Author Archive: I AM AN EDUCATOR

Recess in Seattle: How We Won the Right to Play

RBy Jesse Hagopian — Originally Published by The Progressive

Photos by Sarah Lang

It was May of 2014. I had just picked up my son from his wonderful play-based preschool, and, as we headed home, I turned on the radio. Usually, my son would demand that I “turn off the boring news” and put on his favorite break beats for the ride home—and usually he’d get his way. But this time, a story in a series called “No Time for Play” by public radio education reporter Anne Dornfeld grabbed my son’s attention when he heard her start talking about a study showing recess times in Seattle Public Schools were shrinking.

We learned that when the study began four years earlier, only one Seattle school reported an average recess time of 20 minutes or less per day. During the 2013-2014 school year, some 11 schools offered such paltry recess (and it’s only gotten worse since then). Anne’s story pointed out that the schools with the least amount of recess had high concentrations of students of color and low-income students.

Because my son’s preschool educated me about the incredible value of play in childhood development, this news distressed me in the same way a kid feels when he is held in from recess on a sunny day. Also, with my son entering kindergarten in the Seattle Public Schools the next fall, I knew I had to do something about it.

I began by doing a survey of the research on the benefits of recess for childhood development, and it was definitive. Among many benefits, free play is critical to children developing skills I believe are the most important for young children to develop: cooperating, sharing, and solving problems.

Then I looked at trends in recess time around the country. What I discovered was similar to the experience of watching a kid pull back an Elmo Band-aid to reveal a festering skinned knee from falling on the asphalt. Seattle was following a national trend in reducing recess time in primary grades as school districts bend to federal mandates to raise test scores.

I had been organizing for some time against destructive high-stakes standardized testing and the policies of the No Child Left Behind act, Race to the Top, and the Common Core standards that have been used to promote test-and-punish schooling. But my activism took on new meaning when I discovered that, according to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, as many as 40 percent of school districts in the United States have reduced recess since the implementation of No Child Left Behind act.

I used this research to inform a resolution I brought to my union, the Seattle Education Association (SEA), calling on our union to form a joint task force with the Seattle Public Schools to work on expanding recess across the district. The motion passed overwhelmingly. Even though there was never any follow through—the task force never happened—raising the issue in the union helped to raise awareness of the issue.

Next, I wrote an op-ed that was published in the Seattle Times that outlined the disappearance of recess in Seattle, summarized the research on the benefits of free play, and publicized the educators’ vote in support of expanded recess. I concluded with:

Controlled experiments by researchers Catherine Bohn-Gettler and Anthony Pellegrini show that recess improves children’s attention to academic tasks. Moreover, recess is a critical factor in a student’s social and emotional well-being. Recess facilitates children’s social development by allowing for cooperation and conflict resolution during unstructured free play, critical for helping children develop the necessary qualities for strong friendships….As another school year gets under way, remember the words of Albert Einstein: ‘Play is the highest form of research.’ My 5-year-old is set to begin a grand research endeavor.

Let our kids play.”

What happened in the next few days was as joyous as a spontaneous game of leapfrog on the playground. When Whittier Elementary School announced plans to reduce the combined lunch and recess time from 40 minutes to 30, parents and students there set a new social movement in motion when they voiced their objection. Their protest gained important media attention.

“My younger elementary student was coming home cranky with an uneaten lunch. So I looked into her schedule and it was 15 minutes to eat, followed by 15 minutes recess,” Whittier parent Sarah Lang told me later. “This was shocking for me, a child of the ’70s in Europe. I had always used the term ‘lunch hour’ and presumed that was standard. Parents drop their kids off at school trusting that they will be cared for, that they will have their basic human needs met with time to eat and play, but this was not the case and we were completely unaware.”

Then Jana Robins, a mom at Leshi Elementary School, began a petition for more recess time, which quickly garnered hundreds of signatures from parents across Seattle. Jana wrote about her decision to launch this petition:

“The ‘No Time to Play’ news story highlighted the huge inequity of recess time across the school district, with schools of highest need having the least amount of recess. Jesse Hagopian published an op-ed in the Seattle Times also decrying the recess inadequacies and inequities. Quickly it became clear that this was a district led problem that needed a district led solution. Bolstered by the similar sentiments of other Seattle Public School families, and the clear evidence of child experts touting the benefits of outdoor recess, we decided to give voice to all the students, parents, teachers, and medical professionals by launching the Save Seattle Recess petition calling for a district-wide recess policy.”

Next, Whittier parent Deb Escher hosted a meeting of parents from both ends of the city to launch a new organization, Lunch and Recess Matter. We all discussed how to best organize to make ample time to eat and play a reality in the Seattle Public Schools. With our new organization formed, parents got right to work defending play.

Parents’ research discovered that Seattle Public Schools policy H61.01 states, “Meal periods shall be long enough for students to eat and socialize—a minimum of 20 minutes to eat lunch with additional time as appropriate for standing in line.”  This was a vindication of the assertion parents made that students at the end of long lunch lines—the longest in schools with a high percentage of free and reduced lunch—weren’t getting enough time to eat.

Parents also discovered there were no policies protecting recess. Parents demanded meetings with district officials to question why there wasn’t a policy, and it became clear recess was not valued on its own merits—seen as just extra time, perhaps partly to give teachers their required 30 minutes of lunch.

The research team also discovered that the neighboring school district of Tacoma did have a recess policy in place, which gave everyone confidence that it was not impossible to achieve.

Parents began contacting local community organizations and building awareness through social media. The also started a Lunch and Recess Matter Facebook page which quickly garnered thousands of members.

Then, the parent, student, and teacher organizing game climbed to new heights. We planned our first rally for lunch and recess at the November 5, 2014 school board meeting. TV cameras rolled and the press clicked off photos of young kids and their parents in the lobby of the Seattle school district headquarters waving green sings that read, “Let them play!” “Let them eat!” and “Equal lunch.”

