Here is the text from a handout resource that Urban Youth Justice provided to interested community members at the Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative Community Meeting on Race and Education at the New Holly Center on March 12, 2012.
RACE AND EDUCATION IN SEATTLE (RSJI Community Meeting 3/10/12)
The Seattle Public School District has a majority of non-white students of color. (Seattle Public Schools Data Profile: District Summary REA/SISO – 2011)
Most Black/African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander Seattle Public School students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch. (Seattle Public Schools Data Profile: District Summary REA/SISO – 2011)
Native American (25.6%), Black (18.2%) and Latino (19.3%) students are overrepresented in K-12 special education. (Seattle Public Schools Data Profile: District Summary REA/SISO – 2011)
In the Seattle Public School District, Black students overall barely outperform Special Education students overall in Reading/Math test scores. (SPS District Scorecard 2010-2011)
The Seattle Schools Neighborhood Schools Model reinforces and institutionalizes privilege in public education.
The Seattle Public School District is FAILING its Students of Color.
RSJI EQUITY STRATEGY 1: Applying racial equity tools to our programs and projects. Through the Youth and Families Initiative (YFI), the City has realigned spending to meet families’ priorities, and has designed the new Families and Education Levy around YFI’s recommendations. The new Levy, which Seattle voters passed in November of 2011, targets schools with the greatest needs, often meaning significant populations of students of color, for programs aimed at closing the achievement gap.
Urban Youth Justice supports the stated equity goals of the 2011 Families and Education Levy. However, the stated goal of simply “closing the achievement gap” elevates the District’s misguided education reform by “value-added” data driven by test scores that is objectively proven an inadequate measure of learning. The goal of closing the educational opportunity gap is a more comprehensive and effective education goal to increase learning opportunities of students of color and, ultimately, their performance by closing actual learning gaps, not test scores.
Research shows that the educational opportunity gap starts with inequitable pre-K/early learning opportunities for youth of color and other disadvantaged youth. Although the Families and Education Levy plan does provide more funding to pre-K/early learning opportunities, the Levy still fails to sufficiently prioritize pre-K/early learning inequity to a level commensurate with its importance to the overall stated equity goals of the Levy.
We believe that this is due to the incorrect emphasis upon “closing the achievement gap” that shifts the focus solely to raising test scores as the ultimate goal, rather than closing the educational opportunity gap.
Early intervention strategies for students of color must primarily assist students in achieving early learning success, rather than District goals of early identification of special needs that pushes mores students of color out of general education classrooms.
Test score-based education analysis is an inadequate tool to measure and define racial justice in education because it does not identify institutional racial inequality and/or bias that permeates school district curriculum choices, student discipline policies, classroom management practices, and distribution of educational resources that are at the real root of unequal educational opportunity. Also, multiple national scandals have shown that overemphasis of measuring success by test score performance data as can motivate school officials to cheat and fix results due to the high-stakes pressure of test performance tied to funding, school closure, and job security.
Finally, the language of the Levy implementation plan suggests that educational equity for students of color is merely a “soft goal” not one that is strictly required or enforced, either in spending or oversight. The definition of a school’s need for Levy funding is too subjective. There is a danger that these funds will be rerouted based on race and income neutral factors (such as “enrollment pressures”) to benefit historically academically privileged groups. Continued oversight and accountability enforcement are not sufficiently guaranteed and must be monitored by community stakeholders truly committed to educational equality for students of color. Urban Youth Justice has every intention of monitoring the Levy funding for accountability to the stated equity goals.
RSJI EQUITY STRATEGY 2: Building racial equity into citywide policies and initiatives. School discipline policies such as out-of-school suspensions result in students’ missing classroom experiences for extended periods of time. This directly impacts their ability to progress and graduate on time. The Race and Social Justice Community Roundtable has named education as its lead issue and is working with the Seattle School District to revise its policies on school discipline rates.
Urban Youth Justice main priority is ending the racial disproportionality in school discipline that feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. However, the School-to-Prison Pipeline is rooted in more than just school discipline.
The increased disproportionate placement of students of color in special education instead of general education is an already existing problem. There is a real danger of increased special education placement of youth of color with special needs/disabilities outside of general education curriculum and classrooms as long as “value-added” data analysis based on test performance is not identified as a negative factor in the Seattle Schools’ failure to provide equal educational opportunity.
Furthermore, there is a lack of attention to the fact that students of color with special needs or labeled as special education students are also at increased risk of disproportionate suspensions and expulsions from school discipline. Increased scrutiny of student discipline when both race and disability intersect is crucial to decreasing racial disparities in school discipline. Urban Youth Justice is uniquely focused on this area of advocacy.
RSJI EQUITY STRATEGY 3: Partnering with community. The Race and Social Justice Community Roundtable is partnering with Washington Community Action Network and other Roundtable members to promote a statewide legislative agenda on racial equity in education, and to develop strategies to eliminate disproportionality in school discipline rates.
Urban Youth Justice supports promotion of positive statewide legislative policy. In its 2011-12 session, the Washington State Legislature has introduced a legislative agenda that is openly hostile to youth of color and other disadvantaged youth. The corporate supported education reformers have influenced budgetary cuts, charter bills, test-based teacher evaluation models and juvenile justice cuts that are openly hostile to most vulnerable students of color. Data driven measurements that overemphasize measuring teacher performance based on high stakes testing promotes the school pushout of students of color, especially those struggling academically or having difficulty due to special needs or disability. Urban Youth Justice also supports holding the Seattle School Board and City Council accountable for racial disparities in Seattle public education beyond their participation in the RSJI Roundtable.
Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. He has been defeating the school-to-prison pipeline since 2004, including coordinating the largest successful mass student defense to-date (Round Rock, Texas 2006-2007).