Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It’s My Blog And I’ll Use It As My Personal Platform If I Want To

I’m going to take the opportunity to use the platform that I have at my disposal (however small) to discuss a purely local and personal issue. The Seattle school district has proposed the closure of a slew of our public schools in an effort to save money. My children’s school is on the list and, needless to say, I am not happy.

My fellow local blogger, David Goldstein of the infamous Horse’s Ass, has written a lovely and powerful rant about the apparent complicity of the Seattle Times editorial board in promoting the closure of my children’s school. I don’t think he had any idea that I was personally affected, but I thank him for his post nonetheless. Whether or not it proves to be effective, it certainly made me feel better just reading his righteous anger.

I have long thought that closing public schools is shortsighted and asinine. The reasons for closing schools often involve short-term financial shortcomings and end up spending more money than they save and often result in a more segregated and decimated public school system. I must have been naïve to think that a liberal city like Seattle would be any better than other cities and towns when it comes to pro-actively improving our public school system.

While I understand that public schools are hurting nationwide as a result of “no child left behind,” probably the worst public policy initiative ever to be rolled out (over the top of our children) by our government, closing schools that are working is not the answer. The unfounded mandate that is No Child Left Behind has created more hoops to jump through and more tests to administer in order to qualify for federal funding and has left most of our public schools strapped. And it certainly didn’t help our schools here in Seattle that we were swindled out of millions of dollars by shady accounting (Republican accountants no doubt). But now, in an effort to save money to pay for the city’s (and the country’s) mistake, our children’s education and future is being put on the chopping block.

How more out of line could our priorities be when closing public schools, most of them serving minority populations, is a feasible cost cutting measure, but building sports stadiums with public money is considered “good business”? If I have to hear one more whiney word about the Sonics needing more luxury boxes while the parents of school aged children have to beg to keep our schools open, I think I just might pull out my hair. And once mine is gone, I just might start working on whoever is next to me.

My husband and I chose The Option Program at Seward (TOPS) because of what it offered as an alternative public school. TOPS isn’t a neighborhood school, but rather a citywide school that strives for diversity and equality in education. It has an integrated curriculum that focuses on social justice, community awareness, and cultural, racial and socioeconomic diversity with an emphasis on closing the achievement gap. They have delivered on that promise and it is a much sought after program, yet has been slated for closure. The proponents of the plan will say that they are only proposing to “move” the TOPS program to another facility, but the facility they have designated is too small and too ill equipped to house the program as is. Therefore, I say, they are advocating the destruction of one of the most successful programs that the Seattle school district has to offer.

Why would they do this? Well, it’s quite simple actually. They want to close down a neighborhood school in the affluent neighborhood of Montlake. The parents of the Montlake school successfully fought their way off of the closure list last year, an effort that many TOPS families supported, and in an effort to appease them this time around, the Community Advisory Committee (appointed by the School Board) has decided to offer up the Seward building, that now houses TOPS, as an enticement for their cooperation. Politics is the same on the local level as it is on the national level. If you’re connected, have money and the luxury of time to get involved, you get what you want regardless of how many other children must suffer as a result.

But as angry as I am about the destruction of my children’s school, the facility that we are slated to take over would displace another community of kids. That’s right, in an effort to appease the affluent white folks of Montlake, the diverse TOPS program will vacate the facility that was designed specifically for them and that they have poured money, time, labor and love into making just right, and be moved into another public school, Thurgood Marshall Elementary, that is currently housing a program that is on the rise and is made up of predominantly minority students. The plan of the CAC seems to be, pick on minority communities and alternative programs that are focusing on diversity and where that doesn’t work, divide and conquer. They are cynically attempting to pit parents of different schools against each other in the hopes that one or more of them will roll over in defeat. Whether or not the proposals of the CAC are purposefully biased in favor of white affluent neighborhoods doesn't matter if the perception is there. In a community, perception matters.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the schools slated for closure are serving mostly minority communities. It’s also hard to miss the fact that the best facilities are going to the affluent neighborhoods. If we allow this injustice to stand, as a community, we are saying that it is okay to further segregate our schools and continue to promote inequities in the system. At a time when we should be focusing on improving our educational system and investing money in our children’s future, we are instead cutting corners at their expense. TOPS is a successful school that is working to make our community a more integrated, cohesive and sustainable place. They are helping to bring up the kind of citizens we should all want to have as members and leaders in our community. Instead of breaking up the program and setting them up for failure, we should be encouraging more schools to follow the model.