One young redheaded boy, whose green poster board had an adorable smile scrawled on it, held up the message, “I don’t have time to chew.”  One upper elementary girl had a green heart painted on her check, and the sign in her hand read, “We heart Recess.”  The pure elation of these kids protest-playing made for the happiest demonstration I have ever been to.

When the school board meeting was gaveled in, the parent and student testimony was explosive.

One parent reveled that an audit conducted by parents in the Lunch and Recess Matter group over the last couple of weeks found some 50 schools in Seattle did not adhere to their own policy requiring a minimum of 20 min of time to eat. One Parent described how, at one school, students at the back of the lunch line had only five minuets to scarf their food before the bell rang.

I began my remarks to the board by quoting Fred Rogers (or Mr. Rogers, as he was popularly known on his TV show) who said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” And I went on to explain how the reduction of recess is correlated to the pressures of high-stakes testing that have come to dominate education.

A student from a south end elementary school talked about recess, the wiggles, and how much fun it is to play. Another parent delivered over 1,600 signatures that were collected (at the time) on the Save Recess petition.

The most powerful testimony came from a parent who was an African immigrant. He gave a first hand account of what it feels like to be starving and told the school board it was unacceptable that his son didn’t receive enough time to eat and is then asked to throw away his food. He relayed to the board that he told his son that he was not allowed to throw the food away and a teacher would have to do it for him. He demanded that the school district allow his son the time he needed not to waste food.

That winter, the organizing effort continued. Students at one school organized their own petition and got all the kids to sign it. Parents continued to demand answers from district officials, to organize, and to conduct research.

All of that pressure resulted in the Head of Nutrition Services for Seattle public schools to ask a cohort of University of Washington Nutritional Sciences Masters Students to study plate waste and nutritious food consumption as it relates to the amount of time to eat at eight schools with high reduced lunch populations in Seattle.

“Their findings were what you would expect,” Robbins told me. “Schools with the longest amounts of ‘seated’ time to eat had the highest consumption of healthy foods, and the least amount of plate waste.”  Schools with recess before lunch also had healthier food consumption and less waste. These observations also supported our claims that students do not get nearly 20 minutes to eat lunch. One of the schools they observed had as little as 7 minutes seated time to eat. The average time across the 8 schools was 13 minutes.

With much more evidence and support, the Lunch and Recess Matter group organized another protest in March of 2015 to keep the pressure on the district. This time that joyous feeling from the first meeting was replaced with the hardened determination of a kid staring down a bully. Parents were now exasperated with a school district that had shown it was willing to disregard its own lunchtime requirement and talked in vague generalities about the “possibility” of adopting a recess policy—in three years or so.

The end of last school year concluded with many of the parents in Lunch and Recess Matter dispirited. Parents had expected that once they showed the school district how they were violating their own policies and proposed solutions, the district would find ways to remedy the situation. Instead parents felt stymied. Intentionally.

Then over the summer, the Seattle Education Association revealed a ground breaking set of demands it was pushing for in contract negotiations with the district that included forming race and equity teams in every school, reducing the use of high-stakes standardized testing, and…a demand of 45 minutes recess in every elementary school.

The school district waited until late August to reply to these proposals and then rejected each without comment. With only a few days before school was supposed to start, a strike looked imminent. The SEA organized a general membership meeting of all the educators in Seattle where they voted unanimously to authorize a strike should the school district not capitulate.

And then it happened.

On Saturday, September 5, the union’s negotiating team announced that the school district had backed down and agreed to a minimum of 30 minutes of recess in every elementary school.  It was “sleepless in Seattle” for many of us who celebrated “recess Seattle” that evening.

While the district’s concession wasn’t the 45 minutes the union had demanded, and is short of what students deserve, and not in compliance with state law, it was clearly a victory for the relentless organizing done by parents, students, and teachers during the prior year.

As elementary school teacher and SEA bargaining team member Michael Tamayo told me, “The most important action was for people out in the community to work with our union to craft enforceable contract language and to keep the issue in the public’s eye.”

Because the school district didn’t back down on the rest of SEA’s demands, the union did organize its 5,000 members on a weeklong strike that gained massive community support and won a groundbreaking contract. Thousands of parents joined in solidarity with the teachers, including the celebrated Soup for Teachers group that brought sustenance and solidarity to picket lines at every school in the district. Student marching bands used their pep-band anthems to cheer on striking educators, and local businesses donated to the picket lines.

In the end, the unity of parents and educators won a contract that included race and equity teams in 30 schools, an end to the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, a cap on the amount of students for school psychologists and other Education Support Associates—and, of course, the precious 30 minutes of recess.

We are still fighting for a policy to make recess happen before lunch so that there isn’t the pressure to eat too fast to squeeze in a few minutes of recess. We are still fighting for an adequate amount of lunchtime. And we know our kids could use even more recess. A recent follow-up story by reporter Dornfeld found that in the early 1960s, Seattle Public schools offered as much as 95 minutes of lunch and recess time. So, in many ways, our movement has just begun.

To be sure, we achieved a real victory, but not one exclusively found in the sub-clauses of the contract. When the school year finally started after the five-day strike delay, my son began the first grade. Of course I asked him that first day back how recess went. He told me that on the playground he had tried to learn how to walk on top of a giant ball, like some of the older kids on the school acrobatic team. He told me the big kids were helping him, but he wasn’t going to be able to learn how to ball walk this year because, “It’s just too scary.”

Last week when I got home, my son came running to the door yelling, “I walked on top of the ball today Daddy, I wasn’t scared!”

The real victory was in all of us—children and adults alike—learning about the power of collaboration in creating confidence. That kind of collective confidence can lead to breakthroughs on the playground and in education policy.

Jesse Hagopian is Seattle Fellow of the Progressive Education Fellows

Education Secretary Duncan Steps Down!: Raise a toast with me this evening, and let’s drink to downfall of the whole testocracy

Arne Duncan has been one of the most destructive forces to public education in the history of our country.

