Data Visualization for Color Accessibility

Data Visualization for Color Accessibility

Let’s talk about color accessibility — the ability to view all colors on a screen regardless of a reader’s visual ability. A crucial feature to low-visibility and colorblind readers, color accessibility can be achieved with good design and attention to color contrast. And it’s important to consider when designing any product, digital or physical — especially if that product relies on data visualization to carry out its purpose.

This is the story of how we addressed the design challenge of visualizing data for color accessibility at Kiddom.

New Product; New Design Challenge

Earlier this year we launched a K-12 school operating system for school and district administrators to measure and act upon classroom intelligence. Academy is our first enterprise product, supporting our free product for teachers and students (Kiddom for Classrooms) by connecting schools and districts to teachers and students on one operating system.

As we began working on Kiddom Academy, we saw an opportunity to define a new visual language. Prior to Academy, our classroom product had been tailored towards teachers and younger students who would be using the products to create, complete, assess, and communicate about assignments, so we optimized the design for these tasks, with some simple reporting and a color scheme that was based largely on the role using the product. For example, teachers had a blue theme, and students had a purple theme.

But, as Academy would stand as the highest-level dashboard for schools or districts to understand what was going on at every level (district, school, class, and student), the newest product would require a greater amount of data visualization.

So the challenge was to keep the visual design consistent and on brand while addressing a functional design change to work with more data — this meant more colors, and those colors needed to be accessible to all. It soon became clear to us that the new product would call for a radical redesign of our existing color palette.

Step One: Analyze the Starting Palette

For the first step, we put all of our color palettes together to analyze the overlap and discrepancies.

This was the palette at the start of our project. As you can see, it’s complex, has tons of overlap, and doesn’t address accessibility for the colorblind.

An overlap example: as you can see here, the colors quickly became muddled in the UI. The primary action color was conflated with the English subject color.

Let’s take a look at reports in the earlier versions of the product. As you see here, there were four colors in the Mastery chart, two of which were already being used in other contexts. There was also no logical progression to the color scheme (red-yellow-purple-green), making it hard to parse at a glance.

It was clear we would need to simplify, and we were beginning to gain a sense of our constraints, but before reinventing the wheel, we decided to check industry standards to see what norms existed in the education technology space.\

Step Two: Study Industry Norms

In our study of industry-specific norms, we would be looking at how others may have handled the color accessibility problem, as well as general color scheme; if teachers expected a particular color for their data, we’d be fighting an uphill battle by changing it.

In normal vision, these charts are pretty clear. The red is bad, green is good. However, turn on colorblind mode, and it’s not clear what each of the slices means. The difference between red and green just isn’t visible.

Let’s take a look at a wider palette that incorporates more colors.

In this example, the middle point isn’t overly obvious, and the ends of the spectrum, although contrasting from each other, are hard to pick out. Upon studying the norms, it became clear there were some common approaches, but no standard. We would have to make the call on what was best for our users.

Step Three: Define Constraints

Thanks to our analysis, we identified two constraints important to us, and a number of action items. As mentioned, our first constraint was color accessibility: Our colors should have enough contrast so that colorblind people can differentiate them from each other. This would be particularly important in any view that shows data reporting.

The second constraint was to reduce color overlap. This was simple enough, as we had a lot of similar colors used for totally different purposes. So, we decided it was clearly time to trim some fat.

It’s time for solutions!

Step Four: Determine Color Overlap

First, we looked at how much overlap we could remove. Let’s take a look at where each column’s colors were used in the product.

These colors were almost the same as our subject palette. Since our subjects were more integrated in the design, we chose to remove the content type.

As mentioned, our original intent was to theme the app depending on which role you were using. The available roles in the earlier products were Student, Teacher, and Parent.

However, with the addition of the Admin in Academy (green), we were adding a lot of complexity to this palette. So we made the decision to simplify by removing the overlaps of each role’s primary color.

