Amidst conflicting news on the state of African American students in Washington's public schools, legislative efforts to address the state's racial achievement gap continue.
Officials have set for June 23 the next hearing on House Bill 2722, after an initial panel met in May and hashed out the structure for future meetings. A location for the meetings has not yet been selected.
The hearings come at the same time that an expose by The Seattle Times reveals some Seattle schools are as segregated as they were at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. Meanwhile, last week's Washington Assessment of Student Learning showed 90 percent of Black students passing the test for the first time.
"Of course I am elated that the students scores have improved," says Rosalind Jenkins, chair of the Washington Commission on African American Affairs. "However, we will continue to work for those who did not pass."
The Times' investigation, published June 1, showed that racial imbalance is at epidemic levels for Seattle public schools. In 20 of the schools studied, non-White enrollment is 90 percent or more.
The paper reported that three schools have become totally resegregated.
School board members would "like to think of ourselves as these enlightened liberal folks," School Board member Harium Martin Morris told the paper, "but the fact is our schools aren't the way that people really think they are."
The authors of HB 2722 would beg to differ. Legislators wrote up the bill after 2007 WASL test results showed African-Americans failing at disproportionate numbers. The bill was designed to study the achievement gaps existing for African American students.
However, some lawmakers and observers, including Jenkins of the Commission on Black Affairs, say that they already knew what The Times took such pains to report, including the cause of the school resegregation – that basic civil rights granted in the landmark Supreme Court Brown vs. the Board of Education legislation have been lost, and that some Seattle students are actually learning in a pre-civil rights environment.
In fact, Jenkins says, this dynamic was the reason for creation of HB 2722.
Nevertheless, she said The Seattle Times article serves to highlight the preliminary work set for authors of the bill, which authorizes the Center for Improvement of Student Learning to convene an advisory committee to create a strategic plan addressing the achievement gap.
One of the limitations the Seattle school system has in addressing the issue is the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 2007, which ruled that Seattle and Jefferson public schools in Kentucky could no longer use race as a factor in deciding school attendance.
However observers are predicting pressure from community members, such as James Kelly, president and CEO of the Seattle Urban League, who is urging the school board to take immediate steps or face legal action.
Meanwhile community members look hopefully to the visionaries of HB 2722 to construct an accurate assessment and plan of action to solve problems plaguing African-Americans students in the school system.
Because the school systems actions are limited by the Supreme Court, organizers say that recommendations made by the advisory committee will virtually mean the success or failure of students in Seattle.
The first community meeting after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill April 1,was held May 29, at the Governor's Inter- Agency Council on Health Disparities.
The Council received briefings on efforts to address the academic achievement gap, as well as a variety of activities and issues at the state or local level to reduce health disparities.
It also discussed criteria and scoring processes to select priorities for the state action plan, and a discussion on policies and procedures for future advisory committee meetings.