It’s hard not to reflect carefully upon the Seattle Public School District’s dramatic acknowledgement that a major data point used by parents, educators, school board members and others to highlight the district’s quality is absolutely wrong. I have been thinking long and hard about this issue since it hit the newspaper last week. Without question, I have been one of the elected officials most guilty of perpetuating the (incorrect) data, and it doesn’t feel good.
While there are some who will see a more cynical conspiracy, I see a profoundly troubling mistake that needs to be discussed openly and courageously in all corners of our community.
The real issue is obviously not that a mistake was made. The district’s admission this week that a key piece of data is wildly inaccurate is more than an embarrassing glitch, it’s a symbolic reflection of a more systematic challenge facing many elected boards statewide that have fiduciary obligations to oversee billions in tax dollars and policy but lack access to the professional, independent staff to do the job.
School districts across the state and nation are well versed in the inconsistent arrangement by which part-time, unpaid community leaders (who campaign for the job) are then expected to volunteer thousands of hours without the ability to get the answers to their tough questions that may run counter to professional staff interests. The real issue is that the district’s administration didn’t strive to aggressively correct the inaccuracy from day one. They need to ask themselves why and, hopefully, share the truth with the community.