Step Five: Improve Color Accessibility

To exemplify how we improved color accessibility for data visualization, we’ll use the example of our Student Mastery scale. On the surface, this design worked pretty well. With the exception of the purple, there was a clear progression. The middle point was extremely visible and the endpoints stood out nicely.

However, when we put our colorblind shades on, you’ll notice the contrast was super reduced. The mid point became almost invisible, and the ends were still visible, but only the “Exceeding” section really stands out. From here, we decided we could do better.

From here, a number of iterations followed. First, we tried red and green with higher contrast. This worked to highlight the ends of the spectrum, so users knew where to focus. The middle point was still obvious, but when we took a look in color blind mode… Sadly, although the middle point was still obvious, the ends of the spectrum were almost identical.

Then we tried an approach with more blue. This was the ‘hot and cold’ concept. And generally worked fine. However, we became concerned with the potential palette overlap with the Interaction Blue our buttons (mentioned below), so we tried a bit of purple. The purple gave us a similar issue, but overlapped with the purple in our Subject palette.

In the end, the teal approach was the most successful. We could have an obvious, contrasting middle point, while still highlighting the ends of the spectrum:

Step Six: Simplify Color Palette

Now let’s move back to the complex palette. Instead of predefining every variant of a color, every tint, every shade, we thought perhaps we could be smarter about the way we define our palette?

So we changed our approach and defined a layering system. There are now two layers: the primary color, and the overlay (tint).

By placing a tint on top of a primary color, we were able to create a consistent result, regardless of the primary color. This meant that Classroom and Academy could use the same system, but only differ by one color.

Of course we still needed a contrasting color for buttons and links, so we included a global ‘interaction’ color. To adhere to our constraints, we went for a loud blue that is AA+ accessible. And here’s the final color palette:

We hope you enjoyed learning about the discoveries along our process as much as we did, and we encourage you to check out our product for teachers to experience it for yourself!

If you have any comments, suggestions, or concerns, please let us know by sending them to info@kiddom.co. We are constantly iterating our product for teachers and for administrators, and your feedback is aways appreciated.

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Data Visualization for Color Accessibility

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What did Studying the Arts Mean For Your Education?

What did Studying the Arts Mean For Your Education?

The arts are critical to our foundational skills and understanding. For National Arts in Education Week, we’ve asked members of our team at Kiddom what studying the arts meant to their education. Here’s what they said!

I always thought I was “bad” at all things artistic, and avoided taking art classes all through school. I only gained an appreciation for arts education after I began teaching high school, and met colleagues who supported our students’ sense of self-efficacy through hands-on art projects. During my years teaching at an alternative high school for over-aged, under-credited high school students coming from incarceration or transitional housing, I watched students who had struggled to find a voice at school blossom in art classes taught by a dear friend and colleague, Lisa Barnshaw. Students in her class learned that it was ok to make mistakes and how to express their pain, activism, and aspirations in a multitude of ways. She created a calm, warm classroom environment filled with opportunities for choice and collaboration, and framed all of her feedback with positivity and a growth mindset. In fact, on days when I was particularly stressed about my own lesson plans or classes, I would retreat to the back of her room to sketch or create alongside our students — it was one of the most meditative and safe classrooms I’ve witnessed in 10 years in public education. Thanks for all you do, Lisa!

Studying the arts taught me that art (music, poetry, illustrations, paintings, etc) doesn’t start and end with the piece itself. It’s a timestamp of thoughts, feelings and issues, in a point in human history. Art not only becomes something to admire, but a window into one’s mind in an era and place.

Shout out to Ms. Leatherman, my 4–6th grade music teacher.

Throughout middle school and high school, art class was the space I had to clear my mind and think creatively amidst busy school days. As a student who always felt the pressure to achieve academic perfection, understanding that everything had right and wrong answers, studying art helped to balance my personal perspective on performance. Studying art provided room for subjective expression, room to test the waters in an area where perfection cannot be defined. I learned that even in a field where technique can be studied and basics can be learned, it takes courage to think abstractly and take risks on a canvas that will not let you know you are on the right path. Having confidence and having faith in the process in art is just as important as the end product, one that can always be changed, improved, and interpreted in many ways.

