by Tammy Morales
Rainier Beach High School is well known for its successful basketball program. Recently, students from “The Beach” have also been getting attention for other extracurricular activities, including successfully advocating for ORCA cards for all low income high school students and for winning an Ethics Bowl award. RBHS has also been winning awards for increasing graduation rates and improved test scores, which many credit to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. According to a recent Seattle Times article, the IB program at RBHS was slated to run out of funding in 2017 and the district had not committed to continuing it:
“From the district’s perspective… the plan was always to start IB with grants. The school and local community could carry it from there, said Michael Tolley, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.”
The program was rescued two days ago with the announcement by the Alliance for Education of a three-year grant to help cover costs. The community and the school district credit the program with saving the school from closure. On KPLU, Sara Morris, the president of The Alliance for Education stated, “Rainier Beach is the most important school in the district because it stands for so many things… For equity, for opportunity, for excellence. It’s had its struggles and I think it’s showing itself as a shining light.”
While the funding offers Rainier Beach High School a temporary reprieve, the grant raises another question: Whose responsibility is it to ensure that students in all of the city’s IB programs continue to thrive? Families in high-poverty Title I schools cannot raise $250,000 each year to maintain programs for their students. They should not be expected to. What should Seattle Public Schools, the City of Seattle, and the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Association do to preserve and expand the IB programs at Rainier Beach, Ingraham, and Chief Sealth?
School budgets should reflect our community values. Short-term grants and bake sales are not the solutions our students deserve. The District can’t proclaim a commitment to equity and increased opportunity while launching programs that it has no intention of sustaining.
The entire state is waiting on the legislature to meet its paramount duty to fund a fair school system for everyone. But with the McCleary deadline looming and no clear plans in place, it is incumbent upon the school district and the city to work together to find equitable, sustainable funding solutions for our kids. Our students deserve a real commitment from the City and the District to preserve the IB program and the opportunities it presents.
Parents should demand that the district explore options that would help all three high schools with IB programs. Centralizing expenses could help share the cost of a program coordinator, annual fees, IB curriculum development and the service learning coordination. Holding less money in the District’s reserve could ease the burden across the city and support the schools in a more equitable way. Additionally, the City of Seattle could use supplemental funding from the Family and Education levy to advance the IB program.
Seattle Public Schools must decide if the IB program is or isn’t critical to its vision. If the goal is for every student to receive equitable access to a high quality education and to reduce the opportunity gap, IB seems like a good strategy to get there. IB is an inclusive program that offers challenging courses to all students. The program could be rolled into the advanced learning program, a $4 million program that is based on excluding some students. Instead, it could shift the focus to all students and focus on college readiness and inclusion by embracing the inclusive IB program.
Research shows that IB programs can level the playing field for low-income kids and children of color seeking enrollment in post-secondary education. A study by the IB Program shows that Title I schools that offer IB programs have higher enrollments of Asian/Pacific Islander students (6%) and African American students (24%). Those who take the program’s diploma exam show equal or better college enrollment statistics.
It’s time to stop playing small ball. If the legislature is failing to provide an equitable way to fund our schools, the District and the City need to commit to implementing a plan that works. The community will be watching the Mayor’s new Education Summit Advisory Group to gauge its commitment to action. Our students’ future depends on it.
Tammy Morales is a South Seattle resident and community advocate.
Featured image Wikicommons