Duncan was appointed by President Obama as the Secretary of Education, but his real role has been “testocracy tsar”–as his signature policies of Race to the Top and Common Core have been singularly focused on promoting high-stakes, standardized test-and-punish policies in service of the privatization and charterization of the public schools.  One of the most cruel aspects of Duncan’s legacy was his pronouncement that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans”–coupled with his celebration of the fact that because of Katrina, 100 percent of the New Orleans schools were converted to charter schools. Duncan’s initiatives have been designed to reduce the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single score that can be used to close schools, fire teachers, stop students from graduating, and siphon more and more money out of the public schools towards privatized charter operators.

For that reason, I hope you will raise a toast with me this evening–let’s say at 6pm Pacific time, and make it a collective action–at Duncan’s announcement today that he will step down from his post in December.

To be sure, the proposed replacement for Duncan, John King, will only serve as a new testocracy tsar with a proven track record of supporting corporate education reform.  As Long Island opt out leader Jeanette Deutermann said of John King when he stepped down as head of the New York State Education Department,

For the past few years we have endured an education commissioner that has repeatedly ignored our pleas for help. He has heard our stories of our children suffering as a result of the Board of Regent’s corporate reform agenda, and replied, “full steam ahead.”

Still, it’s worth marking the departure of Duncan–someone whose policies have damaged so many children across the country–as we continue planning to do away with the testocracy all together.

During the summer of 2010, several other educators and I obtained an in person meeting with Secretary Duncan–so when I say that I am celebrating his departure, I base that not only on having followed Duncan very closely in the news, but also on how he failed to adequately answer my direct challenge to him about how his policies were designed to favor corporate reformers over children.  When Secretary Duncan came to deliver a speech in my home state of Washington, I joined a throng of protesting teachers who picked his appearance and his corporate reform policies.  As we rallied outside the high school, the event planners grew nervous that we would disrupt this stage-managed affair. They offered us a meeting with Duncan in exchange for our polite behavior during his address. We agreed, and after the event were escorted to a nearby classroom for the meeting.  Those thirty or so minuets with the Secretary sealed my understanding of just how hurtful his policies are.

Check out the essay I wrote, “Schooling Arne Duncan,” that details our encounter with the Secretary.  Then raise your glass with me.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Schooling Arne Duncan by Jesse Hagopian

“Hi, Arne. My name is Jesse Hagopian.”

As I locked eyes and firmly shook hands, I wondered if my years of teaching would be enough to help the freshman Secretary of Education gain the knowledge and skills he would need.

[read the rest of the story on Common Dreams, at: ]

The Education of Jesse Hagopian

Erin Middlewood, writing for The Progressive magazine, flew out to Seattle just before the end of the last school year. She spent an afternoon with me in my classroom and then accompanied me that evening to our Black Student Union senior awards banquet that my students had organized to honor our graduating black leaders.

Below is the link to the essay Erin wrote, “The Education of Jesse Hagopian” about my political development and activism.  Most importantly, the essay focuses on the intersection of the opt out movement against high-stakes testing and the Black Lives Matter movement.  It is my hope that these two movements increasingly unite into a great social force that can transform public education and bring down the institutions of racism.

A Seattle police officer pepper sprays Jesse Hagopian at a Martin Luther King Day rally.

By Erin Middlewood
Pepper spray seared Jesse Hagopian’s face and tears streamed from his eyes. He had just given a speech at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, on January 19 in Seattle. In keeping with tradition, the thirty-third annual event began in the gymnasium of Garfield High School, where Hagopian himself attended school and now teaches history. He presented plaques to students who were leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. After the ceremony, 10,000 people marched toward downtown.

The Seattle Educators’ Strike for Social Justice: Groundbreaking victories and so much more to fight for

The Seattle Educators’ Strike for Social JusticeIMG_3520

On Sunday evening, thousands of Seattle Education Association members gathered in a general membership meeting and voted to approve a new contract with the Seattle Public Schools. This vote officially ended the strike by Seattle educators, which began on September 10, 2015, and interrupted the first five days of school.

This new contract contains many hard fought wins for social justice that the school district said it would never grant. These groundbreaking victories are against the abuses of high-stakes standardized testing, for more recess, and for race and equity teams in the schools are a dramatic departure from our previous  broken model of collective bargaining and hold the potential to transform educator unionism in the nation. Yet the contract also contained some needless concessions to corporate style reforms—including succumbing to the district’s disrespectful pay raise offer, raising caseloads for some special education teachers, extending the school day and reducing teacher planning time—that could have been avoided if the union had kept the picket lines up for a few days longer and organized mass mobilizations.

But the most important outcome of this contract negotiation won’t be found in the fine print of the agreement. The true triumph of this contract battle was the achievement of solidarity—between teachers, office professionals, nurses, school librarians, instructional assistants, parents, and community organizations—in the struggle for the public schools.

Thousands of parents joined in solidarity with the teachers, including the celebrated “Soup for Teachers” group that formed to bring sustenance and solidarity to picket lines at every school in the district. The Coalition for the Schools Seattle Deserves united community organizations and joined the great Kimya Dawson to host a benefit concert to raise funds for the striking teachers.  The Seattle City Council, led by councilmember Kshama Sawant, passed a unanimous resolution in support of the strike. Marching band students used their pep-band anthems to root on striking educators, and local businesses donated to the picket lines.  Even the mainstream media regularly reported that parents were in support of the strike and that the educators were winning. There can be no doubt that this strike was overwhelmingly supported by the people in the Seattle area–except, perhaps, for the regions’ wealthiest resident, Bill Gates, who has invested his fortune in schemes to privatize education and reduce our schools to test prep centers.

So many of the union’s social justice demands were advanced in the current strike and negotiations–creating a compelling model for educators around the country who believe in social justice unionism.