Shout out to Ms. Gourieux for creating an open, creative, and relaxed atmosphere where we could learn about different types of art and appreciate a space different from our core content subjects. She formed genuine connections with her students and took the time to learn about our interests and our talents. I took her classes every chance I could get!

As a child, I gravitated towards theatre and performance. I still remember my first play at age 9, looking out into the audience from the stage, hearing the applause, and thinking “this is what I want to do when I grow up.” I went on to study theatre in college, and realized that theatre is so much more than just putting on a show.

Studying the arts taught me how to look at the world through different perspectives. It cultivated my ability to collaborate, to work with a group of people, to bring a story to life. It taught me empathy, compassion, critical thinking, creative problem solving. It taught me vulnerability. Studying the arts taught me who I am.

Shout out to all my acting, dance, and singing teachers in high school for encouraging me throughout the years.

I didn’t appreciate the arts until I started a rock band in high school. As the singer and lyricist of the band, I quickly realized this was going to be anything but formulaic, which is how I learned a lot of the core subjects in school. I struggled a lot through this project, but it helped me realize art can help eliminate the borders of isolated disciplines in schools. It’s inclusive, ignites curiosity, and gets young people to get messy. And it’s totally okay to get messy!

Studying the arts taught me how big the world is, and the different ways in which different people perceive things. I remember being blown away when I discovered that vanishing points weren’t used in early paintings because they weren’t invented yet. I thought the painters had chosen not to use perspective, when in truth the concept hadn’t been discovered yet. Now it seems so obvious! While studying the arts I was also amazed by the similarities in humanity; like the vibrant colors we see in early Greek statues. Ancient Greek sculpture looks so solemn and serious to us now, but when you learn how they were painted back then, there was just as much bling as we see in modern culture — they just didn’t have access to neon lights!

Studying the arts taught me how to “get the metaphor.” It taught me how to understand and accept the fact that certain concepts can never be contained fully with words, and can only ever be touched on with the help of stories, sounds, images… you know, art! This was crucial for my education, and ultimately helped me accept bigger things, like that life is more complicated than the easy labels we use every day, and that sometimes “the metaphor” is the only way to create an area of mutual understanding between two people. One thing I’m still learning from the arts is how different types of art convey meaning differently for people. For me, prose, poetry, and music were the best means to land a breakthrough. But for another person, photography might be the vehicle. Breakdancing, baking. It takes all kinds.

Shout out to Mr. Williams, a former lit teacher who first sparked my love for literature and writing. He made a point to give my class stories that broadened our perspectives. Through those stories we learned how varied yet similar the human condition is, which was so good for a class of small-town kids in East Tennessee, where many of us hadn’t travelled far beyond ourselves.

And that concludes our team post for National Education in the Arts Week. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and that you gained a sense of how important the arts are to our foundational skills and understanding, as evidenced even in this small sample size.

If you are an arts educator, check out our free eBook, Standards Based Grading in the Arts to learn how teachers of all subjects use Kiddom to quickly create arts-based lessons that align to standards with one click. And as always, happy teaching and learning!

What Makes Kiddom for Android Special? Interview

What Makes Kiddom for Android Special? Interview

Guillermo Alcantera

Guillermo Alcantera

Mobile Engineering Lead, Kiddom

I’m a developer. I’m a generalist. I bring to the table 15 years of experience packaged as a solid fullstack engineer. A proven record of successful products shipped. Love working with people from different backgrounds. Finding ways to create great systems. Balancing quality, time and scope.

As many of you know, teachers can plan, assign, assess, report, and more using Kiddom, available via desktop, Apple, and as of earlier this year, Google Play.

But there’s more to our Android product than you might think. This week, we had a chat with Kiddom’s Mobile Engineering Lead, Guillermo Alcantara, to tell us what makes the Android product special.


