Sunday, July 01, 2007

Clarence Thomas and Danny Westneat

In today's column by Danny Westneat, he writes about finding his name and reference to his column about his experiences at Madrona K-8 in the opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas. (I feel Danny's pain; of all the judges, he would be the last one that I would ever want my name attached to.)

Justice Thomas says:

"Indeed, if our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories."

I wish I could ask Justice Thomas just who he is referencing (it is not apparent). The Board? The Superintendent? Post-secondary educators who do research? I am always flumoxed by this term "elites" especially when it is used by people who had benefit of "elite" education like President Bush and others. I'm always puzzled that the President is so passionate about NCLB (K-12) education and yet has scorn for most universities/colleges, using the "elite" tag. I wish I understood it.

Justice Thomas lists examples, naming the work of the Race and Equity Department and Westneat's column. I'm not sure how Mr. Westneat's column supports the Justice's rejection of the racial tiebreaker. If the Justice was doing a complete overview of the District's work on race relations and equity, he could have brought in a lot of other information as well but the District's race and equity work was not on trial, their use of a racial tiebreaker for high school was.

Mr. Westneat concedes that he agrees with Justice Thomas' point that he believes our district leaders are so consumed by racial ideology that they can't "be entrusted with the power to make decisions on the basis of race." Mr. Westneat believes that the district has lost sight of the goal to educate all children.

I'm not sure that's true at all. I do think the Race and Equity office is totally misguided and Dr. Hollins is hurting our district. It will be interesting to see what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson does in terms of this issue. Listening to her at the interview and reading her quotes in various newspapers leads me to believe that she (a) does have a race focus (but how much it will influence her decisons is anyone's guess and (b) she has a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality and may not defend the cry that the district is inequitable in its work.

From the decision, Justice Thomas speaking of AAA and making a point about whether integration really helps black students:

"This racially imbalanced environment has reportedly produced test scores“higher across all grade levels in reading, writing and math.” Ibid. Contrary to what the dissent would have predicted, see post, at 38–39, the children in Seattle’s African American Academy have shown gains when placed in a “highly segregated” environment." I'd like to see that Annual report because they are not showing higher across all grade levels (unless the dismal 7th grade WASL scores have improve slightly but still rank last of all the middle/K-8s).

From Justice Kennedy's opinion that supported the majority but in which he felt compelled to raise issues:

"Diversity, depending on its meaning and definition, is a compelling educational goal a
school district may pursue."

"Seattle has not shown its plan to be narrowly tailored to achieve its own ends; and thus it fails to pass strict scrutiny. (This may have undercut the District's arguments more than anything.)"

"The enduring hope is that race should not matter; the reality is that too often it does. This is by way of preface to my respectful submission that parts of the opinion by THE CHIEF JUSTICE imply an all-too-unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor in instances when, in my view, it may be taken into account. The plurality opinion is too dismissive of the legitimate interest government has in ensuring all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race."

On how race might be used:

"School boards may pursue the goal of bringing together students of diverse backgrounds and races through other means, including strategic site selection of new schools;drawing attendance zones with general recognition of the demographics of neighborhoods; allocating resources forspecial programs; recruiting students and faculty in a targeted fashion; and tracking enrollments, performance, and other statistics by race. These mechanisms are race conscious but do not lead to different treatment based on a classification that tells each student he or she is to be defined by race, so it is unlikely any of them would demand strict scrutiny to be found permissible."

"These include the facially race-neutral means set forth above or, if necessary, a more nuanced, individual evaluation of school needs and student characteristics that might include race as a component. The latter approach would be informed by Grutter, though ofcourse the criteria relevant to student placement would differ based on the age of the students, the needs of the parents, and the role of the schools."

"Race may be one component of that diversity, but other demographic factors, plus special talents and needs, should also be considered. What the government is not permitted to do, absent a showing of necessity not made here, is to classify every student on the basis of race and to assign each of them to schools based on that classification. Crude measures of this sort threaten to reduce children to racial chits valued and traded according to one school’s supply and another’s demand."

