their job is to juggle while wearing a straight-jacket, and they do it with a range of apparent attitudes from passive-aggressive grumpiness to surprising cheer. If anything, they are so PC it hurts, not closet classist-racists.

They make discipline judgments based on what they think is required to maintain control of their classroom or school. In a rich white school, most of the students are bringing rock-solid pro-education values from home, and there is no risk of losing control of the school. So they might skip discipline in many cases. But in "impacted" schools, where students depend much more on their peers or the school itself for values, there is greater risk of losing control. The minute it starts to seem like the disruptors and rejecters are ruling the school, a downward spiral starts from which they don't recover. That is essentially what "impacted" means. You might not like the results, but what are teachers supposed to do? Dispense unnecessary discipline at rich schools, or lose control of other schools?

In high school, one assumes that teachers are also making judgments based not on race but on a practical desire to maintain control of their classrooms (or at least they used to be, the old school type.) They might judge, for example, that a white disrupter is not well regarded by other white students, and that the students' loyalty remains safely with the teacher. (If using "academically inclined" as a codephrase for white makes any sense, then the judgment is probably reasonable.) So control of the classroom is not in jeopardy, and discipline is less urgent.

With a disruptor of color, a white teacher might be less able to judge the social dynamic. But the teacher might have a reasonable concern that the loyalty of non-white students to the white teacher is weaker, and the disrupter might have more social influence, so the teacher is quicker to discipline for fear that the classroom will cease to function. Before you condemn or doubt the teacher's judgment, spend a few years in her shoes. Sometimes people know their business better than you from your armchair. Even if the teachers are judging classroom dynamics incorrectly, no amount of simplistic, accusatory "you're a closet racist" PD is really going to help. Unless driving teachers out of the profession is considered a step forward.

Once discipline is ended, you risk getting this:
https://www.city-journal.org/html/no-thug-left-behind-14951.html

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sealth Teacher, I know that and what's interesting to me is that you work for SPS and yet I have to go to the UW professor for the info and/or go thru public disclosure. It seems to me that if teachers, working on district time, created this work, then it shouldn't be a problem for me, as media, to get this study.

Outsider, you said this:

So they might skip discipline in many cases.

Absolutely not true. ALL schools care about discipline. Are there differences? Sure but that probably has more to do with a principal than it being "a rich white school?"

I would also say that if you are not a teacher or researcher, saying how a teacher chooses to use discipline in their classroom is a guess on your part. How do you know what your are stating?

That's an interesting article that I will have to thoroughly read although I see it is published by a right-wing think-tank. Also, I do NOT like the title of the article and I believe it is always wrong to call students names.

Anonymous said...

"At our elementary school, girls went unpunished for all kinds of *&#$%. But the boys? They got punished for the stuff the girls got away with. Students of color and students with disabilities (not-yet-diagnosed and diagnosed) got punished like crazy. For the same stuff!My white child was suspended back in elementary school for normal kid behavior at recess (because we attend a low-income school). All my friends' kids attend high-income schools and they had never heard of a single suspension in the histories of their elementary schools. The wealthy-neighborhood schools don't suspended kids for normal kid behavior. Remember the federal probe? Yeah, there was a reason for that. Thank goodness for the moratorium on out-of-school suspensions."

@ Stan: Regarding your above statements, I don't know why gender and income continue to be ignored in discussions in Seattle, research questions/studies, advocacy work etc. Th focus is exclusively on race alone. Not very equitable.
-gap

Diana Romero said...

I am a member of the Race and Equity Team at Chief Sealth and KUOW did not accurately report the work we are doing in our school. The writer of the first article chose to give partial truths that were inflammatory and inaccurate. Dr. Barajas has asked that KUOW edit that story to more accurately reflect that the focus group research was conducted collaboratively between the teachers on the Race and Equity Team and Dr.Barajas. Also, there were other findings that were not reported such as students feeling that there are also teachers who support them and take the time to build positive relationships with them. Students reported that they would like teachers to understand that although they may be struggling academically in a class, it does not mean they don't care and would still like to receive help. Some of our students have to work many hours a week to help support their family, which causes them to miss school or arrive late and fall behind. It is difficult to acknowledge that our internal bias can influence how we interact with our students, but it is necessary that we remain vigilant because if we don't we perpetuate injustices in our class and school that we see play out in our country daily. I am proud of our teachers because we are having the difficult conversations needed to make changes.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you for that, Ms Romero. I also question their headline which starts the piece from a very negative place when, in fact, teachers were the ones taking this step.