I have faith that the TOPS community will fight this injustice and more importantly, fight it from the right position. Move the school if you have to, we are willing to do our part in creating a better school system for all, but we are not going to sit idly by while the city takes away what we have fought long and hard for, and hands it over to those who are already more privileged than most. And we are not going to do nothing while they attempt to pit us against a community in the south end that we support.

We need more schools, not less. We need better schools for all our kids, not more segregation. We need to be thinking in the long term and not allow ourselves to be enticed into solutions that only fix the problem temporarily. If the city is hurting for cash, tell the Sonics to go to hell (or Bellevue) and build their own damn arena. Raise property taxes, institute a latte tax and undo the damage done by Tim Eyman (and then ship him to Alabama). We do need some real solutions in our great city, but shortchanging our kids should not be an option.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Dale Hippert said...

LG~

I can see why you might also want to "cry if you want to", and how I might cry too if happened to me!

But that's not your style any more than it's mine.

As usual, a blog that is no less analytical and persuasive than it is impassioned.

Don't have to have a dog in the fight to have a rooting interest in your dog!

Good luck,

Dale

3:03 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Thanks Dale. I'm not crying, in fact I'm heading out to a meeting to make sure our voices are heard right now.

5:45 PM  
Blogger The Local Crank said...

Similar things are happening all over as a result of NCLB. For example, our local school district was rated "unacceptable" under NCLB because an insufficient number of special education students passed the test, and the law says they have to take the same test, no matter if they are profoundly mentally retarded or not. Each district is allowed a certain number of exemptions, but our district has to accept basically all the special needs students in the county because we're the only one that has the facilities for them; thus, all our exemptions were used up, while other districts could use theirs to excuse slackers, unmotivated students and so forth. Remember when Bill Clinton proposed national testing standards and the Republicans were up in arms? No imagine Clinton had proposed a mandated federal test that all students had to take, no matter their disability.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous KQ said...

Good luck with this - TOPS is a wonderful program, one that I have often admired from a teaching standpoint as well as from a parental standpoint (i.e. if I had kids, that would be where I would want them to go). Although I teach in a neighboring district, we are facing similar financial constraints, but so far, no building closures; just the loss of a myriad of wonderful teachers and colleagues due to the shady financial dealings of a greedy and power-driven stupidintendent.
It continually amazes me how shortsighted and stingy gov't (fed, state, and local) is when it comes to the education of our nation's children.
As for NCLB - Margaret Spellings is not and has never been a teacher, nor has she ever worked in the public education setting. She was a political science major in college who believes in public funding of religious schools and her hubby is a major voucher pusher in Texas - thus is it any wonder she's out to destroy public education in the U.S.?
Her next target is higher education..... Can't wait to see that "comprehensive higher education reform".

10:58 AM  
Blogger bj said...

Hey Mollie:

I'm not a regular reader, and come by way of Horse's Ass. I think that "STOP" isn't going to work as a political strategy, and the only way to win this battle is to come up with a suggestion. That's what Montlake did -- they agreed to close a beloved neighborhood school, in return for keeping the program intact. They got Seward out of it. What is the TOPS compromise? I write, only because I would like to see a positive as possible resolution for the schools. I made the painful decision to send my kindergartener to a private school, but I made the promise to myself that I wouldn't abandon the Seattle schools in the process.

bj

3:51 PM  
Blogger Beth Bakeman said...

