Recently I flew to New York City for film project called, “8 Powerful Voices for Public Education.” Below is the address I delivered to make the case for teaching skills that will empower students to challenge oppression and solve societal problems–not just prepare them for the next mind-numbing standardized test. #TeachWhatMatters. Pass it on.
Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies in Seattle, blogs at www.IAmAnEducator.com, and is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Teaching for Black Lives. You can follow Jesse on Twitter at @JessedHagopian.
The Real News Network
Public school teachers Jesse Hagopian of Seattle and Cristina Duncan Evans of Baltimore discuss the Feb. 5-10 week of action aimed at bringing social justice into classrooms across the country.
Cristina Duncan Evans has been an educator in City Schools for 12 years and is currently an Elementary and Middle School Librarian. She is one of the founders of BMORE, which believes in organizing teachers to advocate for social justice and the schools their students deserve.
Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies at Seattle’s Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013. Jesse is an associate editor of the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine and founding member of Social Equity Educators, and blogs at I’mAnEducator.com. He edited the book More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.
Educators in America know all too well that the school-to-prison pipeline is not just a political catchphrase. Those who work with students of color know this pipeline is as real as any other.
“It extends across this country,” says Seattle educator, attorney, and organizer Nikkita Oliver.
This is why from February 5 to 9 Oliver and thousands of educators around the U.S. will wear Black Lives Matter shirts to school and teach lessons about structural racism, intersectional black identities, black history, and anti-racist movements for a nationally organized week of action: Black Lives Matter at School.
“The Black Lives Matter at School movement is about dismantling the school-to-prison-pipeline,” says Oliver, “and creating a school-to-justice-pipeline for our youth.”
Educators in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in between will join this national uprising to affirm the lives of black students, teachers and families. The lessons that week will correspond to the thirteen guiding principles of Black Lives Matter:
Monday: Restorative Justice, Empathy and Loving Engagement
Tuesday: Diversity and Globalism
Wednesday: Trans-Affirming, Queer Affirming and Collective Value
Thursday: Intergenerational, Black Families and Black Villages
Friday: Black Women and Unapologetically Black
“The Black Lives Matter at School movement is about dismantling the school-to-prison-pipeline and creating a school-to-justice-pipeline.”
The Black Lives Matter at School movement started in Seattle last year on October 19, when thousands of educators wore shirts to school that said, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds of families and students did too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the often unrecognized state violence and assault of women in our country.
This action attracted national news attention, helping it spread to Philadelphia. That city’s Caucus of Working Educators’ Racial Justice Committee expanded the action to last an entire week last year with teaching points around the principles of Black Lives Matter. Educators in Rochester, New York also held a Black Lives Matter at School day in 2017.
This year, a national Black Lives Matter at School coalition came together to coordinate a unified week of action with three demands:
1) End “zero tolerance” discipline, and implement restorative justice
2) Hire more black teachers
3) Mandate black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum
The three national demands arose in response to political attacks on and systemic disadvantages experienced by black students and educators around the nation.
A recent study shows that low-income black boys who had at least one black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grade had a 39 percent lower probability of dropping out of high school than their peers who had no black teachers during those years. And yet since 2002, the total number of African American teachers has decreased by 26,000, even as the overall teaching workforce has increased by 134,000. In 2015, the Albert Shanker Institute reported a similarly stunning decline in the number of black teachers around the country. For example, in Philadelphia, the number of Black teachers declined by 18.5 percent between 2001 and 2012. In Chicago, that same figure dropped by nearly 40 percent. And in New Orleans, there was a 62 percent drop. As Mother Jones reported:
“In each of the nine cities the Albert Shanker Institute studied, a higher percentage of black teachers were laid off or quit than Latino or white educators. . . . Countless black principals, coaches, cafeteria workers, nurses, and counselors have also been displaced—all in the name of raising achievement among black students. While white Americans are slowly waking up to the issue of police harassment and violence in black communities, many are unaware of the quiet but broad damage the loss of African American educators inflicts on the same communities.”
