The Real Issue at Horace Mann

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Let me begin by setting a foundation. EVERYONE agrees that African-American students have been mis-educated by Seattle Public Schools and by public school districts across the nation. Black students have been presented with inadequate and inappropriate academic opportunities, they have been denied equitable access to programs and services, they have been disproportionately disciplined and disproportionately referred to Special Education. The outcomes have been academic under-performance, the “school to prison pipeline”, and the continued economic and political disenfranchisement of a significant portion of our nation’s people. It has been a tragic shame. It has been happening since the start and it is continuing. It is an ongoing emergency that urgently demands a response.

No one disputes this. Well, no informed and responsible person disputes it. This is not to say that other members of our community have not also suffered, but no one’s suffering negates anyone else’s. We are not here to negate or discount anyone else’s oppression or to determine relative suffering. That is a fruitless pursuit.

Following the occupation of the Horace Mann building the District formed a Task Force to discuss the various issues. At the meetings of this Task Force the District has acknowledged their failure, but they continue to refuse to directly and meaningfully address the problem. They have stonewalled the Africatown community. They have not indicated any willingness to change a single thing they are doing to improve outcomes for African-American students. Despite the fact that Seattle Public Schools has claimed that closing the academic achievement gap is their top priority for over a decade, the District has never made a plan to achieve that goal. And refuses to make such a plan now.

The District has proposed the creation of an Advisory Committee. It is unclear how this Advisory Committee will be any different from the previous Advisory Committees that have been convened over the past several years. All of those other Committees met, discussed, and made recommendations. Those recommendations were accepted with great fanfare and then immediately and persistently ignored. Advisory Committees are clearly not the path to improvement. Anyone who thinks that it will be different this time isn’t paying attention to history. There is no reason to believe that it will be different this time. None at all.

Here’s the funny thing. Everyone knows what needs to be done. It’s not a secret. It’s not a mystery. The solutions are well-documented. There are examples of success that can be duplicated here. There are the recommendations from the previous Task Forces and Advisory Committees that can still be implemented. The answers are known.

That’s where we are. It’s an abridged version, but all of the critical elements are there. Surely there is no one who is satisfied with this situation. Surely everyone is on the same side in this conflict. Get it? We’re not arguing among ourselves.

The tactic used by the Africatown community to lend urgency to the crisis has been the occupation of the Horace Mann building. Not everyone is happy with this tactic. Well, if you don’t like that tactic – and there is no need to tell us about how you don’t like it – then please, by all means, suggest something else that can be done to encourage the District leadership to promptly, directly, and meaningfully address the historic and continuing mis-education of African-American students.


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