So, what is unique about Kiddom Android compared to other versions of the product?

Guillermo: If you’re using Kiddom on Android you’ll find it is more similar to the web experience than our iPhone app, which often has a different interface, than what you might see online. That’s because we’ve created more custom widgets for iOS, whereas with Android we’re building more for Google’s vision. In other words, because Android’s store is owned by Google, the Android mobile product is more optimized for Google standards.

Kiddom on Android is also more performant; we’ve put more emphasis on making the product work in varied conditions. For instance, if your network is slow or your screen is small, the Android product can be handy in those situations… we have built it from the start with attention to limitations like internet speed, battery life, and smaller screens. Our Apple product, on the other hand, is a more optimized experience for newer Apple devices, in keeping with iOS protocol.

A third uniqueness about our Android product is the ability to be easily translated, which is on our roadmap to release soon. It’s not something we have prioritized, but the entire app is ready to be translated — as many of our users are Spanish-speaking, and we know that could help a lot of schools.



Speaking of what’s “on the roadmap,” can you tell us more about what is coming soon for Kiddom’s Android product?

Guillermo: Soon we’ll be able to offer a translatable version of Spanish and Chinese. Many developers are familiar with FIGS (French, Italian, German, and Spanish), which is perhaps a traditional approach to translate, but we’ll likely make our earliest translations in Spanish and Chinese.

We are also constantly using our Android app to run tests that help foster a better user experience, so often those roadmap features show up on Android first. Like the Snapshot Roster feature, and the ability to take notes, for instance.


Can you speak more on the Snapshot Roster feature?

Guillermo: One feature we’re excited about releasing soon is the ability to add students on mobile in a quick and easy manner. Teachers can simply use their phones to take a snapshot of their student roster, whether digital or in print, and from that list, our product creates a new account for each student using text recognition technology called OCR (Optical Character Recognition). This will save teachers a great deal of time when they need to add a new class or want to switch over to Kiddom in the middle of a semester.


…and the Notes feature?

Guillermo: Yes, it provides users the ability to make notes. This feature was first available only in Android and we hope to soon make it available to everyone. That’s because we typically use Android to test new features. If we see that enough people are using the features we’re testing, we’ll roll them out to all of our products for everyone to use.


Can you tell us about the Student Groups Feature in Android?

Guillermo: Student groups — right now Kiddom assignments are only available for the entire class or one individual student, but what if you have a team assignment? This is a feature being testing in Android right now.


In closing, can you share what is your favorite part about the Android app?

Guillermo: I like the Timeline better in Android than in any other client. It’s easier to swipe rather than scroll.

…and that’s all he had time for! (Engineers are busy people, you know.) We hope you learned something new and useful, and as always, teachers, please let us know your thoughts and requests! We are building these products for you. ❤

For more information on Kiddom Android, visit our Support Page, or you can always reach us at support@kiddom.co if you have any questions.

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Back to School Tips and Tricks for Classroom Teachers

Back to School Tips and Tricks for Classroom Teachers

To kick off a new school year, the Kiddom Success Team has put together some recommendations to help you get the most out of Kiddom and start the semester strong. These tips and tricks will help you and your students engage and get ready to tackle another year!


Tip #1: Create a Getting to Know You Survey

Investing time in getting to know your students early in the school year is essential for building strong relationships that allow students to take academic risks and encourage open, honest feedback.

Using our Google Drive integration, you can create a survey in Google Docs and share it with your students in Kiddom. They’ll each receive a private, personal copy organized automatically in a Kiddom folder in your Drive. Our assignment settings make it easy to share this without it counting towards a grade to ensure that students aren’t afraid to be honest.

You can also align your survey to any of the CASEL standards for social emotional learning — we suggest the competencies that measure Self-Awareness and Relationship Skills. Once students have submitted their responses, you can comment directly on the Google Doc or use Kiddom’s commenting features to start a dialogue that will last all year.





kiddom kiddom

Tip form Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead


Tip #2: Make Every Assignment Unique…and Engaging!

