Jason Rantz, KTTH, June 29, 2022
Seattle Public Schools promises to be “laser-focused” on student achievement in 2022-2023 — so long as the student is black.
The district is hyper-focused on race, an approach that started in 2019. SPS intentionally separates students by race, adopting a philosophy of “targeted universalism,” which argues that if you treat everyone equally, it might deepen inequality between groups. The district’s new $1.14 billion budget, introduced last week and up for a vote on July 6, is built to bolster its three race-based goals. Each one is centered around black boys.
SPS believes black boys are underachieving academically because of “broken systems” that the district vows to fix, “undoing legacies of racism in public education” in the process. But the district’s priorities leave non-black struggling students behind. White students, specifically, are not part of the goal of moving students towards “educational justice” at all.
SPS has outlined three main goals for student outcomes. They are centered around “students of color,” but the 2019-2023 strategic goal is “laser-focused” on black boys.
Each goal is meant to help black boys reach higher proficiencies in English language and math, and higher graduation rates, and advanced course enrollment and completion. The district argues black boys are ” furthest away from educational justice,” a nebulous term the district uses as it tries to combat unnamed “legacies of racism” at Seattle public schools.
Though the goals focus on student achievement, the district says they will not try to change students. Instead, it aims to change systems as it becomes “an anti-racist educational system.”
SPS plans to expand an equity program called Kingmakers of Seattle. It’s managed by the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA).
The elective program exclusive to black middle and high school students started at four schools, but quickly expanded across the district.
As part of the program, black students are referred to as “Kings” and the curriculum is meant to affirm their identity.
“Kingmakers is structured around Khepera, an African-centered curriculum that emphasizes studying Black history, increasing literacy, building self-esteem, and offering academic mentoring,” according to the SPS description of the program.
The district’s AAMA was launched in 2019, in conjunction with the district’s race-based five-year strategic plan. The current budget proposal offers $1.2 million allocation to this office.
As the name suggests, AAMA focuses exclusively on black boys and teens. It aims to “reconstruct school systems and structures to meet their unique needs.” Its goal is to “dismantle the systemic racism embedded in the public education system.”
The office works to see black students treated differently than non-black students. They focus on eliminating suspensions and expulsions, replaced by a process for “reconciliation and healing.”
But it also dances around the idea of racially segregated classrooms where black teachers instruct black students.
“We need people who look like our children to be mentors, to be an advocate for them, to run interference for them, to just love on them during the school day,” an AAMA report says.
SPS expanded student access to a number of identity-based courses, including Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, American Indian Studies, and LGBTQIA+ studies.
The district says expanding access was “critical to our racial equity work and the commitment we have made to our community – particularly our students of color.” Though the courses are open to all students, the district website says they are “strongly encouraged for Black and Brown students.”
Why the focus on black boys? Their academic performance is on par with Latino students.
And their share of the population is nearly identical to other races. Black students represent roughly 14% of the student population, on par with Asian (13%) and Latino (13%).