IMG_3560We won an end to the use of standardized tests scores being used in teacher evaluations, the so-called “student growth rating”—a huge blow to the testocracy in Seattle and across the country. This victory clearly comes out of the years long struggle of educators, students, and parents in Seattle who have taken bold action to oppose these tests. In 2013, the teachers at Garfield voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress test and the boycott spread to some six other schools. Last year in Seattle, every single 11th grader at both Nathan Hale and Center school opted out of the SBAC common core test—joining some 60,000 other opt out across the state.

Our victory for a guaranteed minimum of 30 minutes recess in every elementary school is perhaps the first of its kind in the country. A story from a local NPR station in the spring of 2014 exposed the vanishing recess time in the Seattle Public Schools and showed how schools that served low-income students and students of color were particularly recess deficient. All last year I worked with a city-wide organization called “Lunch and Recess Matter,” that organized, petitioned, and rallied for the right to eat and play. This is a concrete victory for a research driven reform that has been shown to be vital for the social and emotional development of children.

We also won enforceable caseload caps for our Educational Support Associates (ESAs), such as school psychologists and speech language pathologists—a victory for vital services to support some of our most vulnerable students.

One of the most important gains for public education in this contract was the creation of race and equity teams. The Seattle Education Association advocated for every one of the Seattle Public Schools to have such a team to tackle issues of institutional racism–and in so doing won the support of many Black Lives Matter activists, including Seattle NAACP members, who issued a statement supporting the strike. The Seattle school district originally said they would only agree to having these teams in six schools. However, the power of the strike pushed the district to agree to allow thirty schools to have these anti-racist committees. Given that the Seattle schools have been found to suspend African American students at four times the rate of white students for the same infractions, it is clear that every school in the city needs to organize actively against inequality and racism.

With this visionary set of demands and the overwhelming support of the parents, students, community, and even city officials, it is truly disappointing that the union ended the strike before we achieved all we could at the bargaining table. Seattle has the fastest rising cost of rent and is among the top ten in highest cost of living in the nation. Educators have not had a cost of living increase in six years, and are increasingly unable to live in the city where we teach. It was a mistake to agree to 3% raise the first year, a 2% raise the second, and a 4.5 % raise the third, which won’t do much to even off set our rising cost of healthcare. With this contract, nurses in the Seattle Public schools will still have to split their time between several schools and can’t possibly provide the care that our students deserve. We achieved lower student to teacher ratios in some preschool and Distinct special education programs, but increased the special education “Access” programs caseload by 30%, going from 10:1:3 to 13:1:3 (student:teacher:instructional assistant). With the current ratios the Access students are able to participate in the general education curriculum and setting with support, however the new ratios put that inclusion model in jeopardy and will overwhelm Access case managers. We also submitted to the district’s demand to lengthen the school day by 20 minutes, which will reduce teacher planning time. There is no definitive evidence that a longer day produces better student outcomes, but we do know it will increase the burden on educators.

IMG_3513The fact that the union never organized a mass rally to bring the maximum pressure on the district was really disappointing. I know that if the union had organized a demonstration with all of our 5,000 members, many thousands of parents would have joined us and the pressure would have been enough to get us big gains on all the major issues we were fighting for. This reality reveals that the key to building the power we need to achieve the schools our children deserve will be in combining social justice demands with a social movement unionism approach that seeks the full mobilization of the membership and the community in pursuit of those demands.

All that said, I also know our strike has already gone a long way in transforming our union, city politics, and the labor movement for the better. So many educators, parents, students, and community members, in Seattle and around the nation, understand the issues that we face in education so much better as a result of this struggle. With so many more parents made aware of the dangers of over-testing by this strike, the opt out movement in Seattle will be truly massive this spring. The issue of disproportionate discipline as a component of the school-to-prison-pipeline has now been exposed in our city and I believe this will help embolden the Black Lives Matter movement in the coming months. So many in our city have been made aware of the need to fully fund our schools at the state level and I believe teachers, parents, and students will collaborate more than ever in challenging the state legislature to live up to its constitutional duty to amply provide the resources needed to run our schools.

As the Social Equality Educators—a rank and file organization of educators in Seattle—recently wrote, “The sleeping giant of our union has awoken from its slumber and begun to stretch its muscles. SEA members showed a tremendous amount of creativity and courage on the picket lines.” When our union fully commits to using this newfound strength, the corporate reform bullies will be once and for all chased out of the schoolyard.


Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School–the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013–and is an associate editor for the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine.  Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers: “We are in full support” of the Seattle educator strike!


Students joined the picket line to make their voices heard

The 5,000 members of the Seattle Education Association led a five-day strike that was nothing short of transformative of our education system and our city.  Thousands of parents joined in solidarity with the teachers, including the celebrated “Soup for Teachers” group that formed to bring sustenance and solidarity to picket lines at just about every school in the district.  The Coalition for the Schools Seattle Deserves united community organizations and joined Kimya Dawson to host a benefit concert to raise funds for the striking teachers.  The Seattle City Council, led by councilmember Kshama Sawant, passed a unanimous resolution in support of the strike.  Marching band students used their pep-band anthems to root on striking educators.  There can be no doubt that this strike was overwhelming supported by the people in the Seattle area–except, perhaps, for the regions’ wealthiest resident, Bill Gates, who has invested his fortune in schemes to privatize education and reduce our schools to test prep centers.

So many of the union’s social justice demands were advanced in the current strike and negotiations–creating a compelling model for educators around the country who believe in social movement unionism.  This is why so many were greatly frustrated that the union ended the strike before a fair workload and pay agreement could be reached between the union and the school district.

Parents join the picket line!

