I’ve received a Twitter request from Jesse Hagopian, a teacher union activist and educator from Seattle, to correct something I wrote in a previous blog post (“A troubling peek inside Jesse Hagopian’s glass house“).

He says I got the story “wrong” about his teacher activism.

Here’s his request:

At issue is the decades-long system of academic tracking that has left the high school where he teaches so segregated by race that black and white students literally occupy different physical spaces in the building. Hagopian points to an article by Claudia Rowe in the Seattle Times (“Some Seattle schools end ‘tracking’ in push for equity and success“) as evidence teachers in his school have been discussing ways to dismantle academic tracking and desegregate Garfield throughout this school year.

Rowe writes:

Dismal school results have persisted so long for many black and Latino students that some observers believe the problem is virtually unchangeable, due to a mountain of social, economic and historical forces no teacher can reverse.

But a longtime educator in New York state says those theories are wrong, and her research is influencing teachers in Seattle. Specifically, at Garfield High School, where honors classes traditionally are filled with white and Asian students, while general-education classes are mostly black and Latino.

“We reached a point where we can no longer just say, ‘Oh, well.’ The racial segregating that has happened, that’s very uncomfortable for us,” said social-studies teacher Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser, explaining a new plan to combine ninth-graders of varied academic records into what the school is calling honors-for-all English and social-studies classes this fall.

A line by line read of my post didn’t turn up anything I see as inaccurate, which is usually the basis of a request for correction.

My post was about Hagopian organizing teachers and students to opt-out of student assessments even as his school is a hotbed of discipline and academic practices that yield racially disparate outcomes. He has consistently wrapped his anti-testing message in a Black Lives Matter flag while working in a school where black students are sequestered in inferior educational tracks. Read his website and view his media appearances and you’ll find a lot of the anti-testing stuff, but little on how inequitable his school is.

When I asked what specific part of my post he would like corrected, this is what he offered (in bold):

After visiting a correctional facility and meeting a former Garfield student who was incarcerated Howard [Garfield’s Principal] realized his application of discipline policies had real life consequences mostly affecting students of color. He realized he had “pushed out hundreds of black children” in his time as principal.

Notice I didn’t say he discovered this problem after teachers – or the privileged opt-out parents who “run” the school – revolted on behalf of the disadvantaged students they often claim to represent.

I drew that information from the Seattle Times account of the school’s principal move to change racially unbalanced outcomes in discipline. It’s an accurate reflection of the reporting (read it for yourself).

Hagopian says Rowe’s piece refutes my point and my “whole article is undermined” by it. He’s wrong. Nothing in Rowe’s piece discounts the passage above.

Still, in the spirit of grace I’d offer a different part of my blog post that could be questionable:

This is a guy who wins settlement money after being pepper sprayed by police officers and righteously donates it to black protest groups, perhaps as a cover for also coaching black students to protest against plans to hold teachers accountable; rather than protest teachers complicity in a system that separates students by race, assigns some to inferior educational tracks, and greases their path to prison rather than prosperity.

It’s true that the public record of Hagopian’s activism (and that of his teacher colleagues) has been almost entirely around ending teacher accountability. But the fact that Garfield teachers have had discussions about reworking student tracking weakens the claim of their wholesale “complicity” with the system.

What they are doing is a great start on a long road toward fixing a problem they have lived with for decades.

Truly, I don’t think Hagopian wants a correction. I think he wants a victory lap for his colleagues. I’m with him on that. Those teachers deserve it. Whatever disagreements we have elsewhere, I’m a huge advocate of de-tracking as a major strategy for dismantling systemic racism in public education. I’m for truth no matter who speaks it, and it is true that tracking in Seattle has been a gross impediment to social progress, so I applaud the Garfield teachers for their discussion about it.

Maybe Hagopian should call Rowe and ask her to highlight his part in organizing this important effort. She makes no mention of him.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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