Monday, September 13, 2010

LETTER: "Why does race matter?" By Paige Norman

Why does race matter?

Recently parents in the Lake Washington School District received a letter from Dr. Chip Kimball, Superintendant, asking them to report student(s) race and ethnic data through the Parent Access System or by completing the included questionnaire.

How many parents were surprised to find that the classifications for race and ethnicity included 57 racial categories, under the headings of 5 major groups: Hispanic/Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and White? I was even more surprised that there were no classifications for European or Middle-Eastern races, including Pakistan, India, Romania and other countries.

I contacted Kathryn Reith, Communications Director for LWSD to voice my objection regarding the study; however I realized this was not merely a district request, but was more likely required through State and Federal programs as well. My main concern was that, in addition to the lack of European, middle-eastern and other races, the classification of “white” excluded many other racial and ethnic families that live in our district boundaries. I was also interested in more in-depth rationale for the usage of such information.  Read More.... 

Ms. Reith responded that the questionnaire was, in fact mandated by the federal government, as was the specific terminology used for the study. Quoting from her response “The federal government mandated the required reporting of race/ethnicity. The federal government does define the basic questions of race and ethnicity. The state government, however, has expanded the classifications. The state legislature was concerned about the gap in educational success between races. They wanted more detail than the federal categories allow. Thus, the decision to list the many categories that you see now was a state legislature decision.

In reading through the two links she sent from the Department of Education and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (both links below), it is apparent that the classifications of race and ethnicity were from a directive through the DOE, effective December 3, 2007 and part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; and follow terminology used in the race/ethnic portion of the United States census questionnaire.
“Educational institutions and other recipients will be required to collect racial and ethnic data using a two-part question. The first question is whether the respondent is Hispanic/Latino. The second question is whether the respondent is from one or more races using the following five racial groups: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. Respondents will not be offered the choice of selecting a “two or more races” category.” {Federal Register/Vol. 72, No. 202/Friday, October 19, 2007 / Notices p. 59267}

The bigger question may be “WHY” this information is needed? Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) the classifications are necessary for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determinations. The Comprehensive Education Date and Research System “CEDARS” states that “districts report this information for funding and evaluation, as well as for civil rights compliance… Also, members of different ethnic and racial groups want to know how students in different groups are performing academically, and in which programs and courses of study they are enrolled.” {CEDARSDataFormQA; pp 2 and 3 of 4}.

The inferred purpose then, must be to only track the academic proficiency of certain and specific racial classifications; not including the categories that were not grouped; namely: Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, African, Indian/Pakistani, Filipino, and Cape Verdean {Federal Register/Vol. 72, No. 202/Friday, October 19, 2007 / Notices p. 59268}. It might also be noted that the racial qualification of “White” was meant to identify anyone that did not meet the racial or ethnic classification in the 5 major categories.
Based on this guide from Arizona on the same federal requirements  , “White” is defined as (A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa.)

Why do federal funds only pertain to peoples based on their ethnicity and race; but those same peoples are involuntarily classified as being the only groups of peoples whose race or ethnicity are relevant to academia or class population. According to the AYP website “AYP should be used to target the unique needs of schools to improve student achievement. It does not necessitate a "one size fits all" response without regard to how well a school is doing overall. However, any Title I school in which any group of students fails to meet the AYP goal must be identified as in need of improvement, and all such schools that are identified are subject to the timeline for improvement required under Section 1116.”

The mere requirement to classify students under 5 major categories appears to regulate the very “one size fits all” response that it renounces. Students falling under the major 5 classifications are assessed as a group of students under a specified racial category; and there is no demarcation allowing for students that claim more than one racial or ethnic background or for those who are unclear about their race or ethnicity.

Based on 2009 LWSD statistics for AYP  these classifications, funding concessions and criteria are not meeting the needs of most of the students in our district. 24 of 30 elementary schools met their AYP standards, while only 5 of 12 Junior High and 1 of 6 High Schools met the AYP targets.

Race, economy and classifications are not the reason for the failure in our schools. Language barriers and deficiencies in school supplies do not prevent students from learning any more than bussing versus walking schools determine safety on the streets during school hours.

What is holding ALL students back from learning is the inattention to basic subjects in elementary grades, passing students into the next grade without the basic skills necessary to move up and our society’s unwillingness to make tough choices regarding advancement and graduation.  

By Paige Norman
Education Hill resident and LWSD parent

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