Since 2002, the total number of African American teachers has decreased by 26,000, even as the overall teaching workforce has increased by 134,000.
As scholar Terrenda White has detailed, one of the factors in the whitening of the teaching force is corporate education reform programs like Teach for America. “What happened in New Orleans, for example, is a microcosm of this larger issue where you have a blunt policy that we know resulted in the displacement of teachers of color, followed by [Teach for America’s] expansion in that region,” White told another of The Progressive’s Public School Shakedown fellows, Jennifer Berkshire, in 2016.
In addition to systemic pushout of black teachers, there is a similar large-scale pushing out of black students from schools. Black students are over three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school. Black girls, in particular, suffer the most disproportionate disciplinary measures: they are seven times more likely to be suspended than white girls, and not because they are even charged with misbehaving more often.
These statistics are why the Black Lives Matter at School movement is demanding an end to so-called zero tolerance discipline practices that are fueling school pushout, and a rapid implantation of restorative practices that help to build community so students can solve conflicts. As education outlet Rethinking Schools editorialized back in 2014:
“There are a number of models of restorative practices, but they always start with building community. Then, when a problem arises, everyone involved is part of the process…. shared values are agreed on. Then questions like these are asked: What is the harm caused and to whom? What are the needs and obligations that have arisen? How can everyone present contribute to addressing the needs, repairing the harm, and restoring relationships? Additional questions can probe the roots of the conflict and make broader connections: What social circumstances promoted the harm? What similarities can we see with other incidents? What structures need to change?”
Beyond being pushed out of school, when black students are in class they are too often subjected to a corporate curriculum that obscures the struggles and contributions by people of color.
The McGraw-Hill textbook company was caught replacing the word “slave” with “worker” and placing the section on the transatlantic slave trade within the chapter on immigration—as if Africans came here looking for a better life. A textbook titled The Connecticut Adventure was removed from a Connecticut school district after a decade of use when it was revealed that it was teaching fourth graders that slave owners, “cared for and protected [slaves] like members of the family.” These kinds of distortions and whitewashing of curriculum are precisely why the Black Lives Matter at School movement is demanding mandatory black studies and ethnic studies classes for kindergartners on up to high school seniors.
When black students are in class they are too often subjected to a corporate curriculum that obscures the struggles and contributions by people of color.
Black Lives Matter at School has been endorsed by many luminaries in the struggle for social justice, including Opal Tometi (co-founder of Black Lives Matter), Jonathan Kozol, (author of The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America), and Michael Bennett (Pro Bowl defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks).
“I wholeheartedly support and endorse the National Black Lives Matter at School Week,” Kozol tells me. “At a time when all too many weary semi-liberals are willing to knock down the statues of racist figures from the past but not to change the racist systems that crush the souls and amputate the destinies of millions of black children in the savagely unequal public schools of the United States, it’s time to raise the stakes and bring the struggle back into the classrooms.”
Join us in this national uprising for racial justice in education. Because when young people are valued, proud of themselves, and aware of their history, well, then they will be equipped to remove the structures of racism and oppression—from Confederate monuments to rhetorical but very real pipelines—and build a better world.
Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies in Seattle, blogs at www.IAmAnEducator.com, and is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Teaching for Black Lives. You can follow Jesse on Twitter at @JessedHagopian.
Solidarity with Black Lives Matter at School Week: Nationally Renowned Antiracist Activists, Artists, Academics, Authors, and Athletes Speak Out!
We, the undersigned, are writing in support of a new uprising for racial justice that is being organized by educators around the country who have declared February 5-9, 2018, “Black Lives Matter at School Week.” Many thousands of educators will be wearing shirts to school that say, “Black Lives Matter at School” and will teach lessons about structural racism, intersectional Black identities, and Black history in cities all across the country.
At a time when the president makes openly racist statements about Africa, Haiti and El Salvador, it is more important than ever to support antiracist pedagogy and support Black students. In addition, in this era of mass incarceration, there is a school-to-prison-pipeline system that is more invested in locking up youth than unlocking their minds.
