Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

Washington Township is around 29% white, 41% Black, 19% Latinx and 4% Asian.

The district has the ignominious distinction of achieving the highest white/Black and white/Latinx achievement gaps in Marion County on the last two state standardized tests.

Last year, white Washington Township third- through eighth-grade test takers achieved the highest pass rate in the district at 66.6%, while Black and Latinx students, who make up the majority of the district achieved pass rates of 18.4% and 18.6%. 

That is a 48.2% gap for Black kids and 48.0% gap for Latinx kids.

Recently, the Washington Township school board voted to place two referendums on the May ballot, one for capital projects and one for operating costs for eight years.  

To be fair, the district probably needs the money. Despite what state legislators may tell you urban school district school budgets have been hit hard.

Washington Township leadership argues that they have lost $42 million in funding.

While I am not exactly clear on how they are arriving at their “$42 million lost funding” number, funding increases have been lower for a demographically evolving district.

Washington Township got Blacker and browner and poorer, but Carmel and Hamilton Southeastern received higher percentage increases of 13.48% and 11.77%, respectively, compared to a 5.69% increase for Washington Township.

So, to be clear, my beef isn’t with school districts needing a referendum. This is partly a function of the state and how it is choosing to fund K-12 education as well as what it chooses to fund. Washington Township needs the referendum.

My beef is entirely different.

It is absurd that Washington Township schools can have white, Black, Latinx and Asian students all in the same schools — even in the same classrooms and the Black and Latinx kids get dramatically different results on the metrics used to hold students accountable.

Is North Central really only for white kids?

Only 34 Black students out of 329 passed ISTEP+. Only 13 Latinx students out of 166 passed the ISTEP+. Only 13 out of the 33 Asian test takers passed ISTEP+. While 147 white kids out of 278 passed ISTEP plus.

This seems like the students are in the same buildings but in dramatically different schools. Is this a 21st century attempt at separate education but equal school buildings? How is this not a civil rights issue?

(And before folks start complaining about the tests, if they didn’t matter, I wouldn’t be talking about them.)

What is even more bizarre is that 83% of a “community survey” responded affirmatively “the school district offers quality programs and services to support most students.” No racial demographic data was available in the survey report.

Oh sure, Washington Township will claim it has quality programs, state championships and graduation rates. I’m a Washington Township product so I know they’ve got good teachers.

I also know from experience that you can be in a different school inside of a school in Washington Township.

While Washington Township is on the hot seat none of the other townships in Marion County are doing great educating Black kids.

What is more frustrating is that Washington Township leadership and their school board — with the highest Black and Latinx achievement gap in the county have tried to duck the issue all together.

Instead of leaning into the problem like IPS and developing a racial equity plan, Washington Township has held meetings to explain away the problem. But at least they put some “equity specialists” in one of their plans for what to do with the money they want Black and Latinx voters to give them.

We can’t do business this way.

Without a serious plan with proposed metrics for addressing Black and Latinx disparities within the school, with attention to school discipline as well as standardized testing, why should Black and Latinx voters support the township leadership?

Leadership starts at the top. Three school board seats are up for election in 2020. I’m just sayin’ …

What I’m hearing:

There is talk among a lot of community leaders that the next IMPD Chief doesn’t necessarily have to be Black, but if they aren’t, then special attention should be given to diversifying the executive leadership of IMPD, which is dominated by white males. There’s also been more talk about the need for women in leadership throughout the organization.

Also, President Osili recently pulled together over 100 public officials to learn about racial equity and government. While we need to wait and see what comes of this, it is a positive step in the right direction.

See you next week!

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

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