Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat and I don’t always see eye to eye on education. During the school closure process we got into quite a heated email exchange in which I accused him of failing to question the assumptions and data put forth by the district, and he accused me of myopic NIMBYism. We both thought the parent revolt I was engaged in would likely end up undermining the entire closure process. On that count, we were both wrong.
But I wouldn’t have argued so passionately with Danny if I didn’t respect his opinion, and so it is gratifying to see us both on the same side of the manufactured debate over a proposed city takeover of Seattle schools: “Schools in crisis? Not really.”
Danny is sick of being told that he’s sending his kids to “a collapsing institution run by dysfunctional boobs,” but unlike most of the district’s critics, who seem content to back up their arguments with hyperbole and stereotypes, Danny decided to actually look at the numbers. He compared test scores from districts in the state’s ten largest cities, and what did he find?
Seattle high-schoolers rank 3rd in reading, behind only Bellevue and Federal Way. Seattle scores five points above the state average in math, ahead of Federal Way, Renton, Auburn, Enumclaw, Mukilteo and Lake Stevens… and 22 points better than Tacoma. As Danny writes, “If we’re in crisis, Tacoma’s schools must have cracked off and fallen into the sea.”
And what of the vaunted Bellevue schools that so many former urban families have abandoned Seattle for? Well, they’re great. If you’re rich.
Math and reading scores for low-income elementary kids in Seattle have doubled since 1998, and now are higher than scores for low-income kids in Bellevue — even though this at-risk group makes up 40 percent of the student body in Seattle, and 20 percent in Bellevue.
The schools themselves simply aren’t “blighted” or in “crisis.” Some are great and some aren’t, which isn’t good enough. But what they need is constructive help, not broad-brush insults.
The mayor and the former mayor and the editorial board for this newspaper ought to back off. My kid goes to a Seattle public school, and from where I sit you all are starting to do more harm than good.
The only thing I’d add is that it is the disparity between the great, the good and the not-so-good schools that is really at the heart of most of the district’s problems. It is this issue that I intend to focus on in future posts.