It’s simple: When you give students meaningful, engaging assignments, they’ll appreciate the material, and they’ll appreciate you.

Bellwork, exit tickets, and other re-engagement activities can be crucial for retaining information, and Kiddom’s K-12 Library lets you easily offer exciting and engaging materials for all subjects. You can then use our Playlists to organize and store all of your saved videos, interactives, games, and more without hours of searching or planning. Your Playlists will be ready to go with a simple drag-and drop!

Let’s start by creating an assignment in a Playlist. The Playlist will be saved in your Planner, so you can easily drag and drop your classwork for each day whenever you’re ready to assign, without creating the assignment over and over again. Within your Playlist, you can make an assignment for each day and attach content from the Library (or your own…or both!), standards, points/rubrics, and assignment type. Use your Playlists to group lessons, resources, videos, assignment types — whatever works best with how you’re organized.



When you’re creating an assignment in your Playlist, click the Kiddom “K” logo to access our content library. With about 100,000 resources, we have exactly what you need: videos, interactives, practices, and more, for all subject areas.

Simply select your grade level, subject, and if you want, where you’d like to see the resources from or resource type. This will generate all of the content we have for your subject and grade. You can also use keywords like “American Revolution” or “Molecules” to narrow down your search. Preview the content to see if it’s the right fit and then click select to attach it to the assignment.



Since Playlists live in your Planner, you can carry them with you from class to class. When a new week starts, simply edit the assignment to add new content/change due dates/points or rubrics. kiddom

Tip from Shabbir Manjee, Support Specialist


Tip #3: Create and Assign Class Roles

Clear and consistent routines and procedures can make or break classroom management systems. When I was an 8th grade teacher, I often wished I could multiply myself to get it all done. So I did! I created a list of “class roles” for students to act on, such as homework recorderoffice assistant, and tech assistant. This gave them the chance to practice taking on more responsibility while freeing me to focus on instruction.

Not only do class roles give students greater agency — if done right, they can be an orderly foundation for your class culture.



How can I implement this in my class?

  1. Think of tasks students can carry out to help the flow of the day or period. You know your class and students best, but feel free to use our resource of possible class roles and descriptions.
  2. Create an assignment for each role in Kiddom. Write out the descriptions in student-friendly language so they will be able to understand the expectations when it is their turn.
  3. Create a Playlist of class roles that you can drag and drop into your Timeline and assign them to different students throughout the year.
  4. Go over the roles and expectations as you would routines and procedures. Depending on your students, you may need to model it, review it mid-year, or have them sign up. Ask them to master it and then teach the next student for you.

That’s it! Enable your students to contribute to the class and give yourself a break.


Tip from Nicole Plante, Support Specialist


Tip #4: Start a Student Club! Run By Students, Powered by Kiddom

Teachers using Kiddom know it’s a great way to plan, organize, and assess student progress throughout a school year. But did you know you can also use Kiddom to power student-run clubs?

If you are an advisor for a student extracurricular, whether it’s student government, debate team, or the anime club, you know it’s a lot of work to get members the information they need about upcoming events, trips, fundraisers, and meetings. You’ve probably found yourself wondering how you can put more of the onus on your students to get it done. That’s where Kiddom can help.

If you want to give student club officers control of their clubs, it’s as simple as creating a teacher account for them to use on Kiddom.

Just set it up with credentials for students by creating a student officer email account, then use that account to sign up with Kiddom as a teacher. This account can be used each year as new students take leadership roles in your activity.

Here is an example:


Class: Debate Team

Teacher: Ms. G

Collaborators: Debate Team Leaders

Now your students have access to the same posting and commenting abilities that you have, putting student-run clubs back in the hands of students.

Do your student officers need to distribute an itinerary for a upcoming club trip? Do they need to vote on a revision to club by-laws? They can easily post documents, questions, and polls for their club members with this account!

