What Is She Trying to Say?

Help me out here. Lynne Varner, education editorialist for the Times, had a piece printed today. It is titled, "Privilege is the trump card, and not just in rural Jena".

[In case it missed your attention, Jena is this small town in Louisana where some white students hung nooses from a tree after a black student sat under the tree. The tree is "reserved" for white students to sit under. (Now, of course, the obvious question is why would any school administrator put up with such a designation?) Tensions ran high after the nooses were put up, words were exchanged and eventually, a white student was beaten up by 6 black students. The white student had injuries severe enough to go to the hospital but was able to leave the hospital and attend a school function the same night. The black students were charged with attempted murder and the case has gone from there.]

Now she takes the case and links it with...the racial tiebreaker case in SPS. The only thing I can get from her piece is that she believes Seattle is a place that hides its flaws behind "Nice" (she's alluded to this many times in her writing, no matter what the topic).

So if you understand her piece, could you let me know what point she's trying to make? I ask because this is a column in a major newspaper about our district that many people will read. I'd just like to know how it might be interpreted by people less savvy than this group about SPS.


Anonymous said…
I think Lynn's point is that Seattle is no less racist than Jena, we just cloak our prejudice behind our PC politeness, until a situation like the racial tie breaker causes our horns to show??? I find this hard to swallow, and I don't buy it.

As a black family I can tell you that our family has always felt accepted, included and equal at work, at school, and in our community/neighborhood. No oak trees anywhere as far as we can see.

It is unfair and just plain wrong to compare the blatant racism and violence in Jena, to a civil disagreement about a racial tie breaker. Settled legally in the SUPREME COURT. This comparison actually waters down, and makes slight, the injustice and impact of racism in a community.

I truly believe that the issues regarding school assignment are tied to socio economic status, and the value that a families places on education. In the value category, the fact is that the north end is no longer any more expensive to live in than the Central area, Columbia city, and Seward Park. Even the very poorest have choice in where they live. There is low income housing all over our city. There are housing projects at 145th/30th ave NE in coveted north Seattle just as there are in Rainier Beach.

I do not see Seattle as a big racist city hiding behind law suits and cloaking their prejudice. No oak trees here. Anywhere.
WenG said…
I think Varner's snark is getting in the way of her point: Jena and Seattle share the baggage of inequality.

She describes the Jena Six as an "amusing anecdote about a Southern town stuck in a racial time warp." What did I miss? Who's laughing about this case? Where are the "knowing grins" about racism she refers to?
Anonymous said…
I would like to know Lynn Varner's basis for the following statement is: "...a good education in Seattle is easier to come by if you're white or live near well-resourced schools in the largely white sections of the city."

She didn't even say "probably"!

Lynn, let's see some data.

Is it WASL scores? At this point, those are far more a function of the child (his early childhood, his socio-economic status, etc) than the quality of the education he got - so there is no conclusion you can draw.

Is it teacher tenure or advanced degree? 1) I doubt there is a proven cause and effect relationship between those attributes and education quality, and 2) even if there were, my first glance at those data on the OSPI website (as part of WASL report card for each school) didn't exactly prove the urban legend that the affluent Seattle schools (btw - not all north end schools are affluent, and not all affluent schools are in the north end) have the preponderance of experienced and advanced degree teachers.

Is it funding? Again - it would be great if we were talking from data when we assert that 1) there is a cause and effect (or even a strong positive correlation) between funding and "a good education", and 2) the schools in affluent areas have more resources when looking at combined public and private sources.

Charlie does the best truth-squad work on this - but where else do you see it? Yet still the assertions are so rampant as to be accepted without question, that affluent schools get more money per child than non - and the implication is "more than they need".

So what is it? Is it just what "everyone" is saying? Or she "just knows"?

Maybe there will come a day in Seattle when people stop shooting from the hip with their conventional wisdom (read: it's so because I think it's so) about school quality - and actually talk from data (or listen to it, even).

One of the best things the sup't is saying these days is that she's data-driven - amen, and she actually sounds like she knows what she's talking about (as opposed to empty MBA-speak about you'd hear from many a consultant.)

In the meantime, we do every principal, teacher, child and family in the south end a disservice by making sloppy allegations about poor school quality - and an equal disservice to people and schools in the rest of the city by either vilifying them for what they're taking away from other students, or glossing over their poverty and needs.

I think Lynn would be more credible on the subject of Seattle school quality if she 1) lived in Seattle, 2) had a child in Seattle schools, and 3) actually talked about and from data. Just me.

But that probably wouldn't sell many papers or get people talking about what they read there.
Dan Dempsey said…
Ultimate fan said:

One of the best things the sup't is saying these days is that she's data-driven - amen, and she actually sounds like she knows what she's talking about (as opposed to empty MBA-speak about you'd hear from many a consultant.)

Dan says:
It is just more Spin.

The SPS ignores all the data they prefer not to look at. Then they cherry-pick the data they like in support of the position they mandate that the feudal serfs follow.