Still, the union’s demand for “race and equity” teams was groundbreaking.  The Seattle Education Association advocated for every one of the Seattle Public Schools to have such a team to tackle issues of institutional racism.  The Seattle school district originally said they would only agree to having these teams in six schools.  However, the power of the strike pushed the district to agree to allow 30 schools to have these anti-racist committees in the tentative agreement that was reached between the union and the Seattle Public Schools.  Given that the Seattle schools have been found to suspend African American students at four times the rate of white students, it is clear that every school in the city needs to take to organize actively against inequality and racism.

Tomorrow, Seattle educators will vote on the tentative agreement.  Many of us will ask the union leadership why they never organized a mass rally of all our members and our parent supporters to give the bargaining team the support they may have needed to get the very best possible contact.  Many of us will continue to push the union stand up and advocate for the planning time and pay that Seattle’s educators deserve–something that was not achieved in the current tentative agreement.  But all of us will be proud that our union stood up for racial justice as a critical component to education and any contract that truly values students.

Below is a stunning statement issued by many Seattle area Black Lives Matter organizers in support of the striking educators.  Our movement has clear lesson: The power of labor, fused with movements for Black liberation, can even defeat the will of the nation’s billionaires.


In Solidarity with the Seattle Teachers’ Strike

Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers and Activists

Seattle, WA— September 15, 2015September 9th, 2015, the first day of School, Seattle Educators went on strike demanding the District provide a contract settlement that guaranteed student recess, professional pay, fair teacher and staff evaluations, reasonable testing, ESA workload relief, office professional workload relief, and student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap.

The District is comprised of over 53,000 students. In 2013 black students represented just over 20% of the 12,500 high schools students in the Seattle district and 18% of the 8,000 middle school students, but accounted for over 40% of all suspensions and expulsions in those schools. This is not new information. In fact, the school district has been under federal investigation by the Department of Justice for disproportional and disparate school exclusion practices.

Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers and Activists stand in solidarity with Seattle Educators because our fight for Black Liberation is intertwined with the Educator’s fight for equitable education and opportunity for all students. We are in full support of the demands made by the Seattle Education Association. In particular, we highlight those demands which most impact student equity and the opportunity gap.BlackStudentsLivesStrike

SEA has requested the School District put “Racial Equity Teams” in all 100 Seattle Public Schools to ensure that our black and brown children no longer fall victim to the “School to Prison Pipeline” and the opportunity gap. The District initially agreed to only provide six teams to six schools; which represents only 6% of a district under federal investigation for racially biased school exclusion practices.

Furthermore, the SEA has requested that any standardized test above the federal mandate be discussed with SEA prior to implementation. Presently, students between K to 12th grade could be subjected to upwards of 65 standardized tests. Children as young as Kindergarten are required to take standardized tests to determine their eligibility for Spectrum and Advanced Placement Programs. These tests are becoming increasingly computerized. Therein, those children with access to computers are more likely to do better on computerized standardized tests than those students who do not have access to similar technology. Furthermore, those tests which determine a student’s eligibility for graduation prevents many students from graduating. The students negatively impacted by these tests are increasingly black or brown and/or socio-economically disadvantaged. Those students who can financially afford additional tutoring and access to resources are more likely to pass standardized tests. Also, there are inequities in network serving capacity and the availability of computers from school to school. Generally schools attended by students of color have slower networks and less access to computers taking away time from teaching and learning. Therein, standardized testing and inequitable access to technology in the Seattle Public Schools District contributes to school segregation, the widening opportunity gap, the “School to Prison Pipeline,” institutional racism, and maintains the myth of white supremacy.

Bobby Seale said, “You do not fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.” We, Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers and Activists, stand in solidarity with the Seattle Teachers’ Strike. We know that there are many institutions in the United States and all of them are have been birthed from the same system—a system, which since the inception of this country, has valued black lives as little more than property. We recognize that education is an institution of socialization in the United States. It is essential for Black Liberation that the institution of Education be challenged and rebuilt in a manner that is decolonized, equitable, and believes that Black Lives Matter. Therein, we stand in solidarity with Seattle Teachers who not only seek equitable pay and fair treatment of their time in the classroom, but who have also taken a stand against racism and anti-blackness in Seattle Public Schools.

In Solidarity,

Seattle Black Lives Matter Organizers, Activists, and Organizations


  • Seattle King County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • Seattle Black Book Club
  • The United Hood Movement
  • The Hip-Hop Congress (Sea-Tac Chapter)
  • Various Members of Outside Agitators 206
  • Aretha Basu, Women of Color for Systemic Change
  • Harmony Wright, Women of Color for Systemic Change
  • Jesse Hagopian, Seattle Public Schools Teacher (Garfield High School)
  • Dustin Washington, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex
  • Dan Bash, Local Organizer/Activist
  • Sarra Tekola, Local Organizer/Activist
  • Michael Moynihan, Local Organizer/Activist and Undergraduate Student at the University of Washington
  • Nikkita Oliver, Local Organizer, Activist, Artist and Mentor Artist with Creative Justice
  • Monica Thomas, Local Organizer/Activist
  • Nikki Etienne, Local Artist
  • Ela Barton, Local Artist
  • Imani Sims, Poet and Educator
  • Aaron Counts, Local Artist, Program Coordinator Creative Justice, Writers in the Schools
  • Garfield Hilson, Local Artist and Seattle Poetry Slam Slam Master
  • Obadiah Terry, Local Activist and Filmmaker
  • Mariama Suwaneh, Local Activist/Organizer and Undergraduate Student at the University of Washington
  • Afam Akiya, Real Change, EPIC, and Black Out Washington
  • Shontina Vernon, Local Artist and Creative Justice Mentor Artist
  • Gabriel Teodros, Musician, Writer, and Teaching Artist
  • Om Johari, Local Artist and Activist
  • Rashad Barber, Local Activist and Organizer
  • Evana Enabulele, Local Activist and Organizer
  • Na’Quel Walker, Local Activist and Organizer
  • Mohawk, Local Activist and Organizer

If you are black organizer, activist or organization who would like to sign-on in solidarity, please email:

Nikkita Oliver

We will republish the statement as new signees join.