In addition, these student club leaders will have the ability to assign members of the club individual tasks and goals; just like you would do in an academic Kiddom class. Meaning, not only can your club become officially student-run, but your student leaders will be able to distribute tasks and assignments to groups of club members in order to get everyone invested in club goals and activities.

Once your students have access to their club’s Kiddom course, the possibilities for student ownership are endless!

kiddomTip from Sarah Gantert, Success Specialist


We hope you find these hacks for using Kiddom fun and exciting! Let us know how you’re using Kiddom by emailing support@kiddom.co, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter below for the latest news, guides, resources, and more!

My Dinner with Betsy

My Dinner with Betsy

Friday morning, I woke up, fed my kids breakfast, drank a large glass of water and went to the gym. A pretty typical day at my house, but when I walked outside, noticed that it was much colder than usual. On the drive to the gym, the sky was filled with dark clouds, through which slips of red sun peaked through. It was ominous. I don’t know if that was a harbinger of what was to come when I was to meet with the Secretary of Education, or just Fall in Seattle. Either way, I didn’t like what I saw.

In February, Betsy Devos, was appointed the US Secretary of Education, even though she has no background in education, except giving money to organizations that are homophobic, or anti- union, or anti public school, or all of the above. Her big thing is school choice, which is the push for students to be able to choose what schools they attend. While it makes sense that students not be relegated only to the schools in the zip code, her desire for school choice is actually an extension of Jim Crow.

History lesson!!!

School choice has its origins in white supremacy. After Brown vs the Board of Education, many schools in the South still refused to integrate their schools. To get around integration, school districts would use the vouchers that were provided, to send only white students to private schools. The black students would be denied vouchers. In Virginia’s Prince Edward County, in fact, they even managed to close the entire public school system, making it extremely difficult to get an education, if you were black. Black families that had the means to do so, moved to northern states, but those that could not, cobbled together a form of home schooling, or, in most cases, were forced to leave the school system permanently. It wasn’t until 1980 that the private schools decided to allow black students to attend. The Fuqua Academy, as it was called, only did so, so they could keep their non-profit status. The result was that only 1% of the Fuqua student body was black, though the black population of Prince Edward County was almost 40%.

In 2013, the black student body still only made up 5%, or 17, of the 363 students. Virginia was not alone, and during the 50s and 60s, white students left the public school system, to enroll in private institutions, using federal and state vouchers. In 1990, Alabama was recognized as having the greatest educational inequities, disproportionately impacting black students and students with disabilities. It was to be resolved in the state courts, but was blocked by the state attorney general. That person is now the US attorney general, and his name is Jeff Sessions. The same Jeff Sessions who reversed a policy to allow transgender students to use the school bathrooms that fit their gender identity. He also says the Department of Justice will no longer protect gay or transgender students from workplace discrimination, and that he will not seek federal oversight on police departments suspected of abuse.

But I digress…

Today, the school voucher system, promoted by Secretary Devos, targets low income students, yet some districts place no barrier on financial means. Of the students receiving school vouchers, 60% of them are white, while only 12% of students receiving vouchers are black. In 2013, those numbers were 46% and 24% respectively, so the gap has actually widened. As reported by the Century Foundation, the students that benefit mostly from school choice, are the advantaged students that are eligible, whom tend to be middle class and white. The voucher system has effectively made economic segregation increase, which is the exact opposite of its intentions, yet it is where education reformists, like Devos, tend to hang their hat.

Friday afternoon, I took my kids to the playground, in the hopes of letting them blow off steam. Also, I was afraid they were going to kill each other. There was no school and they were getting a little cabin feverish. At the playground, they had fun, and I enjoyed watching them play, in a way, only children can play: without abandon. It was still chilly and overcast outside, but I was looking forward to my dinner with Devos.