The research and data is nowhere even close to supporting either the Everyday Math Adoption or the West Seattle mandate for a Six-period day.

If you want the data, you must dig it up for yourself. The SPS does not present the actual data on which objective decisions could be made.

They faked it big time with Everyday Math and just used arm waving for West Seattle.

If you want to talk about discrimination toward disadvantaged learners, you need look no further than the above two moves. You can certainly find many others.

Dan the data man
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
And the dead horse is????

Btw, Jerry Large in the Seattle Times has an interesting take on this. It makes for uncomfortable, and thus, required reading.
Charlie Mas said…
Here's a link to the Jerry Large column.
Anonymous said…
Sorry for not being clearer - the dead horse is Seattle's adoption of Everyday Math curriculum for elementary schools, which dan dempsey strenuously and vocally opposed and continues to strenuously and vocally oppose in spite of the fact that the school board has approved it and moved on.

The other dead horse is the move to a 6 period day at West Seattle High School, which dan dempsey also strenuously and vocally opposed and continues to strenuously and vocally oppose in spite of the fact that the decision has been made.
Anonymous said…
II agree with anonymous above. Dan Dempsey seems to rant and rave. I don't even read his posts anymore, I scroll down to the next one. He says the same thing over and over again, in a ranting manner. I actually agree with many of his thoughts, I'm just tired of reading the same things over and over again.
Anonymous said…
The Jena case isn't such so cut and clear. Some whites kids did some evocative, provocative, and racists things. Some black kids tried to kill them, and severely beat them. Hmmm. What should the consequences be for each? What if the black kids had actually killed the white kids? What if it happened in your neighborhood? I think the crying would be a lot different if it did.
The Jena case is very problematic and frankly, it can mostly be laid at the feet of the school administration. Who would allow a tree to be designated for any one race? (And yeah, they had to know this happening.) The lack of suspension time for the students who put the nooses up. I can see how frustrated the black students must have been.

BUT, according to the prosecutor in the case (he wrote an op-ed in the NY Times), the black students jumped one white student (who hadn't hung nooses but I suspect must have been part of the back and forth in the ensuing days) and would have continued had another student not intervened. (The victim did get treated at a hospital, released and did go to a school function that same night.)

The prosecutor said there is no hate crime law in Louisana and thus he could not prosecute the white students. Okay, but the school should have thrown the book at them. Anyone in the South knows what a noose around a tree means.

He also said the black students had violated the law and committed assault. Absolutely but charging them all with second degree murder? Ridiculous. Having the one jailed kid have the charge dropped and still not getting bail? Also dumb.

These people rage against being called racists but what else can it be? I'm sorry but that's how I see it.
Dan Dempsey said…
I spent the day in Olympia. 10AM Senate Education Committee listening to SBE's Mary Jean Riley and OSPI assistant Supt.

1:30PM House Ed committee listening to OSPI's Terry Bergeson and SBE's M.J. Riley.

From TB:
The new math standards being developed will replace current ELARs & GLEs. There will be far fewer topics at each grade level and students will be taught to mastery - this was in response to Rep. Dave Quall [head of House Ed Committee]. Mr Quall was asking about Singapore techniques.

He has read the Strategic Teaching 52 page report that cost $150,000 about the review and recommendations for WA Math Standards.

In short we are now watching Seattle k-5 using math materials and practices that are largely headed in the exact opposite direction of where the State is headed.

Go to the SBE website and read the Math recommendations. It appears the death of the horse has been greatly exaggerated.


Dan Dempsey said…
From 9-27-07 Seattle Times Jerry Large said:

Criminal justice, education, banking, you name the institution and you will find inequality built in.

Jena is about people trying to be heard.

So as the SPS continues to make poor decision followed by poor decision, using the same autocratic procedure; the response from the anonymous is ... dead horse .. move on.

If the people wish to be heard - they don't move on. They draw a line and resist.

Charlie wrote an excellent piece on SPS Standard Operating Procedure for citizens concerns and SPS neglect of those concerns.

It was time to draw a line long ago, rather than continue to accept the mandates.

Check the math gap for disadvantaged learners (data). Check the fabulous results for disadvantaged learners at West Seattle High School (data).

If you wish to move on and accept the continuing lunacy, go for it.

No, I am drawing a line and resisting the urge to follow this headless chicken any longer.

Anonymous said…
dan dempsey said "Go to the SBE website and read the Math recommendations. It appears the death of the horse has been greatly exaggerated."

Dan, even if OSPI and the state board revise the math standards and ban Everyday Math as a curriculum, a) it's not going to happen in the short term, b) the district decided it, bought it, has trained teachers in it, and is clearly moving forward with it, c) your continued strenuous objection to it is not going to change any of the facts in a) or b), and d) when it happens, we'll surely remember that you told us so - so yes, it's a dead horse for now.

