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Opportunity Gap In Seattle Public Schools Getting Wider

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo

In Seattle Public Schools, there are gaps in achievement between white students and students of color.

According to a recent Stanford University study, black students tested 3.7 grade levels behind their white peers in 2017. The year before, they tested 3.5 grade levels behind.

Seattle Times education reporter Neal Morton has been researching what the district is doing to close that gap. Morton tells KNKX Morning Edition producer Ariel Van Cleave the most recent action came five years ago when the district school board created its first racial equity policy, which states the district must provide the same educational opportunities to every student.   

Interview highlights

The problem isn't new: "For at least 70 years, the district has realized this is a problem. They may not have called it 'opportunity gaps' at the time. It used to be called the 'achievement gap,' but the district has been aware it has done a disservice to students of color. So they've tried to increase their teacher diversity. That started in 1947 and they're doing it again in 2018. They've tried many different ways to stop disciplining students of color at higher rates than their white peers. They've looked at test scores and known about the wide gaps there for about 30 years."

Changing the cyclical pattern: "Lots of folks in the community, and many teachers told me they believe what's different about this moment is community buy-in. Before, it may have been the case that the school district had to solve this problem on its own. And that's a big task to set on one institution. Now you're seeing the city funnel about $40 million a year into the school district to help close these gaps. You see community organizations, and University of Washington professors coming on board to help in any way they can to get these schools on the right track."

Reaction from teachers: "Some teachers think this is going to work. They say this is something new that they haven't seen before, and they really want to put their passion into it. Others say this is just more of the same, that this reminds them of conversations that they had 10 or 20 years ago. So they'll do the work while they can, but they're not going to be surprised if it withers yet again."  

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.