That system uses harsh discipline policies that push Black students out of schools at disproportionate rates; denies students the right to learn about their own cultures and whitewashes the curriculum to exclude many of the struggles and contributions of Black people and other people of color; and is pushing out Black teachers from the schools in cities around the country. That is why we support the three demands issued by the Black Lives Matter at School movement:
1) End zero tolerance discipline, implement restorative justice
2) Hire more Black teachers
3) Mandate Black history/Ethnic Studies, K-12
Show your solidarity during this week of struggle by wearing your Black Lives Matter shirt to school or to work.
Former Mexican American Studies Teacher, Assistant Professor, Language and Culture in Education, University of Arizona South
National Black Education Agenda, retired Math & Black History professor
Jose Antonio Vargas
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, filmmaker, and founder/CEO of Define American
Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington Bothell
Distinguished Professor of Education (retired), UIC
Pro Bowl defensive end, Seattle Seahawks
Curriculum Editor, Rethinking Schools magazine
Judith Browne Dianis
Executive Director, Advancement Project, National Office
Bronze-medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics
Professor Emerita, Lesley University; Senior Advisor Defending the Early Years
Oregon Writing Project
Human Rights Attorney and Assistant Professor, George Mason University
Eve L. Ewing
University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration
Emcee Son of Nun, fmr. Baltimore City HS Teacher
City University of New York Graduate Center
Ibram X. Kendi,
Director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center and National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
Benjamin E Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership, Georgia State University, President, The Academy for Diaspora Literacy, Inc.
Columnist for The Intercept
Teacher, Author, of Shame of the Nation, Savage Inequalities, and the National Book Award-winner, Death at an Early Age
Member, Movement Of Rank-and-file Educators and Change the Stakes/NYCOPTOUT
President, Massachusetts Teachers Association
Assistant Professor, Swarthmore College, Dept. of Educational Studies, Prog. Latin American and Latino Studies
Executive Director, Teaching for Change
Musician, Rage Against the Machine, Prophets of Rage
Pedro A. Noguera
Distinguished Professor of Education
UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
Alex Caputo Pearl
President, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA)
Rethinking Schools Editor, Past President of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association
Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Services, Montclair State University
Organizer and curriculum writer, Zinn Education Project
Professor, Educational Policy Studies and African-American Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago
Assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University
Co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter; Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
Jose Luis Vilson
Math Teacher, NYC Department of Education, Executive Director, EduColor
Associate Professor of Education, Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of St. Thomas; Board of Directors, Network for Public Education
Trump, “Shitholes,” and White Supremacy: Building resistance on 8th Anniversary of the Haiti earthquake my family and I survived.
Eight years ago today, my family and I survived the earthquake in Haiti. I had been laid off from my teaching job that year in the wake of the great recession and so I had joined my wife, with our one-year-old son, on her work trip to Haiti where she was conducting trainings on HIV.
In the immediate aftermath of the quake, our hotel became a makeshift clinic. One of the hotel guests, an emergency medical technician, quickly assembled a triage and treatment area in the circular driveway. Over the course of the evening and into the night, we mobilized our meager resources to attend to hundreds of badly injured Haitians. My wife and I were deputized as orderlies in his makeshift emergency room, although we had no medical training. We stripped the sheets off hotel beds for bandages, we broke chairs to use for splints, and we transformed the poolside deck chairs into hospital beds.
In the ensuing days I worked on children who died in my arms and saw hundreds of dead bodies that lined the streets of Port-Au-Prince. Estimates of the death toll from the quake reach into the hundreds of thousands with as many injured. I witnessed this death on a mass scale. But I also witnessed the beauty and resilience of a people who had lost everything, but still found something to give to help save others.
Neighbors carried neighbors who were missing limbs on top of doors for miles to get medical aid. People took shallow sips from plastic bottles so the water would nourish life for more people. Hundreds gathered in newly forged communities to sing songs, collectively raising the spirit of hope.
