School closings and restructurings naturally bring out the worst impulses in people. The desire to protect and preserve the familiar, even if it is somehow not to standard, is a strong one – who are these outsiders to judge our school? Our community? Are all schools being subjected to equally applied scrutiny?
Well, in the current round of proposed Seattle school closures, a lot of people feel that the answer is no, standards are being unevenly applied. Many of the proposed changes appear to disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods. They also appeared to target city-wide, alternative schools, such as The Boy’s.
If you’ve been following along, you know that The Boy attends
Dr. X’s Home for Wayward Mutants the school district’s Accelerated Progress Program, which serves ‘highly capable’ students. A long-standing (and valid) critique of APP is that African Americans are underrepresented in the program. IIRC, the numbers break down something like this: kids from majority white neighborhoods who qualify for APP enroll at more or less an 80% rate, kids from majority Asian neighborhoods enroll at over 90%, and qualifying kids from majority African American neighborhoods enroll at slightly over 50%. It averages out to 80-ish% from each sector of the city, but clearly something is askew. Given the high correlation between socio-economic status and IQ scores, APP skews towards the affluent as well, with under 10% of the student body qualifying for free or reduced-cost lunches, compared to a district-wide average of about 40%.
Well, one of the proposals made during the current closure/restructuring plan was that APP should be split into two cohorts. Students from northern parts of the city would form one cohort, students from the central and southern parts the other. Both cohorts would be located in under-performing schools, both of which have majority African American populations. (To put it into perspective, the APP PTA typically raises 20 times as much money as the PTAs from either of these other schools.)
I’m sure you can see where this is heading… This went back and forth and back and forth, with additional proposals being made (one of which would have merged the northern APP students with students from another affluent, white school and left the southern students with the poor, black school – um, guys? you would have been lucky to even reach ‘separate but equal’ under that plan) until finally a compromise of sorts was hammered out.
As it stands now, some parents support the split; a few strongly, but most have been lukewarm but willing to give it a try. An apparent majority of parents are loudly and militantly opposed to it outright, and have said some ugly and clumsy things in the process of preventing the split. I think that most have been said out of ignorance and arrogance than out-and-out, full-throated racism, but the cumulative picture isn’t pretty: APP parents are coming across as spoiled, whiny, rich brats who resent having their white privilege threatened.
And then yesterday, the KUOW interview happened:
Rose Sanders knows what the Seattle School Board is going to vote on this Thursday (1/29): Her advanced program at Lowell Elementary, and the superintendent’s idea to split it. “The north end kids are gonna stay at the Lowell building, and the south end kids are gonna have to go to Thurgood Marshall. Nobody in my class is happy about that, except for me,” said Rose. Rose is a south end kid. She’s nine years old. The split of the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) is part of the superintendent’s school closure plan. Most parents who’ve testified at board meetings are angry about it. KUOW’s Phyllis Fletcher asked Rose why she likes the idea.
Why does she like the idea? In part because of comments like “[Y]ou’re not doing your work, so why don’t you just go back to your old stupid black school” from another student.
Now aint’ we got fun?
To be sure, the experiences reported by Rose don’t square with what I’ve seen in our three years there, but then again there haven’t been a whole lot of brown-skinned kids in The Boy’s classes. Rose’s story feels true. Unpleasant, but true. And as a result, the APP community is in damage-control/pushback mode (I sent a thank-you email to the reporter – I thought it was a good and necessary story, and I can only imagine the shit she’s being subjected to right now.).
When the initial plan was proposed, I wanted to find a local, African American perspective on the split, preferably online because, well, I’m a geek. Good luck with that – there are black Seattle voices online, but very few were discussing the school situation, and almost none were willing to engage the issue beyond reporting the basic facts. I did find one site willing to deal with the racial issues head on – Sable Verity. Throughout the process, her site has been a good additional perspective, which is why I was really disappointed to read this there today:
[T]his kind of behavior [(the blowback)] is exactly the kind of thing that is so wrong with the APP program. The attitude and mentality. They refuse to accept the fact that they take advantage of a system and a program that is not inclusive and that is not culturally competent, despite having a special committee with that token word “diversity” in the title.
When adults can’t see past their self righteousness, all of the kids suffer the considquences. [sic]
Here’s the problem: it’s not a ‘they’ issue, it’s a ‘we’ issue. How do we as a city-wide community make APP more accessible to the 50% of qualified black students who opt not to attend? How do we as parents from all over the city fix this? Do we even know what ‘fixed’ looks like? Are we talking ‘fixed’ like your leaky radiator, or ‘fixed’ like your cat? I’m a programmer, dammit – give me some specs or a requirements doc, and I can work with them. Until then, what can we do?
Nothing. We’re left with muddling along without an adequate response, to the bureaucracy, to the valid criticisms, to the bullshit and self-righteousness from both sides. Our kids and our community deserve better, and that’s something only we can provide.
All of us.