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African Americans most affected by low-performing schools

The Urban League helps African American kids do well in school
The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle
African American students get tutoring and mentorship from The Urban League.

African American kids are more likely than any other students to start their educations in Seattle’s worst public schools.  That’s according to a new report from University of Washington researchers.  Community groups and school district administrators say it means schools are disproportionately failing kids who already face big hurdles to education.

The African American community has long struggled with low test scores and graduation rates.  So people who’ve worked for decades to improve the issue say it’s frustrating to hear that the kids start out at a huge disadvantage.  The UW report found that 2 out of every 5 African American students in Seattle go to the lowest performing elementary schools.

"It’s heartbreaking, it’s really heartbreaking,” says James Kelly, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. "You know, the access to academic rigor and challenge, that’s something that’s eluded African Americans."

According to the report, that’s particularly true here.  Nearly all of the city’s best schools are located in the north end, in neighborhoods with few people of color.  Jessica de Barros, manager of academic planning for Seattle Public Schools, says it shouldn’t be that way.

“It’s our job to make sure the kids are educated to high levels,” says de Barros. “We don’t blame the kids. The school is not meeting the kids needs.”

She says that problems that plague many children of color, such as poverty and broken families, make it more difficult to educate those students.  Some schools are making progress.  Just not the ones with a lot of African American students. 

This year, things could change.  The district came out with a new way to track how schools are doing – and a plan to help them improve.  It’ll give extra money to low-achieving schools – and directions on how to spend it.  De Barros says there isn’t a specific strategy for African American students.  But in light of the UW report, she says the district will reach out to more African American organizations for help.

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.