Monthly Archives: September, 2015

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntjsAuLn5OM

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.

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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!

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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.

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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

#BLMSeattleTeachersStrikeSolidarity

  • 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

konikita@gmail.com

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

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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.

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