Isn't there somewhere you can use your passion, skills and knowledge more constructively? How about working with MJR and the state board, or Terry Bergeson at OSPI and reporting back here periodically?
Anonymous said…
What should happen to kids who severely beat another kid, they should be punished according to the crime, not according to some outdated and racist notion of what should happen to black boys. They are now facing the appropriate charges and that's how it should be. The prosecutor knew he overreached, and he backed off. The problem is this happens alot in America. Remember the boys who spent years in jail for raping and nearly killing a Central Park jogger until DNA proved they didn't do it?

We're turning a blind eye to injustices when we try to pretend glaring examples are something else.
Dan Dempsey said…
Dear Kinda Tired,

When bully = leader
bullying = leadership
any ol' numbers = relevant data

I can't think of a better place to invest time.

The current SPS plan for far too many counterproductive mandates needs to be opposed at the local level.

What would your plan be?

Something is better than nothing. If you have a better plan to:
bring the failure of the SPS to use relevant data to bring about improvement to an end let me know.

Until then I shall continue with the long lines of those who testify on Wednesdays twice a month and accomplish nothing yet, just like the rest.

Anonymous said…
Anon at 10:06 am has it right in saying that charges are sometimes trumped up against people of color, especially young black men.

Melissa says the charges in the Jena case are clearly racist .... and I agree.

Yet I see, every day in our fair city, young people of a certain socioeconomic status and often of color (though not exclusively black or male), participating in illegal and lethal activities including drug dealing and shooting people, especially in areas in the south end of town.

Since I live in the north end of town, I don't feel a particular urgency about this. Except my children will be going to middle school soon.

Ah, here's the problem.

My north end elementary school has great parent support; we raise a TON of money through our auction every year, to provide music, art, foreign language clubs, dressage lessons, etc.

I know that many students from the southern parts of our city come to the schools up north, because they are better.

What should I do?

Any advice would be appreciated.
Anonymous said…
Choose a middle school that you feel has a fair understanding of the dynamics presented when a north end school takes many south end, lower socio economic students. The schools that stand out in my mind are the alternative schools, especially Salmon Bay (all city draw). They are smaller, more intimate, and more on top of things. For HS Hale does a great job integrating all students and creating a positive, inclusive and safe atmosphere.
What should you do? Well, clearly, even though you took pains to be broad-minded you worry about the type of kids who will come north to your school.

First, the overwhelming majority of people in the south end are...just like people in the north end. They would LOVE for the drug-dealers, thieves and general troublemakers to leave their neighborhood. The parents who put their kids on a bus (for long periods of time) to get to a safer neighborhood are probably responsible, watchful parents. I doubt if their kids are the ones to worry about.

Second, the enrollment plan is going to be overhauled and there will likely end up being fewer south end students being able to access north end schools.

Third, before you pass judgment on problems at schools, let it be known that all middle and high schools have drug/alcohol problems. ALL of them (the degree may vary). Stat: in 2006 over 50% of Roosevelt seniors said they had had a drink in the last 30 days, Hale was at 56%. (This is above the WA state average of 41%) Stat: 30% of Roosevelt seniors reported having drunk 5 or more drinks in a row in the last 2 weeks, for Hale it was 36%.

This is from a survey that students took in the fall of 2006. I got this sobering information from the new NE Coalition against teen drinking.

Hale is not a perfectly safe school - they have plenty of problems with students at the bus stops.

The point is don't believe that a "good" school won't have bad influences. There is no perfectly safe school.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, what have you heard about safety issues at the bus stop at Hale? Just curious as we were planning on sending our son to Hale next year, and want to be on top of things.
What I have heard from a friend is that the problems stem more from Summit/Hale kids getting into it at the mutual bus stop. She said her son had 3 incidents last year where he felt unable to fend off a problem or was afraid of an student who was hassling him. He, in turn, said he's had other friends with these issues. He has had no problems this current school year. My own son graduated from Hale and never felt unsafe.

I was not trying to slam Hale. Many problems need to be address everywhere as all these kids start taking Metro and there is no supervision at the bus stops (and had been somewhat with the yellow buses). This was just one example.
Dan Dempsey said…
Melissa said:

Second, the enrollment plan is going to be overhauled and there will likely end up being fewer south end students being able to access north end schools.
So are we interested in the mandatory partial re-segregation of Seattle?

As long as the SPS continues to use methods and curricular choices that are inappropriate, why will more South End students choose to attend local schools?

The change in the funding formula.
The change in school assignment procedure.
The closing of schools.

I guess we just need to get gentrification into the hyper-gear and get the poor people out of here, it will make things so much more convenient.

Anonymous said…
Don't punish a racial incident with mandatory expulsion and more students would step forward to talk about. The evidence of teenage gangs indicates a racial problem does exist. How can you have 1000's of violent incidents every year being reported and none of them are racial? Why is it that administrators have never had a way of tracking student offenders until this year. My children noticed the difference the first day they stepped into a classroom in Seattle. Minorities know which schools are racist and avoid them. It takes years to integrate communities and its a function of quality in schooling. Your leaders want to take pride in curriculum that prepares most of their graduates for what - high school? Most of the small districts around Seattle, put up picket fences - no racists here, we're all white and proud of our test scores.

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