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The Bottom Line Seattle Public Schools Bureaucracy Lets Students Down

Getting computers into the hands of students has become imperative in this time of Coronavirus school closures. Yet according to The Seattle Times, SPS delivered only 1,000 laptops to their nearly 52,000 students. By comparison, just to the south, Highline Public Schools gave out 12,000 to their 20,000 students.

SPS officials mentioned that they don’t know which families are without internet or laptops. This is unacceptable. Even Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the United States, is monitoring this.

Dahlia Bazzaz of The Seattle Times, writes, “In a 2019 survey of 42 districts in Washington state, many of them large, Seattle was one of six that reported that it didn’t give laptops to students of any grade level.”

In one of the world’s great technology hubs, housing tech giants Amazon and Microsoft, how do efforts to invest in technology needed for student learning find consistent roadblocks?

In 2016 and 2019 Seattle voters passed levies for over $150 million in funding specifically for technology. Yet the district and the school board could not come to agreement about how to spend the funds. The district claimed the school board could not reach a consensus while one former district employee shared, “The district likes to talk about ‘Promises made, and Promises Kept’ when they do these levies, and they don’t do that when it comes to technology.”

SPS is not putting children first.  As one teacher at Denny International Middle School bemoaned, “I know there are many complications. We could have had the technology sooner. It took a worldwide pandemic to force that.”

School districts are set up as centralized bureaucratic institutions. Virtually all decisions are made at the central office.  The system leads to a large number of people being employed and little work getting done that actually advances the education of students. This situation, unfortunately, comes from adults putting their own preferences before the needs of students.

The district’s failure to deliver computers is just one more example of how a top-down bureaucracy, combined with the myriad of regulations imposed upon schools by both the state and federal government, perpetuates mediocrity and discourages innovation.

Give SPS a “D” on this test.

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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