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Originally published Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 4:01 PM

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Guest columnist

A tale of two Seattle school districts

Guest columnist Nora Liu argues that Seattle Public Schools has two districts, one that tends to be more affluent and the schools higher-performing and one that tends to be poorer. She says parents in the schools are tired of being told to be patient. They want action.

Special to The Times

FOR decades, families in southeast Seattle have sent their children off every morning to low-performing neighborhood schools. And for equally as long, we have asked for better.

We have been told to be patient, that things will improve. We have been told that it's not the school's fault — it's the children we send there. We have been told to be better parents. We have been told, because we are poor or immigrants or African American, that we shouldn't expect academic success.

But we don't believe this, and we are impatient. We know that across the country, children just like ours are excelling in school and succeeding in college.

We are the Filipino Community of Seattle, East African Community Services, the Vietnamese Friendship Association, African American Community/Parent Coalition and more than a dozen other community organizations that represent the families and children of southeast Seattle. Together, we are the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition and we are tired of waiting.

Across America, there are examples of schools that not only do well by minority and low-income children, they actually make up for prior failures by catching children up by more than a grade a year and closing the achievement gap in a few years.

There are high-poverty schools in which over 85 percent go on to graduate from college. There are schools comprising predominantly English-language learners that outperform many nearby schools that serve higher-income students, mostly native English speakers. The Harlem Success Academy in New York City, a school that serves minority, mostly high-poverty students, performs as well as New York's gifted and talented schools that only admit students who pass entrance exams.

What makes these programs so successful and how can they be replicated and tailored for our children in southeast Seattle?

Where are the counterparts to these schools in Seattle?

The district's recent release of individual school "report cards" show that southeast Seattle actually has no "high-growth" or "high-performing" schools (but there are 26 such schools elsewhere in the city).

Instead, we have the 12 lowest-performing schools in the city. Forty percent of Seattle's African-American elementary students — and roughly 25 percent of Asian, Latino and Native American elementary students — are enrolled in these lowest-performing schools. Only 4 percent of white students are.

There are two districts in Seattle. Our children attend the failing one.

What is the district's plan? How much longer will we have to wait for the kinds of schools our children deserve?

Nora Liu is coordinator of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition.

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