Seattle Educators on Strike!: Walking the picket line, day one

The first day of the strike by Seattle’s teachers and educational support staff was incredible.  The solidarity from the community was truly inspirational, and the spirits of the educators are high. Teachers at the picket line at Garfield High School were especially proud to have played a roll in launching the rebellion against high-stakes testing that the union is taking up so strongly in the current contract negotiations.

IMG_3527 JesseStrike

Every school across Seattle had an enormous turnout of teachers walking the picket line to demand a school system worthy of the students we educate.  I stepped away from the picket line at Garfield during my lunch break to give this interview, along with the great Wayne Au, about the strike and the recent ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court that charter schools are unconstitutional:

Seattle Teachers Launch First Strike in Three Decades (1/2) Professor Wayne Au and Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian discuss the reasons for the strike as the superintendent goes to court to compel teachers back to work DATE: 2015-09-09 | LENGTH: 08:16

Seattle Educators Vote to Strike for “Much more than pay”: Interview with Jesse Hagopian on social justice unionism


General Membership meeting of the Seattle Education Association, September 3rd, 2015

On Thursday, September 3rd, I joined thousands of Seattle educators in a packed downtown concert hall for a general membership meeting to decide whether or not to go on strike. After all the updates and debate, the meeting chair called for a voice vote on the matter at hand. An awesome cry of “aye” reverberated throughout the hall. Yet that thunderous roar of rejection for disrespect, the testocracy, and corporate education reform was belittled by the breathtaking silence that followed when the “no” vote was called for. In that blissful moment of peace, not a single educator in Seattle made a sound—and then pandemonium. An incredible jubilation resounded through the hall as it sunk in that we had just voted unanimously to strike for the schools that our students deserve.

It didn’t have to come to this, but the Seattle School District waited until the last days of summer to respond to any of the proposals put forward by educators, or to put forward any serious proposals of their own. When the district finally responded to the union, they rejected every one of the union’s innovative initiatives, and only offered teachers the opportunity to work 30 minuets a day for no extra pay.

Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network, interviewed me about the issues at stake in this contract battle—inGenMemMeetingcluding the union’s demand for a 6 percent raise for each of the three years of the contract, a race and equity team in every school, expanded recess for elementary school students, an end to using test scores in teacher evaluations, caseload caps for counselors and school psychologists, and more. As I told Jaisal Noor,

The issues that we’re taking up are much more than pay. Teachers and educational support staff deserve a living wage in a city where the costs are skyrocketing, where teachers can no longer afford to live in the city where they teach. So we’re definitely fighting for fair compensation. [However] We’re fighting for an incredible list of educational reforms that will truly improve the lives of children in Seattle…I’m really proud of the work that my social justice educator colleagues have done over the years to help move the union in a direction that takes up the political demands that will help us achieve the contract that will improve public education.

Here then is the video of the interview on Seattle educators’ strike:

Not Just for Better Pay: Seattle Teachers Vote to Strike for Social Justice

Teacher Jesse Hagopian says Seattle educators will walk the picket lines beginning Wednesday, September 9 if their demands are not met.


Ready to Strike for the Schools Seattle’s Students Deserve!

Today, I went to the Strike Captain meeting of the Seattle Education Association (SEA, the union that represents Seattle’s teachers and educational support staff) and I can tell you that our educators are fired up and prepared to strike, if necessary, to win a contract that helps us achieve the education system that Seattle deserves.

bargining team

2015 Seattle Education Association Bargaining Team

The SEA has been bargaining with the Seattle School District over a new contract all summer. We are now in the final days before school starts and the union and the school district are very far away from reaching an agreement. Thousands of educators will be gathering for general membership meeting on Thursday, September 3rd to either vote to ratify an agreement or to go on strike—but given the disorganized and disrespectful manner in which the Seattle school district conducted itself, I don’t expect that there will be an agreement by the time of our meeting.

It didn’t have to come to this, but the district waited until the last days of summer to respond to any of the proposals put forward by educators or put forward any serious proposals of their own. The proposals from the District, as you will read below, will do almost nothing to support Seattle’s educators or students, and in some cases would do great harm.

In contrast, the bargaining team for the educators has never in my time as a teacher put forward such a visionary set of proposals to advocate for the type of reforms that would dramatically improve our schools.

IMG_1996The union is advocating for a decrease in the use of high-stakes testing. This would include forming a joint committee with the union and the district to accept or reject any standardized testing beyond the federally mandated tests and getting rid of the “Student Growth Rating” that ties tested subject teacher’s evaluations to standardized tests scores. The Seattle School District has inundated our school with dozens of tests that students have to take in their lives as K-12 students, and it’s past time that we reclaim our classrooms for teaching rather than test prep.

The union is also fighting for equitable and ample recess across the school district. Many schools in Seattle—predominantly the schools that serve low-income and students of color—have only 15 min of recess, and the union is insisting that every school have a minimum of 45 minutes. This union demand was an outgrowth of the coalition of parents from around Seattle that formed last school year called “Lunch and Recess Matter” who have been fighting for student’s right to have enough time to play and eat.

IMG_1933-2Moreover, our union wants to implement “race and equity teams” at each work site that could identify structural inequities and institutional racism and make recommendations about how to address those issues. The Seattle Public Schools have been shown to suspend African American students some 4 times higher than their white peers. The School Seattle district should be impressed by the leadership from educators in addressing these injustices in the schools, but instead they have rejected this proposal.

In addition, our union is asking for case load caps for our schools counselors and psychologists so that they can provide the individual attention that all students deserve. At many schools, including Garfield High School where I teach, counselors have hundreds of students on their caseloads and can’t possibly provide them all the social and emotional supports they need. At my son’s elementary school this year, the principal had to stop all spending on school supplies like paper and pencils in order to use those funds to save our counselor position. These issues are especially connecting with parents around Seattle and are sure to generate a lot of community support if we do end up striking.

