I reported almost two months ago that the Seattle School Board had committed itself to "eradicating institutional racism" in the School District.
Board member Brita Butler-Wall e-mailed me that one step towards that goal was:
The board and senior staff recently went through the training offered by the People's Institute for Survival and BeyondI read through the People's Institute web site, but it's difficult to see how its training would help improve grades, test scores and graduation rates for the many public school students who are not performing up to their potential. So I filed a request under the state Public Disclosure Act demanding to see all of the School District's records about the People's Institute and its training. Who exactly attended this training? How much money and staff time was spent on this? Why was this particular program determined to be a productive use of scarce resources? What accomplishments have been documented for this training program in other school district? Specfically, how is this training program expected to help student achievement? What was the content of the training? What was accomplished as a result of this training? What did the board and senior staff learn? What was the participants evaluation of this training? How would the training shape the District's policy and practices?
I finally received a substantive, albeit incomplete, response to my request.
* A total of $9,150 was paid to the People's Institute. $9,000 was for a two-day 'Undoing Racism' workshop on May 24-25, 2004; $150 was for a "Follow up on 'Undoing Racism' workshops attended by staff" held on April 21.
* All seven members of the School Board were invited; as were 21 individuals identified as members of the "Senior Leadership Team".
* School Board Director Darlene Flynn arranged the workshops and that "all communications with the People's Institute relative to arranging the workshops were by telephone only"
* There were only two pages with specifics of the training. One was a chart titled "Levels of Institutional Racism" from the Crossroads Ministry. [A photograph of the document is here] Among its "Examples of Racism":
Ineffective training on racism and race relationsThe other document [photograph here] is titled "Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Institution" The goal of this continuum is to be "Fully Inclusive; A Transformed Institution In a Transformed Society", whose characteristics include:
Anti-racist commitments are not reflected in institutional goals and strategies, resource distribution, or in structures of leadership, power and accountability.
Institution does not have an analysis of racism, or an anti-racist identity and commitment.
The constitution, belief system, mission statement and other identity documents reflect the institution's inherited white world view, assumptions, values and principles.
Future vision of an institution and wider community that has overcome systemic racismOn the path towards "Fully Inclusive" is the less evolved state of being an "Anti-Racist Institution", which
Institution's life reflects full participation and shared power with diverse racial, cultural and economic groups in determining its mission, structure, constituency, policies and practices
Allies with others in combating all forms of social oppression
Develops intentional identity as an "anti-racist institution"Another characteristic of an "Anti-Racist Institution" is that it "Sponsors anti-racism training programs".
Anti-racism efforts inform institutional response to other social oppressions: classism, sexism, heterosexim, ageism, etc.
Institutional structures and culture than [sic] maintain white power and privilege remain intact and relatively untouched
Missing from the School District's response were any internal communications regarding the training program: internal memos, e-mails, minutes of any meeting where the training program was discussed either before or after the event; any record indicating the specific individuals who attended the program.
The combination of the documents that were provided and the presumptive documents that were not provided poses the following questions:
1. What discussion preceded the decision to spend the funds and the staff time on this training program? What argument was used to justify this decision? The Chief Operating Officer signed the contract, but who ultimately authorized this expenditure? Was it the School Board or school officials? What part of the budget did this come out of? [The expense certifications refer to funds 1A86 and 1L17, but what does this mean?] What did the people who authorized this expenditure expect the training program to accomplish?
2. Who actually attended? What was the cost in staff time? The contract with the People's Institute stipulates that
"There shall be no less than ten(10) and no more than forty(40) participants for each training, unless otherwise agreed to by trainers"that each workshop is "for a minimum of 2 days" and that
"Since the training is a process, participants must commit themselves to be present for the entire time"and also that
"The sponsoring organization will return the participant sign-in sheet at the completion of the workshop"However, the School District's cover letter to their disclosure packet claims that
"There was no in/out roster at either of the workshops or the presentation, so I cannot confirm who attended."Director Butler-Wall stated in her e-mail quoted above that "The board and senior staff recently went through the training". So presumably many if not all of the people who were invited actually attended. Was there any written communication asking for their attendance, or are we to believe that the board along with the 21 most senior officials of the Seattle School District all agreed to spend two entire working days at a workshop solely on the basis of verbal invitations? It is also fair to assume that these 21 senior staff keep written records of their own time and can account for how they spent the days of Monday, May 24 and Tuesday, May 25.
3. Having read both the People's Institute website and the documents that were handed out at the workshop, I remain deeply skeptical that this program was the best use of money and staff time towards improving student achievement. But I'm willing to be proven wrong. I would expect that after spending $9,150 and up to 42 days of senior staff time that there would be written evaluations of the training program and recommendations for using its lessons going forward (or not). If such reports exist, they are relevant to my original disclosure request and must be produced. If no such documents exist, then somebody needs to explain how this amount of money and staff time could be spent on a training program without capturing any enduring lessons from it.
Director Darlene Flynn claims responsiblity for arranging the workshops. I note that in her election campaign for the School Board last year, she promised
I would take responsibility for establishing a Board standard and climate that demands full public disclosure and accountability from District staff and from the Board as a body.I commend Director Flynn for that promise. I hope she'll rise to the occasion and provide answers to all of the open questions that I pose above. Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at August 13, 2004 11:23 AM | Email This