Just 5 percent of students enrolled in Seattle's two advanced-learning pathways are black or Latino, according to 2013 data.
A few months ago, my husband and I — convinced like all doting parents that our kindergartener’s incessant questions meant he might be a young genius — decided to have him tested for Seattle’s advanced learning program.
We’d heard that these classes were pretty close to the rigor of a private-school education. We soon saw the flip side of what that means.
Kids who test into accelerated learning score one or two grade levels ahead of their peers. But the demographics stopped us. As of 2013, more than 4,200 students were enrolled in Seattle’s two accelerated-learning pathways. Fewer than 5 percent were black or Latino.
Moreover, advanced learners remain sequestered with a nearly all-white cohort through middle school, even if their skills slide down to average levels.
Stephen Martin, who runs the program, is well aware of its skewed numbers. This year, he pushed for the district’s latest attempt to address them. Just before spring break, all second graders in high-poverty schools were screened for accelerated classes.
“We expect that this effort will find high-potential students who may not have been referred” previously, Martin said.
Nisha Hochwalt, who volunteered to be the diversity representative on Seattle’s Advanced Learning Task Force, applauds Martin’s efforts, but wants accelerated academics available throughout the city. West Seattle, for instance, has only one Highly Capable Cohort in its elementary schools.
“I thought we could have enriching curricula in all the schools,” she said. “I haven’t quite seen that happen.”
Meanwhile, those who do qualify are faced with a difficult choice. I’ve watched parents wring their hands over what to do when their kids must leave the neighborhood to take advanced classes. One friend kept her children where they were comfortable — without advanced learning — watching as their peers left in droves. By third grade, what remained was a classroom heavily weighted toward students with low skills and high needs.
Schools are more than education-delivery systems. They embody the notion that everybody gets a fair shot, and we’re all in this together. But nothing forces you to confront those ideals like public education.
In our case, such questions are delayed. For now. My son’s teacher was convinced that his third grade-level reading would easily vault him into advanced classes. No dice. The kid, however, couldn’t care less.
“It was boring,” he said of the test. “They made us miss recess, and my thing is moving.”
Related: Read previous “Skin in the Game” posts from Claudia Rowe.