As of today educators are asking for a 6 percent raise each year for the life of the three year contract—a minimal increase given the fact that we have not had a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in 6 years, while the district has received some $40 million in new monies from the state this year and has approximately $50 million in its reserves. The cost of living has skyrocketed in Seattle and it is becoming increasingly impossible for Seattle’s educators to afford to live in the city where they work. Several other school districts around Washington state pay educators more than they do in Seattle, even though the Seattle’s cost of living is by far the most expensive. This is unacceptable and the Seattle School district needs to compensate educators fairly.

Our bargaining team has done the important work of putting forward proposals that actually meet the needs of Seattle’s families, teachers, and educational support staff. Our members are energized and willing to go on strike, as their participation in the one-day strike action against the State Legislatures’ failure to adequately fund education demonstrated. The SEA leadership has indicated that they are willing to go on strike in a way they never have before in my time as a Seattle teacher.

It appears that the Seattle School district has a clear choice: accept our proposals for a just contract that improves eduction for Seattle’s students, or reject our proposal and trigger a strike.

Here then is the flyer that the Social Equality Educators (SEE) handed out to hundreds of teachers at the General Membership meeting last week, outlining what we should be prepared to strike for:

We Will Not Be Disrespected:

We Are Ready to Strike for the Schools Seattle’s Students Deserves!

As a union we need to take a stand for what we believe will not only benefit our members, but also address the opportunity gap and make all public schools better for our students. If needed, going on strike is a necessary step to take ensure that the school district listens to educators on what strategies work best in that endeavor instead of an obsession with over-testing. The real threat of strike action can force the district to negotiate and present reasonable proposals and gives us time to organize for a strike and prepare our community for this action. BlackStudentsLivesStrike

What should we strike for? The SEA has brought very reasonable and thoughtful demands to the table. While no proposals can be cost neutral, the SEA proposals are cost effective. The Social Equality Educators think the following are 8 lines in the sand that we, Seattle educators, should stand for to get children the schools they deserve and begin to address the achievement/opportunity gap in those schools.

The schools our children deserve and addressing the opportunity gap include, among many other things:

      1. Hard caseload caps for Education Staff Associate (ESAs, School psychologists, school counselors, etc.)

The district has proposed hiring 7 new ESAs for the entire district… A drop in the bucket.

  • After the last negotiations SPS was supposed to work with SEA to develop firm caps for ESA’s caseloads. That never happened. Students of color are disproportionately impacted when our support staff cannot fully address their needs.
  1. Fully funded and supported Race and Equity teams at each building to begin to deal with the problems of disproportionate discipline actions and institutionalized racism.
  •  The district has proposed piloting the teams in only six schools…phased in over three years. A plan that is already in place. This is not a program, but a structure for every school to begin to systematically think about how race and equity can be addressed in a real way that works for each site. There is no need to pilot committee work
  1. Hire more office professionals (SAEOPS, the Seattle Association of Educational Office Professionals who are the classified/clerical employees of Seattle Public Schools) so that their workload is manageable.
  • Another quote from Geoff Miller here, “If we were to pay the SAEOPS all the overtime they work, it would bankrupt the district.”
  • Our school secretaries have been saddled with more work as admin struggle to manage the labyrinth of over-testing and evaluations. The only real answer is to their workload issue is to hire more staff to accommodate the increased demand.
  1. Scrap the Student Growth Rating! Uncouple test scores from teacher evaluations and develop a fair and equitable evaluation procedure that has integrated reliability (works the same no matter who is evaluating you).
  • Coupling test scores and evaluations is based on junk science in the first place and is completely inequitable given not all teachers teach tested subjects.
  • This kind of “accountability” only serves to drive the best teachers away from schools facing social and economic disadvantages.
  1. Mandatory 45 minutes per day of recess for children.
  • Exhaustive studies have shown that more academic instruction commonly referred to as “seat time” does not equal better test results, let alone a better education.
  • Social and emotional development is of extreme importance in childhood development. The unstructured environment of recess is crucial to this process.
  1. An increase in compensation that reflects the fact that there has not been a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in 6 years and that the district has received quite a bit of new discretionary funds from the state.

The Seattle School District administration offered a 2% raise the first year, 3.2% the second year, and a 3% raise the third year. In contrast, SEA has proposed increases of 7 percent a year for three years, which is much more in line with what is needed to continue attracting and keeping educators in Seattle. There are several other school districts around Washington State where the teachers make more money, yet Seattle has by far the highest cost of living.

  1. No lengthening of the school day. Especially if the district is not willing to pay for it.
  • As mentioned earlier, there is no evidence that more instruction time alone will produce results. The district is once again telling students and teachers to do more with less.

The money is there.  The district has received an extra $32-40 million from the state and levy funding.  That is to say nothing of the reserves, which are more than double their legal requirement. We say that money ought to be spent to begin to give our children the schools they deserve.

RespectSEEThis flyer was created by the Social Equality Educators

Who are Social Equality Educators (SEE)?

We are a rank-and-file organization within the Seattle Education Association that is dedicated to strengthening progressive values inside SEA, promoting quality and culturally relevant pedagogy to provide the best possible education for Seattle’s students, and building a strong SEA that can fight for the rights of our membership.

Jesse Hagopian and Pedro Noguera Take on the Testocracy in Nationally Televised Debate: “Is public education in the U.S. broken beyond repair?” Thursday I flew to New York City to take on Peter Cunningham, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education (under Secretary Arne Duncan, during President Obama’s first term), in a debate hosted by Al Jazeera America’s program The Third RailWe debated the question, “Is public education in the U.S. broken beyond repair?”