I agree completely. Check out my blog at SaveSeattleSchools.blogspot.com for a few short pieces I have written on the issue.

2:38 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Local Crank--I know, it's a terrible thing what is happening to our education system all across this country. The metrics by which NCLB measures a schools success are ridiculous and I imagine that school districts in financial straights due to dwindling funds for public education (like Seattle) are not using a proper process to evaluate what is working and what is not.

KQ--I've long thought that the purpose of NCLB and Ms. Spelling's stewardship of public education in general, is to weaken the system to the point that vouchers become palatable to the vast majority of parents.

BJ--How nice for Montlake that they were given the opportunity to "negotiate" that type of agreement with the CAC, the rest of us weren't afforded the same level of access. If we were, there may have been plenty of things that TOPS would have been willing to "give up" in order to contribute to a larger vision of Seattle public schools that focused on a better education for ALL of our children. Out of 12 schools on the list, only Montlake came out okay. There's something seriously wrong (and suspicious) about that.

Education Advocate--I have been to your site, great work! I'll be checking back regularly.

6:04 PM  
Anonymous A TOPS at Seward neighbor said...

I guess if I didn't live near the school I might buy your self-righteousness. But I see TOPS parents drop their kids off day in and day out. If TOPS is a diverse school, then "white, affluent" Montlake must be labeled diverse, too. The complexion of the schools and certainly the financial resources of the parents don't look so different to me.

If TOPS is truly justice-oriented, why do they want to locate their school in a "affluent" neighborhood? The so-called TOPS social justice orientation is a joke! Many of the parents I've talked to chose TOPS because of the test scores and that it's K-8.

Ii is completely understandable that you would want to stay in such a lovely facility. But your program is no more entitled than any other program. Everyone is fighting for the same scraps - and claiming that your brand of stink if better than others does nothing to help solve the problem.

12:55 AM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

TOPS at Seward neighbor--I certainly cannot speak for all TOPS parents, but I, like many others, chose TOPS not because of the building (I had never even seen it), but because of the program and yes, the focus on social justice that is integrated into the curriculum was the number one reason. I want my children to have a progressive education that teaches the importance of community service, racial diversity and economic justice. TOPS provides that and we were lucky enough to get in.

I don't want my kids in an all white school, if I did, I'd move to the suburbs or put them in private school, but I believe in the public school system and I want all kids in this city to get an equally good education and not have that depend on where their parents can afford to live.

As for TOPS being too "white", that is simply not true, look at the numbers on the Seattle schools web site. It is true that since TOPS was forced to "set aside" a certain number of slots for your neighbors, it has become less so (and if we are forced to do so again, it will further damage the diversity of the program) but that is the fault of the district and runs counter to the TOPS mission. It seems we are damned if we do try to work with the district and damned if we don't.

There is no way to look at the districts closure recommendations and not see that they disproportionately affect minority students and if you can't see that, you are willfully blind.

I am not fighting for the building, I am fighting for the program. I now live in the affluent Montlake neighborhood (although I didn’t when my child got into TOPS) and if this proposal had gone through, my children could have stayed in the building and become part of a neighborhood school with great test scores and smaller class sizes, but it would lack the diversity and focus on social justice that is so important to me and they would have gotten that chance at the expense of other kids that lack the same resources. Given the choice, I would have moved my kids with the program. Certainly my shit stinks as well, but I do know what’s worth fighting for and I make no apologies for this one, despite your cynical assumptions about my motives.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liberal Girl, no "negiotiation" ever happened between Montlake and the CAC.

Don't make up stuff to support your case.

4:17 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Anonymous--I wasn't making anything up and I never suggested that Montlake did negotiate with the CAC, I was responding to the comment above in which BJ said, "That's what Montlake did -- they agreed to close a beloved neighborhood school, in return for keeping the program intact. They got Seward out of it. What is the TOPS compromise?"

He was suggesting that there was some sort of agreement reached between Montlake and the CAC, I was just responding to that suggestion not stating that it was true.

4:28 PM  

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