During my campaign, I’ve been asked a few times about my position on critical race theory (CRT). Though it would be difficult to miss the national uproar over the phrase, it’s not a part of the Puyallup School District’s K-12 curriculum, and it’s not something the District is considering adopting as any kind of distinct curriculum.
I generally find that when the term is used in a negative way, it’s being used to try to scare and manipulate people. One of the leaders of the anti-CRT movement lives near here, in Gig Harbor, and has said as much.
What are some of those “crazy” things and “cultural insanities” people might read about in the newspaper? Diversity, equity, and inclusion. Social Emotional Learning. Culture. Prejudice. I’m not sure which of these things is supposed to be toxic.
The argument has become that trying to address inequities is wrong, because it’s a result of embracing and adopting critical race theory. It’s difficult to know how far this argument extends. Our District will provide free breakfasts and lunches to all children in the District next year to ensure each of our children has access to nutritious meals. This will help to address an inequity. Does that make it critical race theory?
Our District provides busing to schools for children who don’t live within a safe walking distance. Some children may be able to get a ride from parents or carpool with friends, while others require access to a bus to be able to get to school. Bus routes for some means that we aren’t treating all students equally. We’ve also used buses to transport children to schools other than their home school for programs like QUEST and PAGE, for athletics, for our elementary band programs, and for some special education services. Not every child has access to private transportation that can take them where they need to go, or deliver them to school early and pick them up late. Busing addresses an inequity. It results in a more diverse population of children being included in school programs. Does that make it CRT?
Our District has made student mental health a priority. We’ve implemented a social emotional learning curriculum. What does that curriculum include: “Social emotional skills include: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Character development includes: patience, kindness, honesty, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, commitment, and humility.” That doesn’t seem particularly toxic to me.
Our teachers don’t treat each of our children equally in the classroom. They regularly differentiate their instruction, using reading groups and math groups to cluster students of similar abilities together to better personalize their instruction. This differentiation can provide additional supports to students who might be struggling with a particular concept and additional opportunities for exploration for students who’ve grasped the concept quickly. Equal treatment for all might result in worse outcomes for some students. We also have an inequitable amount of resources devoted to special education students (a clear example of inequity being a good thing), but I haven’t seen a rush to deny these children additional supports.
What if I told you of a study that found two groups of students were chosen to participate in a program at different rates? That might be fine. Varsity athletics are an example where students are selected to participate at different rates and we demand it be that way. What if the two groups of students were found to have identical grades and test scores, but still were selected to participate in an academic program at different rates? You might be getting more uncomfortable with the idea. What if one of the groups was 250% less likely to be selected than the other? That’s sounding like a bigger issue. And if the group that was less likely to be selected consisted of children from poverty and minority groups? That seems like a clear call to act. I’ll let someone else work out if the system that created that disparate outcome might have racial underpinnings. What I know is that seeing something like that means something in the selection process needs to change to address the inequity. I didn’t just make up that example. It comes out of research from the National Research Center on Gifted Education, and it’s why I helped write a bill that would expand the use of universal screening, widely recognized as a best practice for correcting inequitable identification practices, to identify students for highly capable services statewide. (The Puyallup School District recently implemented universal screening for second graders to help ensure the students in our QUEST program better resemble the composition of our District as a whole.)
Outcomes don’t just happen. They are a result of the choices we make. If we’ve made choices that disproportionately harm an identifiable group of children, we have an obligation to make better choices and fix the system that failed those kids. It’s why some opponents of CRT also oppose collecting any demographic information about children and doing any reporting that includes information about race or poverty — if we stop looking for the problem, they’ll claim there’s no proof it exists. I’ll let academics and lawyers figure out if critical race theory might be relevant to explaining why a system might have failed some children but not others. While they do that, I’ll be here, advocating to change the laws and policies that we can tie to inequitable outcomes, just as I have been for the last 17 years.