From Justice Breyer's impassioned dissent:
"See Milliken, 418 U. S., at 741–42 (“No single tradition in public education is more deeply rooted than local control over the operation of schools; local autonomy has long been thought essential both to the maintenance of community concern and support for public schools and to quality of the educational process”)."

I post Justice Breyer's quote as a measure of just how important school boards are to the functioning of our public school system nationwide. It is not a 10-hour a week job if, as Justice Breyer references, it is essential to the needs of the community and its support of public education.

I read through some of comments posted at the PI website after the decision. I was saddened although not surprised. Most believe the decision was correct and that it is wrong to use race at all. I feel sad, not because that is someone's opinion, but I was struck by how many people believe that they are colorblind and that we live in a colorblind society.

I just don't buy it. Not when you have a black candidate for President who is not considered "black enough" from some within the African-American community. Not when you have a white heiress who believed that her place in society would protect her from our justice system.

I just got back from a trip to Puerto Rico. Much to my surprise, as had been the case when I was growing up in Arizona, I was taken, on sight, for Hispanic (and I am part Mexican). It almost never happens in Seattle. My point is, I don't believe in a colorblind society. I see a lot of things when I look at a person and yes, color is one of them. I'm not sure anyone has to apologize for noticing what a person looks like. I think the issue is that we have to strive to take the time to consider a person's actions and words before we do their looks in judging them.

If anyone believes in Justice Kennedy's opinion, then it might be worth a discussion of what the district could do, short of a narrow tailoring of the enrollment process with race (perhaps via free/reduced lunch) as a factor. Is it worth the district making the effort to do that? Or should the district pursue the suggestions that Justice Kennedy raises?


Anonymous said...

You are a closet lawyer :-)

I think that the Board should consider the items listed by Justice Kennedy, and in particular be mindful of opportunities to foster divesity where they can by being thoughtful in redrawing the boundaries. While Seattle is pretty segregated when it comes to housing patterns, there are opportunities to maximize diversity in how the boundaries are drawn, for example by running some of the boundaries across (east-west) rather than vertical (north-south).

I bet the Board will also add FLR as a tie-breaker, at least until some improvement is shown in the South end schools, hopefully as a result of efforts like the SE intiative.

Jet City mom said...

Not when you have a white heiress who believed that her place in society would protect her from our justice system.
I seem to remember a black athlete who thought the same thing- whaddya know, he was right?

it wasn't the color, it was the wallet.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I just read the Time magazine article about the outcome of these court cases. They say:

"The parents who successfully challenged the Seattle plan favored a pure choice approach, with a lottery to handle assignments at oversubscribed schools. They say Seattle's high schools are already racially diverse (Chief Justice Roberts seems to agree), and that the city's overall diversity will keep them that way. "Sixty percent of students are minority, and 80 percent of them want to go to the top five schools," says the parents' lawyer, Harry Korrell. "So you're going to get a heavy minority representation no matter what." "

What I find interesting is this idea of a lottery for oversubscribed schools. Yes, given our city, you likely would maintain some diversity if, after sibling preference (which I would maintain), you went straight to lottery. But oh, the howls you would hear from the neighborhoods. But no one could say it wasn't fair.

Anonymous said...

Pure lottery would be a disaster for transportation costs and the complete antithesis of the neighborhood school focus that so many of us are asking for.

And there are voices, like mine, who would also say it isn't fair. It isn't fair to live close to a school that a child believes is part of his or her community, then be told that a lottery meant there wasn't a spot for his/her enrollment.

Anonymous said...

I too would strongly oppose an all-city lottery for over-subscribed schools. Families should be able to attend schools in their neighborhood. Choosing to live in a neighborhood close to oversubscribed schools would force tons of kids to have to have a long commute out of their community for school. That is not right. There is a lot I am willing to put up with with Seattle Public Schools, but if an all-city lottery was put in place, I would be done.

