The Washington Alliance of Black School Educators is making a comeback. The group held its 15th annual state conference two weeks ago, after taking some time off to regroup and make some leadership changes.
The conference explored the role of Black educators in "influencing the agenda for the education of Black children." That's a message that WABSE President Dr. Thelma Jackson is passionate about, and the reason for holding the conference in October rather than its usual March date.
According to Dr. Jackson, WABSE was brought back by "the sense of urgency that this was not a time to not have a Black voice in the various debates and dialogues going on about education in the state of Washington."
More than 100 people who attended the three-day conference, including the new Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, heard that voice, as issues dealing with the state's expanding achievement gap were discussed.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson began by expressing her disappointment.
"It's interesting that we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the forced integration of Little Rock High in Arkansas," she said, "and we're still talking about closing the achievement gap for kids of color."
Although the city of Seattle boasts the reputation of being one of the country's most literate cities — the achievement gap between students of color and their White counterparts continues to widen, particularly for African Americans.
According to the Seattle Public School's Data Profile for the 2006-2007 school year, 42 percent of African Americans had C's or D's compared with just 21 percent of their White counterparts. Of the African American 10th graders who took the WASL last year, only 61 percent met or exceeded the standards compared with 92 percent of White students. Even more staggering, only 21 percent of African American students met or exceeded the math standard compared with 71 percent of Whites.
"It's at a crisis proportion," said Dr. Jackson. "And if we don't begin to focus on what is going on that's contributing to these trends, we as a people and we as a community, our future is shattered, absolutely shattered."
According to Dr. Jackson, there are three main factors in the expansion of the achievement gap for students of color. The first being systemic issues, "as far as the education of children of color, the system for the most part is not culturally competent," she added, "the system does not relate education to everyday real-world kinds of things from the point of view of the students."
Other factors Dr. Jackson mentioned were the community and parents, and finally the students themselves.
"We need to convey the message to young people that they're impacting the rest of their lives when they're taking education so lightly."
The conference proved to be a valuable forum for formulating a plan for action. The WABSE, in conjunction with the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators (SABSE), is planning a Leadership Development Institute for teachers as well as a Youth Summit to bring students from all over the state together to bring what Dr. Jackson has called a "reorientation process."
According to Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, the district also has plans in the works, with programs such as Project Excel, Read and Write, Read 180, and Writer's Workshop already established and methods in place for setting performance targets to closely monitor student progress.