No doubt there are profound problems with the Seattle School District and its management, but it still kinda irks me when some stodgy old white guy starts pontificating about how crappy our schools are without ever spending any meaningful time in them himself:
Seattle has problems but it prides itself on being a living urban center, a city with rich talent and both a creative and entrepreneurial class. Such places do not have the failing school systems of blighted East Coast cities.
And neither does Seattle.
I’ve lived in a couple of those “blighted East Coast cities” (which FYI, Seattle doesn’t hold a candle to in many ways,) and I can’t imagine subjecting my daughter to the typical inner city school there. By comparison, at least at the elementary school level, Seattle has many more good and great schools than it does failing ones, which is why so many of us parents fought so hard to save our neighborhood schools from closure.
Don’t get me wrong, Seattle Public Schools has plenty of problems, from chronic underfunding to an acute lack of leadership — problems complicated by the fact that like all urban school districts it is tasked with educating some of the most difficult (and expensive) to teach students. But lumping Seattle schools in with say, Philadelphia’s educational disaster, is a lazily facile comparison at best and a harmfully misleading one at worst. It is also insulting to teachers and students… and especially to the parents who choose not to abandon their public schools. In fact, it stinks of patrician snobbery.
And while the Seattle Times and other critics are right that the district needs new leadership, I’m not so sure that handing the reigns over to a city government so timid and consensus driven that it puts bathroom breaks out for a public vote would instill much confidence.
Yeah, well, maybe former Mayor Norm Rice would provide the leadership the district has so desperately craved since the death of John Stanford, and maybe appointing a couple school board members might instill a little professionalism into the mix. (Paying them might not be such a bad idea either.) But haughtily pointing towards low WASL scores tells us nothing, and broadly branding schools as “failures” only drives more families away.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the closure process it’s that WASL tests aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, and that results can be cherry-picked and manipulated to justify nearly any argument. The WASL is transforming our state’s educational system into the public school equivalent of a Stanley Kaplan prep course, and thus the only thing it ends up effectively testing is how well teachers prep students for the test itself. For example, perhaps one of the reasons so many of Seattle’s students do so poorly on the science portion of the WASL is that teachers lack the time and resources to prep for that portion of the test at all?
So far I’m as unimpressed with the creativity and intellectual rigor of most of the district’s critics as I am with the leadership of the district itself. For much of the criticism seems intentionally designed to distract attention away from the elephant in the room — the simple fact that no amount of reform or innovation can give our children the educational opportunity we all profess to want, unless we are willing to adequately fund it.