I don't care if my child got into Garfield, an excellent school, through the lottery. I want my children going to school in our community and I want a 5 minute commute so they have more time to study and for extra-curricular.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if some sort of hybrid system would make sense...

Basically, this would involve a combination of neighborhood traditional schools and lottery-based magnet schools.

You could have neighborhood assignment for traditional schools, perhaps with a small (10-20%) number of seats set aside for lottery. Ideally, the definition of "neighborhood" would be otimized for walkability, especially at elementary level. Having kids walk to school saves the city money and fits with Seattle's goal of reducing its carbon footprint. It's also good exercise. Heck, there might even be some sort of grant available for a school district trying to reduce its carbon footprint, who knows?

In addition to neighborhood traditional schools, also set up magent schools that are lottery based, or at least mostly lottery based (maybe 80% lottery, 20% neighborhood). I would include in this class any special program that is likely to be an all-city draw such as language immersion, montessori, ORCA, Summit, NOVA, etc. It might also include programs like the Garfield Jazz Band or IB.

If you made sure that you had similar programs around the city wherever possible, most people would still choose the one closest to them.

You might be able to reduce transportation costs even further by having people apply for a program rather than a school, and then be assigned based on lottery to the nearest instance of that program.

So, you'd apply for Montessori, or IB, and be assigned to the school closest to you that has that program. If the closest school filled up, you'd be assigned to the next closest. Some programs are hard to duplicate (Nova comes to mind), and would still be all-city draws.

An approach like this would give the district an incentive to duplicate successful programs in different regions in order to reduce the transporation costs.

Jet City mom said...

I notice we are adding lots of housing in the downtown/south lake union/queen anne area.
We are going to need more schools
The traffic- sucks- we don't have good public transportation- ( although I would like to see designated streets for buses like Portland) & while I realize that it is much easier for families to be involved when their kid is in a neighborhood school, I also know that because schools are very different, a teen may want something that couldn't be predicted when they were eight.

I don't think the city is nearly as diverse as the district. But I do agree that most schools are fairly diverse.

I would love to see numbers of students who are OUT of district, and what schools they attend- as well as their siblings which may also be getting assigned to schools that residents of Seattle should have priority for.

I realize that at times some schools had seats for certain grades and it was allowed to enroll even if you were out of area, or out of the city, however- these things change & should we be giving priority to siblings when the school is now overenrolled?

Charlie Mas said...

I love what 98112 suggested.

"So, you'd apply for Montessori, or IB, and be assigned to the school closest to you that has that program. If the closest school filled up, you'd be assigned to the next closest. Some programs are hard to duplicate (Nova comes to mind), and would still be all-city draws.

An approach like this would give the district an incentive to duplicate successful programs in different regions in order to reduce the transporation costs.

The problem, of course, would be the contingency that if, for example, the montessori program at Graham Hill filled up, would you necessarily want an assignment to Bagley montessori? It could be a long way to go.

Imagine if instead of requesting schools, people requested programs. Your elementary assignment choices might look like this:

general education
general education - ALO
language immersion
-specific alternative school A-
-specific alternative school B-
-specific alternative school C-

If you chose general education, then the district would assign your child to a general education program. It would be in the District's best interest, for a number of reasons, to assign your child to one close to your home.

You might not know with any great confidence which school it will be.

Could the District be flexible enough to alter capacity to meet demand? Can they create all of the montessori classrooms or language immersion classrooms or Spectrum classrooms that they need?

I'm not exactly saying that we should DO this or do it exactly like this, but I like this kind of thinking and I believe that further discussion along this line will help to generate good ideas. Not all of them are going to be entirely workable, but they do help to shake loose more ideas.

Anonymous said...

