A long history of talking about racial equity
For at least seven decades, Seattle Public Schools has tried – and failed – to address the stubborn differences in education achievement by race. Its many efforts over the years have fallen flat or fizzled – without enough funding or without really getting off the ground.
Seattle's first black teacherIn 1947, the Seattle School Board adopted a policy to hire more teachers of color, hoping to make its teaching corps better reflect the demographic makeup of its students. Thelma DeWitty was one of two black educators hired in what may have been the first commitment to diversity in Seattle schools.Read more »
Demographic surveyThe Seattle school district conducted its first survey of the ethnicity of its students and teachers.
Time capsule reveals tensionsCarl S. Barbo, a principal of Meany Junior High, included a letter in the school's time capsule that revealed his worries about "racial differences" in his classrooms. An archivist for Seattle Public Schools opened the time capsule last year.
The educational gapAmid rising civil unrest in Seattle, the Urban League produced a report on widening inequity between white and black residents. The League found that black children, "at the time they enter schools, are most nearly competitive with their white counterparts. As they progress through school, achievement levels drop. ...The high school graduate is likely to be two to four years behind grade level." The report was included in a reference manual for educators working in Central Area schools.
Desegregation task forceAcknowledging that "commitment" and "sincere efforts" weren't enough to provide a quality education for all students, Seattle school officials started considering a plan to desegregate its racially imbalanced campuses. A task force report found that many teachers, administrators, students and parents believed segregated schools harmed the performance of most minority students.
The Seattle PlanIn response to threats of a lawsuit from civil rights groups, the Seattle School Board voted six-to-one for a mandatory busing program to desegregate the district. The program, in different variations, lasted more than two decades but ultimately became known as a well-intentioned failure.Read more »
Another task force reportAfter a year of work, a superintendent-appointed task force submitted the Seattle School District's first comprehensive plan to "eradicate" the achievement and discipline gaps among racial groups. The recommendations aimed to close those gaps by the 1989-90 school year, but it took three years just for then-Superintendent Bill Kendrick to adopt the task force's ideas.
New strategic planUnder John Stanford, the district's first black superintendent, the School Board adopted a strategic plan that set goals for increasing academic achievement for all students -- and closing the achievement gap.Read more »
A start and stopSuperintendent Raj Manhas created the district's first office of equity and race relations and appointed its first director, who oversaw teams of teachers, principals and parents that monitored race relations in schools. The department eventually folded in 2008 amid budget cuts.Read more »
First formal policyThe School Board adopted its first formal policy on racial equity in schools. The policy included several commitments -- including better teacher diversity and partnerships with parents -- that the district has repeated over its long history of equity and race relations.Read more »
Racial-equity teamsThe Seattle teachers union successfully negotiated a new contract that included a call for new racial equity teams at each school. The teams, which include teachers, principals and parents, expanded to 41 campuses during the 2017-18 school year.Read more »