I have to say, those 45 minutes in the green room before we went on to do the show seemed like they would never pass.  First I had to settle my nerves.  I knew my years of experience teaching and seeing the misery of high-stakes testing was causing in our schools was going to be hard to dispute. But this was the former Assistant Secretary of Education and surely he would have slick responses and cherry picked data to try to mask the truth?  But it wasn’t the coming debate that was troubling me most.  Try to imagine just how awkward a situation it was. Mr. Cunningham now runs a website devoted to shutting down the “education spring” uprising against corporate education reform; I’m a teacher trying my best to help that movement bloom. I am used to challenging the rich and powerful, but here I was sharing coffee and chitchat with one of the primary spokespeople for the privatization of our schools and the reduction of education to merely a “testucation.”

When we finally entered the TV studio, I was relieved for the conversation to turn from the weather to the mighty storm of resistance that parents, students, and teachers are building in opposition to the “testocracy.” We tussled over many major questions relating to the corporate model of education reform.   Mr. Cunningham argued in favor of charter schools. I pointed out that of course he supported charters because he received $12 million from Billionaires Eli Broad and the Walton’s (the Wal-Mart family) who support the privatization of education. I went on to explain, “My problem with charter schools is that they’re anti-democratic. They’re not under the control of a democratically elected school board…[and the charter system] siphons off public funds to private schools…[Creating] a profit model from public education.”

Mr. Cunningham argued in favor of the use of high-stakes testing in education. I argued, “High-stakes testing has pushed out everything that matters in education.” I cited how recess and the arts are vanishing in schools as they become test-prep centers, rather than incubators of creativity.  And I noted that while they push these standards and tests on our children, “It’s amazing that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, the President himself, send their kids to schools that don’t use the common core.”

At one point Mr. Cunningham inexplicably defended Arne Duncan’s comments that the opt out movement is just white suburban moms—a comment that Duncan himself had to apologize for. I explained the reality that every family has the right to protect their child from being reduced to a test score and that this opt out movement is actually growing rapidly in communities of color—including the many hundreds of Latino students who walked out of the PARCC test in New Mexico last year, the Black students in Baltimore who occupied the school board meeting in opposition to the labeling of their schools failing so as to close them down, and the Seattle NAACP chapter calling for opt out as part of the Black Lives Matter struggle.

One of the overriding themes that I tired to express (in the limited format of a few minuet debate program) was the idea that the superrich have horded the wealth at the expense of our children. Today, over half of the students who attend public school live in poverty.   Then these billionaires—such as Mr. Cunningham’s sponsors—claim that the reason why youngsters don’t have a better quality of life is due to unaccountable teachers.

The best part of this The Third Rail debate was when they brought in the great Pedro Noguera, Professor of education at New York University, who powerfully and succinctly and expressed the primary issue with education reform today:

The problem I see is the we’ve developed an accountability system that holds those with the most power the least accountable.

We all cordially shook hands at the conclusion of the debate and conversed on the finer points that we hadn’t had time to cover while on stage. The lingering education disputes soon turned back to small talk, but this time I no longer felt awkward because I had a great image in my mind: The Walton’s huddled around the TV scowling as they decided whether to cancel Mr. Cunningham’s funding for his inability to defeat the logic and experience of lowly educators.

Watch these clips from the debate and decide for yourself: Do we need more testocrats or more educators helping to transform the schools?

In this clip, I defend my son’s decision to opt out of the MAP test and discuss how high-stakes testing is eroding education.


In this clip, Pedro Noguera expresses the primary contradiction of corporate education reformers and I call out the hypocrisy of the testocracy


On January 19th of this year–Martin Luther King, Jr. Day–I was pepper sprayed in the face by an officer of the Seattle Police department. Now, we are filing a lawsuit in a federal court to seek justice.

At this year’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, I was deeply honored to be asked to deliver the final address to the largest assembly of the year of social justice seekers. Little did I know that my rally cry at the microphone for police accountability would have such an immediate application, as it was only a short time later that a Seattle Police officer released a hot blast of mace directly into my ear and eyes, scalding my face.

pepper_spray_HagopianAs you can clearly see in the video footage that was captured by an onlooker, I was on the sidewalk at the time I was the victim of this pepper spray attack. I was also on the phone with my mom because she was coming to pick me up to take me to my son’s 2-year-old birthday party.   As I wrote for The Nation magazine soon after the event,

My mom soon arrived and took me back to the house. I tried to be calm when I entered so as not to scare my children, but the sight of me with a rag over my swollen eyes upset the party. I spent much of the occasion at the bathtub, with my sister pouring milk on my eyes, ears, nose and face to quell the burning. My heart began to pound, and I could feel a rising panic when my older son asked me what happened and why I was pouring milk on myself. I didn’t want him to have to learn, at the age of 6, to be afraid of the police on our own city’s streets. I still don’t know how to talk to my kids about what happened.JesseCover

Here now is the press release from my attorney James Bible, the past president of the Seattle/King County NAACP:



Monday, June 29, 2015


On January 19, 2015, Jesse Hagopian was a participant in Seattle’s annual MLK Jr. Day March.   Mr. Hagopian, a local human rights advocate and teacher, was a featured speaker at the event. After giving his speech he began to head home. While heading home he was on the phone with his mother. They were attempting to coordinate where she would pick him up and take him to his two-year-old child’s birthday. Mr. Hagopian was pepper sprayed by a Seattle Police officer while he was walking on the sidewalk and talking to his mom. There is video documentation of Mr. Hagopian being pepper sprayed by a Seattle Police Officer.   Mr. Hagopian spent the rest of the day treating his injuries.

As a direct result of being pepper sprayed, Mr. Hagopians eyes were burning and he had difficulty breathing. His eyes were red, watery and swollen. Mr. Hagopian’s injuries had a severe impact on his ability to participate in and enjoy his son’s birthday party.   The injuries that Mr. Hagopian received as a result of this incident have had a significant impact on his physical and emotional health.

We are concerned that the Seattle Police Department continues to maintain a pattern and practice of using unwarranted and excessive force against law-abiding people.   This has to stop.


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