Efforts to accelerate achievement and increase opportunity for black males in Seattle schools are important, but should be done within the district existing equity and race relations department.
WORK to improve the academic achievement of black males in Seattle Schools is critically important. Persistently low achievement in this group is a major problem in the state’s largest district.
Recent steps by Seattle Public Schools to address this inequity, the creation of an action plan to accelerate improvements and efforts of a volunteer group of leaders, the African American Male Scholars Think Tank, are all commendable.
Superintendent Larry Nyland should continue working with a committee formed by the think-tank group.
At the same time, the district should reject the group’s request that the administration create a new department to address the needs of black male students. This is not because the issues are not a priority — they absolutely are important. Nor would it diminish the group’s success advocating for change and action.
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But the district already has an Equity and Race Relations Department charged with preventing racial inequity in its schools and administration.
Addressing inequities and closing achievement gaps are central elements of the district’s new action plan for closing opportunity gaps. These are also goals set for Nyland in November, when his compensation was increased to more than $300,000 per year.
Creating another department within the administration with overlapping goals would dilute accountability and delay implementation of these efforts.
The district admits that, for years, it has failed to ensure equal schooling and treatment of all students. That means there’s a performance question that won’t be answered by creating another layer of bureaucracy. Institutional problems aren’t fixed by enlarging the institution.
It’s also problematic to create a new department to serve students of a particular race and gender. This cannot be sidestepped by carefully wording goals and titles.
If the district has that kind of money available, why not fund the International Baccalaureate program at Rainier Beach High School instead? It improved achievement, performance, morale and retention at a predominantly black school previously known for violence and high dropout rates. Yet the district waffled on providing $400,000 per year to sustain this proven success.
As the district continues its important work to remedy disparate outcomes and ensure equal opportunity for all students, it should support programs that succeed and seek better performance from those that are falling short.