by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
This time last year, a movement of teachers, students, and parents in the Seattle Public Schools system began protesting the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Opponents of the test claimed that its format and questions were flawed, that it took significant amounts of class time away from lessons, and that SPS administrators wrongly used it to evaluate teacher performance. This local movement sparked a national conversation about standardized testing in public schools that continues to this day. Now, one of the pioneers of the anti-MAP protests, Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian, is vying for the top position with Seattle’s teachers’ union.
“It’s such a unique school in so many different ways, and the real voice and power of Garfield was on display last year with the MAP test boycott,” Hagopian said. “It brought the staff together, and it really created a new climate where people are collaborative and see each other as important allies, experts, and resources to draw on.”
Hagopian, who is himself a Garfield graduate and has been a teacher there since 2010, considers last year’s MAP protests a victory. Despite threats of suspension and other penalties from the office of Superintendent Jose Banda for teachers who refused to administer the test, little disciplinary action resulted from the growing number of refusals, walkouts and other protest actions by teachers and students. Ultimately, the School Board put the MAP under review and in May of 2013 and determined to make the test optional, provided opt-out schools create their own assessment measures.
Running along with candidates for several other positions in the Seattle Educators Association (SEA) on a unified “Respect” ticket, Hagopian represents a group called Social Equality Educators (SEE). Other candidates running with SEE are Marian Wagner of Salmon Bay K-8, who also sits on the SEA board of directors and is running for Vice President, SEA Substitute Association VP Dan Troccoli, who is running for SEA Treasurer, and others who will announce their candidacy soon.
“The main objective of our slate is to listen to our membership and organize our union to carry out their will,” Hagopian said. He also recognized himself and several others in SEE as “activists” who want to promote their agenda, which focuses on eliminating disparities in the treatment of poor and non-white students in Seattle’s schools. Hagopian wants to make SEA study groups a fixture of the reform process, inviting educators, parents and students into collaborative reading and discussion sessions based on texts examining current educational issues.
SEE also promotes a disciplinary model called Restorative Justice, which aims to reduce behavioral issues in students by analyzing the underlying causes and offering alternatives to summary punishment. Hagopian references Restorative Justice as a potential solution to major disparities in disciplinary actions like suspensions across racial lines in Seattle, citing a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Education that found Seattle Public Schools suspend black students at least three times more often than white students. Hagopian also sees a great threat in SPS’s decision to cut many school counselor positions in recent years due to budgetary constraints, saying that eliminating counselor positions “sets these kids up for failure.”
Among educators like Hagopian and others in SEE, there is a growing suspicion of private education foundations, such as the multiple education initiatives supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “The people running a lot of these foundations often don’t have any experience in public schools, and a lot of them don’t even send their kids to public schools,” Hagopian says.
The success and publicity of the MAP protests have galvanized the SEE ticket, and Hagopian believes that the political climate in Seattle is right for his group’s ascent. He refers to last year’s movement as “The Education Spring” and says, “We want to harness that energy into an election campaign that is about empowering rank-and-file teachers. There’s a new moment in Seattle, politically.” He points to the November election victory of reform-minded School Board Position 4 candidate Sue Peters over Susan Dale Estey despite being out-fundraised. SEE also supported the election of City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who has called for major reform in taxation to, among other things, better fund public schools.
Both Peters and Sawant participated in the MAP protests and are slated to attend SEE’s campaign kickoff event on Thursday, January 30 at 4 p.m. at the Garfield Community Center. Hagopian and the rest of the SEE ticket will present a breakdown of their platform at the event and plan to publish a written platform document on SocialEqualityEducators.org very soon. SEA elections will take place in May.