To anons at 10:40 and 9:16:

I think the greater issue is that SPS has defeated the drive toward neighborhood schools by continuing to allow schools like RBHS to stagnate. They've kept choice alive because they *had* to keep it alive. It’s been their band-aid to cover for the schools that have languished while others have grown in repute. And the related discussion on this board regarding the WSF have only deepened concern over how broken the tiebreaker band-aid really is.

I think a lot of us cling to the romantic notion of a neighborhood school, as though our neighborhoods are little villages of cohesion, but the present reality in the Seattle housing market is that those who can buy housing next to a well-regarded school are in the economic upper tier. (Renting still being the wild card.)

I always found it odd that SPS wasn’t more involved in the gentrification of Holly Park and High Point Housing. With market rate being paired with low income, it would seem a no-brainer that SPS would also be working to aggressively upgrade the schools that will serve this mixed-income cohort of future students.

My good fortune in leasing a MIL apartment mere steps from Laurelhurst Elementary was dashed when my youngest child was waitlisted. We were given the choice of attending schools two or three miles away from home. Compared to Laurelhurst, not worth the bus ride. So I understand the feeling of confusion, even anger, over being denied at spot at a desirable neighborhood school. That said, I looked at the situation in terms of the history of the present enrollment process we have: the enrollment center is still operating in the post-busing era.

SPS made signed of moving beyond the post-busing era with John Stanford, but for a variety of reasons they never made that leap to the next level. In hindsight, some will even blame Stanford for botching the idea of neighborhood choice by not demanding more from the principals he moved around the high school chess board. (Former RBHS principal Marta Cano-Hinz ring any bells? She had his full support. The rest is history.)

The era of the choice system will no doubt come to an end, or remain in a more limited form. Standardization of curriculum is the first step.

For those who say, do a lottery and I'm outta here, there are plenty of families in a holding pattern, ready to take your place. You know this. If you can afford to vote with your feet, you're already in the upper tier in most cases. You have the economic choice to make that vote. And it’s understandable that you’ll choose to leave because your kids can’t wait for change to happen. But the case hit the court because of other families who aren’t as economically fluid. For both parties, the band-aid has failed.

That SPS spent this much time in court when they could have repaired schools in the interim is breathtaking in its incompetence. WenG

Melissa Westbrook said...

And that was kind of my point is saying why did the district continue in this lawsuit(given that they didn't even stand by the courage of their convictions and continue to use the tiebreaker which would have been legal - but maybe opened them up to more lawsuits?)?

We could have been doing so much more with the money while deciding to use other measures. I recall that Michael Preston, who sat on the Board in the early '90s, vehemently stood up against using a free/reduced lunch tiebreaker over a race-based one (Mr. Preston is African-American)saying that it WAS about race.

I only offered the lottery idea as a suggestion; it's not really my choice but if it comes down to set-aside seats (as one of the options that Director de Bell has offered), then the lottery may come into play.

I think 98112 has the right idea but there would be those who would say that takes time,the district has been slow in taking that direction, etc. Maybe Dr. Goodloe-Johnson could jumpstart this effort.

Anonymous said...

Why did the District continue the lawsuit? First, the District did not intiate the suit, and second, until last week, they were the prevailing party. You don't drop a case when you are the prevailing party. I think that Brita answered this question when you posed it several months ago, the current Board wanted to preserve the right to take steps to prevent the segregation of schools. And, at the end of the day, the District won on that point.

Anonymous said...


You wrote "they didn't even stand by the courage of their convictions and continue to use the tiebreaker which would have been legal - but maybe opened them up to more lawsuits."

Pehaps you did not have a child in high school when this case was filed, but I did. In the spring of 2002, we got an assignment letter. Then, because the ninth circuit issued an injunction, we got a second assignment letter. Then the injunction was lifted. I was just glad not to get a third letter. I think that the board rightly believed that it was unfair to keep ping-ponging assignments based upon all of the different court rulings. Not using the tie-breaker until the matter was decided was the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

98112 and charlie:

Excellent ideas. I could live with a lottery, especially if we're using the curriculum menu you describe. WenG