To these people President Donald Trump has a message: You are a “shithole.”
According to the Washington Post, Trump referred to Haiti, Africa and El Salvador during an immigration meeting with lawmakers on Thursday, saying, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
There can be no doubt that Haiti has many severe challenges, and there can also be no doubt that the cesspool of U.S. power, and other dominant nations, are at the root of them. This urge to dominate Haiti dates back to it’s very founding in a mass slave revolt. In fact, the U.S. refused to recognize Haiti as a nation, from it’s independence in 1804 until1862, because of the worry that Black republic, run by former slaves, would send the wrong message to its own slave population. Then from 1915-1934, the US enforced a violent and bloody military occupation on Haiti. As historian Mary Renda wrote, “By official US estimates, more than 3,000 Haitians were killed during this period; a more thorough accounting reveals that the death toll may have reached 11,500.”
Since the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. and the international community’s record on Haiti reveals the same impulse to dominate rather than aid. As Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) Director Mark Weisbrot, said, in a January 2014 report, “The lasting legacy of the earthquake is the international community’s profound failure to set aside its own interests and respond to the most pressing needs of the Haitian people.”
Not much has changed since then, as CEPR’s 2018 report reveals that foreign aid to Haiti is still primarily being used to enrich U.S. corporations: Overall, just $48.6 million has gone directly to Haitian organizations or firms ― just over 2 percent. Comparatively, more than $1.2 billion has gone to firms located in DC, Maryland, or Virginia ― more than 56 percent…The difference is even starker when looking just at contracts: 65 percent went to Beltway firms, compared to 1.9 percent for Haitian firms.
Even more unforgivably, UN troops introduced cholera to post earthquake Haiti by dumping the waste from their portable toilets into a river tributary near their base in Haiti. Instead of Haiti bringing a hot mess to other countries, as Trump would have you believe, it was literally a shithole from the world’s most powerful governments that was dumped on Haiti—and it has resulted in a cholera epidemic that has killed over 10,000 people and sickened another one million.
This is why Trump’s decision to end the Temporary Protected Status for the Haitian refuges in the U.S. who fled after the earthquake isn’t only mean—it will actually be a death sentence for many.
With his analogy between Black people and feces, Trump has once again shown the world his commitment to wickedness, vulgarity, and racism. The people of Haiti are resilient and beautiful. It is trump who is a living obscenity. To drive home his disgusting anti-blackness, Trump commented at the same meeting on immigration that he wasn’t against more immigrants coming to the U.S. but that, “We should have people from places like Norway.” Right, white people.
My family was in Haiti for five days after the earthquake before we were evacuated back home to Seattle. Recovering from the experience emotionally and mentally has been very challenging. I still experience stressful situations with much more intensity and the time around the anniversary always raises my anxiety. Yet this anniversary will be a particularly difficult to mark for me, and all survivors of the earthquake, because of trumps impossibly putrid statements.
A white supremacist is in the White House. We need nothing less than a new Haitian revolution that connects with the movement for Black lives in the U.S. and brings down structures of racism across the African diaspora.
Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies in Seattle and is an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse is the Seattle Education Fellow for The Progressive magazine and runs the Black Education Matter’s Student Activist Award. Follow Jesse on twitter or on his blog, www.IAmAnEducator.com.
Video of Jesse Hagopian addressing the rally for Michael Bennett and Colin Kaepernick
On Sunday, September 17th, before the Seattle Seahawks first home game against the San Francisco ‘49ers, organizers from the NAACP and the Social Equality Educators (SEE) sponsored a rally in support of ex ‘49er Colin Kaeprnick and Seahawk Michael Bennett. The rally was coordinated with a national call to support Kaeprnick and featured Reshaud Bennett, Michael Bennett’s younger brother; Katrina Johnson, Cousin of Charleena Lyles who was killed by Seattle police; Nikkita Oliver, teaching artist, attorney, organizer and former mayoral candidate. Gerald Hankerson, Seattle/King County NAACP president; Jesse Hagopian, teacher, author, and editor for Rethinking Schools; and Dave Zirin, The Nation sports editor and co-author of Michael Bennett’s forthcoming book, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.”
