High hopes, poor results

Seattle’s K-8 African American Academy, a persistently low-performing school, is getting more district funding, a new principal and academic coaches for one last try at success. In 1991, black activists “wanted a school the African-American community could rally around, where black students felt accepted,” reports the Seattle Times.

They planned a K-12 school where any student could enroll, but with an African-American focus, where curriculum is grounded in cultural principles such as unity, purpose and creativity, and where African-American history doesn’t start with slavery. Students wear uniforms and are called “scholars.” Some of the curriculum focuses on identity issues. For example, in one unit, middle-school kids watched the evening news and discussed its portrayal of African Americans.

In 2006, fourth graders at the academy outperformed black students in the district and matched state averages. However, achievement was dismal in other grades. Seventh grade was the worst.

In the 2005-06 school year, less than 4 percent of the academy’s seventh-graders passed the reading, writing and math portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

Black community leaders complain the district hasn’t supported the schol; district leaders say the activists, most of whom aren’t parents of academy students, have resisted district input.

As a parent, Linda Kennedy helped establish the school and enrolled her son in 1991 as a first-grader. After two years, she left — “heartbroken” but unwilling to risk her son’s education for the vision of an African-American school. The academy seemed doomed by a mediocre teaching corps, tension between two principals sharing a building and lukewarm district support, she said. She enrolled her son in private school.

When the principal asked her to stay, she said, she told him: “This is my child. I can’t experiment with him … I need a school that’s going to work now.”

She wasn’t the only one. She said middle- and upper-class parents “left in droves.”

When the school opened, it had a long waiting list. Now the building is half full. Only 16 percent of students come from a two-parent household; 89 percent are poor enough to qualify for a free lunch.

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Comments

  1. ‘In 1991, black activists “wanted a school the African-American community could rally around, where black students felt accepted,” reports the Seattle Times.’

    The problem is not that we need schools where black students feels accepted, but students who accept their place in that school. Too many adolescents are unable to accept the necessary subordinate student role in school.