Op-Ed: Seattle Must Address Root Causes of Education Disparities

by Pamela L. Banks, Estella Ortega, David Beard, Erin Okuno, and Roxana Norouzi

In early 2016, we were invited to join the Advisory Group for the Mayor’s Education Summit. We joined a broad stakeholder group to think innovatively about how to close opportunity and achievement gaps holding back students of color, especially African American/Black, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and immigrants and refugees.

As the Advisory Group wraps up our work, we hope the Mayor and the City will implement strategies that will close opportunity and achievement gaps, focusing on students and communities of color, and work to undo institutional and systemic racism existing in our educational systems.

We thank Mayor Murray, the City of Seattle, Seattle Public Schools, and the many other community and educational institutions for being bold in re-envisioning education in Seattle. Now we want to see this vision become a reality for students of color.

Over the past months the Advisory Group members hosted and attended community listening sessions, participated in the Mayor’s Education Summit, and reviewed community comments. As we worked through the data one thing became clear, as a city we want the best for our children and we want families to thrive; to achieve this:

  • We need to address the racial opportunity and achievement gaps holding back too many students of color, especially African American/Black students.
  • We need to confront the fact that racism exists and it shows up in the disparity between which children receive quality educational and support services and which children won’t.
  • As a community, we need to prioritize programs addressing systemic inequities and eliminate these unjust disparities.
  • We need our education system to make major shifts to reflect our vibrant and changing demographic and cultivate the strengths and assets of our children of color in order to close these racial gaps.

The recommendations coming out of the Advisory Group are extensive. Realistically they cannot all be implemented at the same time with the limited resources available. We are pleased the Advisory Group included implementation guidelines to steer the city in prioritizing and selecting strategies. Within these guidelines are commitments to using a racial equity lens, evaluating monetary decisions with the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative budget filter, and building stronger and better feedback loops with communities of color. We will continue to work with the city to utilize the implementation guidelines.

The city has an opportunity to support collaborative work between institutions and undo practices that uphold institutional and systemic racism. It has been over 25 years since the city held an education summit. Out of this 2016 summit comes an opportunity to invest in new and existing successful strategies to address the root causes of our educational disparities.

Many of the recommendations are existing programs or projects that are successful, such as health clinics in schools, afterschool and summer learning opportunities, and birth-to-three services thus growing the City’s commitment to our earliest learners. The hard part will be deciding which strategies will actually help to close opportunity and achievement gaps.

We encourage the Mayor to share information, decision making, and open city government in new and unprecedented ways. It’s crucial for the city to prioritize the perspectives and recommendations from communities of color until opportunity gaps are closed.

As we wrap up our time on the Advisory Group we encourage the city and Mayor to continuously seek feedback and input from the community. We need to continue the dialogue we started. Continuous community engagement will deepen and strengthen partnerships, which in turn will bring new thinking forward.

While we know change is slow, we also know all children; especially children of color cannot wait. We are hopeful the work put into this process will yield positive changes.

Pamela L. Banks is the President & CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle
Estella Ortega is the Executive Director of El Centro de la Raza
David Beard is the Policy and Advocacy Director of School’s Out Washington
Erin Okuno is the Executive Director of Southeast Seattle Education Coalition
Roxana Norouzi is the Director of Education & Integration Policy for OneAmerica

Featured image courtesy of the Office of the Mayor

2 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Seattle Must Address Root Causes of Education Disparities”

  1. Some of the recommendations from this committee made no sense at all. For example, their suggestion that the district expand the language immersion program when there is absolutely no data on the efficacy of that program.

    1. Charlie — You claim there is no efficacy to the program, do you have evidence providing it is harmful or ineffective? Please share this credible source of information. Without evidence your claim is baseless.