Kaepernick and Bennett have been at the forefront of the rebellion for Black lives that has erupted in the NFL. It started last season when Kaepernick made the courageous decision to draw attention to police brutality and oppression by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Because of his willingness to speak truth to power, Kaepernick is actively being blackballed from playing in the NFL and no team will sign him.
Seattle Seahawks’ Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Michael Bennett has been one of the biggest supporters of Kaepernick and one of the most prominent NFL players supporting the movement for Black lives. Bennett sat during the national anthem during the entire preseason, and vowed to continue for the entire season, in an effort to highlight the unjust murder of Black people by police and the rising white supremacy that was on display in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On the morning of August 27th, Michael Bennett experienced police injustice first hand when a Los Vegas police officer put him on the ground and threatened his life. The incident occurred when a reported shooting on the Vegas strip led to many people running for cover, including Bennett. Instead of the police helping Bennett, video and photographic evidence shows that Las Vegas police targeted Bennett, put him on the ground in handcuffs while the primary officer took out a weapon and placed it near the back of his head. According to Bennett, the officer said that if Bennett moved, he would “blow [his] fucking head off.” Bennett was then put in a police car, and after a period of time let go without charges. After threatening his life, the Vegas police decided they would then attempt to assassinate his character by accusing him of lying about the events of that evening. But thankfully people are rising up to support Bennett. Dave Zirin recently published a letter of solidarity for Bennett that was signed by a couple dozen leading athletes, authors, artists, activist, and academics. The signatories included, Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, Colin Kaepernick, Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Opal Tometi (Co-founders, Black Lives Matter), actor Jesse Williams. In addition, Seattle athletes and artists, Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and Macklemore, signed the letter. The September 17th rally for Kaepernick and Bennett swelled to some two hundred protesters who wanted to show their support because of all these two activist athletes have done to give back to their communities—and the people of Seattle have seen Michael’s efforts up close. Bennett supported and publicly endorsed the victorious movement for ethnic studies in the Seattle Public Schools. He supported the “Black Lives Matter at School” day initiative on October 19, 2016, showing up to speak about issues of race and education at the evening rally. Bennett has backed the Freedom School program at Rainer Beach High School, contributing financially and inviting the program to his training camp to speak with them about social issues and education. Bennett commitment to food justice has led him to start a community garden initiative at a Seattle Interagency school and the current youth jail. And Bennett helped organize a powerful solidarity rally with the family of Charleena Lyles to demand accountability for her death at the hands of Seattle police. It is because of Bennett’s unyielding contributions to the struggles for justice that the many protesters stepped into the street and marched to the Seahawks Century Link Field chanting, “When Bennett and Kaep are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!”
Seattle educators demand justice for Charleena Lyles; pledge to rally and wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Tuesday
Seattle educators demand justice for Charleena Lyles; pledge to wear “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school on Tuesday, join 5pm rally
- Charleena, a pregnant mother of four, was shot and killed by Seattle police in front of her kids
- Educators say a Seattle Public Schools parent was killed & they will stand by her family
- Some 3,000 teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts on Oct. 19th—now they will wear them to school for Charleena.
What/Where: Seattle teachers and educators will wear Black Lives Matter shirts to school, hold lunchtime speak-outs, and rally at 5pm at Magnuson Park. Then Educators will march to a 6pm press conference at the Brettler Family Place apartments where Charleena lived: 6850 62nd Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115.
When: Tuesday June 20th, 5:00pm educator rally, march to 6pm press conference with Charleena’s family.
Who: All Seattle teachers, educators, and families are being encouraged to wear the Black Lives Matter shirts on Tuesday in solidarity with Charleena’s children and family.
RSVP on the Facebook event page now!
