In his keynote speech at Tuesday’s Urban League breakfast, former King County Executive Ron Sims, who has been considering a run against Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, didn’t mention the race.
Sims, who served most recently as deputy secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development, instead blasted the region’s public schools, saying they are creating a generation of “haves and have nots.”
The breakfast marked a resurgence for the local Urban League chapter, which canceled its annual fundraiser last year amid questions about spending for city of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools contracts, staff layoffs, and a loss of leadership.
New President and CEO Pamela Banks said the theme of the breakfast, “A Return to Basics,” was meant to emphasize the League’s traditional mission of empowering African Americans and other disadvantaged people through housing, education and job training.
One of the people Banks recruited to the reconstituted board of directors, businessman Nate Miles, proclaimed, “This is the Seattle Urban League and we are back.”
In a speech that focused on the failure of local schools, Sims said that many countries around the world do a better job of educating their children than does Seattle. He cited Finland as having one of the outstanding education systems and said school administrators there they don’t suspend or expel students for bad behavior. Rather, they intervene in the earliest grades, with social workers and psychologists, to train kids how to behave and to address their problems.
The bright spot he said he sees in the Seattle Public Schools are the international schools that immerse students in a foreign language. He said the ability to learn has nothing to do with income. “Poor kids all over the world speak two and three languages.” Learning in these schools, he said, isn’t hard, but fun. The children in these schools have significantly higher test scores.
Sims said the schools should teach the languages of the future world economies — Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese and Spanish — if Seattle wants to adequately prepare its students.
Sims did suggest a role for city government. He noted that Seattle has repeatedly passed a Families and Education Levy. Levy money should go to teach foreign languages and to hire counselors to intercede with struggling students and help keep them in school.
“We can sit here breakfast after breakfast” talking about the need for change and the achievement gap for students of color, Sims said. “If you want to see change, educate kids.”