Seattle, WA—On Sunday, June 18th, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was killed by Seattle police after she called them to her home for help. Police alleged she had a knife. She was killed in front of her kids, who had to be carried over her body to leave the apartment. Chrleena had children who attended two different Seattle Public Elementary Schools. Educators from those schools have been contacted.
“As a Seattle Public Schools parent, Charleena Lyles was part of our education family,” said Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian. “We are wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to school on Tuesday to show her children and her family that we grieve with them, we support them, and we will stand with them in Solidarity.”
Earlier this school year on October 19th, some 3,000 educators wore shirts to school that said, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds is families and students did too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the often invisible state violence and assault of women in our country.
On Tuesday, June 20th we are calling on all educators throughout Seattle to put those Black Lives Matter t-shirts back on, have a lunch time photo and speak out in every school, and then join an after school rally. Hamilton Middle School teacher Sarah Arvey, one of the organizers of the October Black Lives Matter At School event, said, “Charleena’s death impacts the entire Seattle Public Schools community. We wore the Black Lives Matter shirts in October that read, ‘We Stand together.’ Well, now it’s time to stand to stand together for a Black family that has been torn apart.”
The educator rally for justice for Charleena Lyles will start at 5pm in Magnuson park and then march to the 6pm press conference being held by Charleena’s family.
It was one of the most triumphant days of my life.
Thursday, June 15th was a day when I took the most painful moment in my life and used it to produce one of the most joyous days of my life. This was the day I had the honor to present the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award to four incredible young changemakers in the Seattle Public Schools. The Student Activist Award fund offers a cash scholarship and community support to deserving Seattle public school students who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles for social justice and against institutional racism. Our winners this year were Jelani Howard, Baily Adams, Precious Manning-Isabell, and Mahala Provost—young activists who you will undoubtedly hear much more about in the future as they continue to challenge racism and transform every institution they encounter.
Each student received $1,000 from the fund I started after winning a settlement when I was assaulted by a Seattle police officer. I won this settlement by launching a federal lawsuit against the City and the Seattle Police Department after being pepper sprayed without provocation at the 2015 Martin Luther King Day rally in Seattle. While the officer who doused me with pepper spray, officer Sandra DeLaFuente, didn’t even receive a one-day suspension for assaulting me on the sidewalk, I was at least able to win some compensation that I could put to good use. I then partnered with leaders in the Seattle NAACP–education chair Rita Green and youth outreach coordinator Rachael DeCruz–to form a committee for finding and selecting leading student activists.
Joining us for the award ceremony were the Super Bowl champion Bennett brothers, Michael and Martellus–two of the greatest football players in the NFL and two of the greatest activist athletes in the world. Having these two celebrated athletes and powerful spokesmen for justice made the award ceremony deeply meaningful for all in attendance. Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett gave one of the awards in the name of his mother, Pennie Bennett, to Mahala Provost. Bennett said of this newly established award,
The Pennie Bennett Black Education Matters award is given in the name of my mother who, as an administrator and a teacher, has dedicated her life to changing the school system and her community. This award is presented to the most outstanding student changemaker for their work in the community and at school–and for believing that anything is possible and inspiring others to be different.
Provost won this award for her dedication to showing the power of STEM fields (winning seven gold medals statewide in the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) and her activism for food justice with the organization FEAST, where she worked to eliminate food deserts and teaches about nutrition in communities of color.
Student award winner Precious Manning-Isabell is the president of the Black Student Union at Chief Sealth International High School and has been a leader on and off the campus. She helped to lead the Black Lives Matter At School day action at her school, as a cheerleader she refused to stand for the national anthem to raise awareness about racism and police violence, and she helped produce an award winning documentary, “Riffing on the Dream,” about race relations at her high school.
Award winner Baily Adams is the president of the Black Student Union at Garfield High School and has helped organize teach-ins, die-ins, know your rights trainings, and was leader in the Black Lives Matter At School event this year. When Donald Trump was elected president, Adams was one of the students who lead a walkout of hundreds of students out of the school, joining thousands of other students from all around the city in one of the biggest walkouts in Seattle’s history.
Jelani Howard is a member of the Garfield High School football team and helped lead the team in discussions about taking a knee during the national anthem, building on the example of Colin Kaepernick, to raise awareness around racism and police violence against people of color. The entire team agreed and their action–all season long–garnered national news headlines and inspired teams all around the city, state, and nation to follow suit.
Seeing the joy in the faces of the student activist award winners and their families that evening made me certain that pain I endured from being assaulted by the police was not in vain. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.” These students represent a new generation of young Black rebels who are expanding our understanding of the purpose education, refuse to accept a system that does respect their humanity, and are becoming truly powerful agents of change.
Some 6,000 high school seniors in Washington are at risk of not graduating because they haven’t passed one of the myriad of high-stakes tests, including the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Common Core aligned language arts and math exams, as well as a biology end-of-course exam. These students could have met all the other requirements, excelled social and academically in school, and yet be denied a diploma from a test-and-punish political system that is completely out of control.
However, because of the massive uprising of the opt-out movement in Seattle, Washington State, and around the country, politicians are being forced to reconsider the testing graduation requirements. There are currently two bills in the Washington State legislature that could help alleviate the pain.
House Bill 1046 would complete eliminate the requirement to pass any of the high-stakes exit exams for graduation. Proponents of corporate education reform, such as Stand for Children and the Business Roundtable, opposed the House bill and the Senate then drafted Bill 5891, which would only eliminate the biology end-of-course exam as a requirement for graduation—until the year 2021.
On Thursday, the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, announced he is asking the legislature to reach a compromise that would suspend all of the graduation test requirements until 2019. Then students who don’t pass one of the exams would have six alternative ways to graduate, including reaching a minimum score on college-entrance exams or taking a college-level course.
Let’s be clear: Requiring exit exams to graduate has nothing to with what expert educators know about best practices for assessing students. In fact, Boston University economics professor Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” links increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams to increased incarceration rates.
Let’s be clear about another thing: none of these proposals to lessen the cruelty of the testocracy would have been possible without rebellion from parents, students, educators, and community members who have demanded an end to over-testing. From the student walkouts of high-stakes tests, to the teacher boycotts, to the parent opt-outs, it has been the grassroots struggle that has proven most important in changing the narrative about abuses of standardized testing and the authentic assessment alternative.
One of the champions of this movement is Rita Green, the NAACP Education Chair for Seattle (and a three state region). Below is the testimony she gave before the Washington State Legislature on March 20, 2017 to demand they stop using high-stakes exams as graduation requirements. Read her story and then contact a Washington State Legislator to let them know our children are more than a score.
Hi my name is Rita Green, I am the Education Chair for the NAACP, representing the State of Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
I am here today to speak in support of removing and delinking the passage of SBAC as a graduation requirement.
First, These exam do not show, prove or measure the entire character or capabilities of students. These exams do not measure discrepancies for the students whose families pay for test prep classes to artificially drive up their test scores. [These tests measure]:
1) Working memory-how well your child can hold information in their mind & execute upon it.
2) Processing speed-how quickly your child can solve problems
3) Nonverbal reasoning- how well your child can solve problems for which they received no previous education all 3 of these are universal skills.
4) What is measured in these exams are verbal comprehension skills. This measures the cultural knowledge – words, Ideas and concepts that white people use. These are foreign to people of color because they have nothing to do with their experience and thereby makes these exams discriminatory.
Proficiency can be measured through Course Finals, and demonstration.
Second, my daughter Brittany never passed the Math [standardized test] WASL, because she missed a passing score by 6 points. In 2009 she graduated from High School. In 2013, Brittany graduated from Lincoln University with a BS in Criminal Justice and a Law Certificate. She worked one year for City Year at a school in Baton Rouge, LA. In 2014, she went back to school and graduated in 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Justice and Security Administration. Brittany plans to go back to school to get a PHD in 2018. This is a student who would not have graduated under the current WA State Graduation requirements.
How many other Brittany’s could our current law potentially hurt, harm or hinder?