The 1000 seat dinner was to be thrown by the Washington Policy Center(WPC), a non-profit, think tank that promotes sound public policy based on free-market solutions. The WPC has been around for years and they have a large base of supporters, that come from across the entire state of Washington. The WPC focuses on solving problems with the environment, agriculture, healthcare, education, and more. The one commonality is that all of their solutions are free market based. Free market is another word for capitalism, and, as we know, capitalism is all about making that “skrilla.”

My kids and I walked back home, ate some snacks, and then I changed clothes. The dinner was labeled as “business attire,” so I had to break out my flyest gear, and put on a tie. Looking like the black Mr Rogers, with a deconstructed Afro, I jumped in my car, turned up the Led Zeppelin, and drove to Bellevue. Where else in western Washington, but Bellevue, would someone attend an event honoring Betsy Devos?

I arrived at the Bellevue Hyatt, to see several hundred people protesting the arrival of Secretary Devos. Signs ranged from the punny “IKEA has better cabinets,” to the plaintive “Fully Fund Education.” I also a couple signs that were basically just expletives. I understand their sentiments, but they lacked originality, or focus, which ended up taking away the potency of the protest.


New Secretary, Who Dis?


I took a few pictures, fist bumped some protestors, and headed towards security. To my surprise, I entered the hotel and walked to registration, without any trouble. I was repeatedly asked if I was here for the event, by different police officers, but when I told them, “yes,” they pointed me in the right direction. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the venue was that this was a very well organized event. I got my name tag and table number within seconds, with clear signage for the bathrooms, coat check, and beverages. The second thing I noticed was that the beverages were cash only. The least expensive ticket was $350, and for that amount of money, I would have liked a complimentary Coke. But, like I said, it’s about that skrilla.

I was on the early side, and walked around to read some of the literature. There were pamphlets discussing the need for transparency in how the state uses money for transportation related issues, and the need for us to reduce carbon emissions to create a greener environment. I read about the need to protect our agricultural workers and the need for more local control of government spending. I read many statements that rang true and fact based articles that supported the positions espoused by the WPC.

An hour passed while I was reading, and no one spoke to me. To be fair, I also didn’t seek conversation with anyone else. As I was taking notes about what I was reading, a woman walked up to me and asked me if I was a reporter. She didn’t say hello, or greet me, in any way. She just abrasively asked if I was a reporter. I told her “no, I’m an educator.”

“Oh. Ok. I just wanted to see if you were a reporter.


“Have a good day.”

“Ok. You too.”

I don’t know what to make of that interaction, but I’m happy she spoke to me. It made me look up from my reading, to notice that more people had arrived. As I looked around, I noticed that I was one of three faces of color. This is Bellevue, but I was still a bit surprised. I kept walking around and began to examine the other attendees. They were mostly people of my age, or older. Definitely white and definitely middle to upper class. There were some young people present, that were members of the Young Americans group, who were to attend the dinner in the next room. Devos was to speak to them after speaking with the older folks, like me. That dinner was for those under the age of 39.

“Are you also alone?”

“I’m sorry? Oh, yes, I am”

A gentleman of about 65 and his daughter approached me and we began to talk about how we didn’t know anyone at the event. They were a nice twosome and quite friendly. During our conversation, they asked why I had never been to an event before. I told them I had recently moved from New York, and was relatively new to the Washington Policy Center. The gentleman looked at me, and asked about rubber rooms.

“Well, they closed I think.”

“Still, the fact that they existed makes no sense!”

“I agree.”

“Why they can’t fire teachers that are useless, is beyond me.”

It was at this point that I realized why the anti union argument was gaining traction, with WPC and organizations like WPC. Rubber Rooms were rooms that teachers, that have been, or will be disciplined, must go to, while they are waiting for a decision about how to handle their cases. The Rubber Room is basically a purgatory sentence for classroom teachers, and to my knowledge, only existed in New York City. The teachers receive a full salary, must sit in that room for an entire school day, without leaving, save for lunch and bathroom breaks, until a decision has been made, on whether or not, they can go back to class. That may be a week, a month, a year, and some cases, close to a decade. If a teacher is accused or misconduct or incompetence, they go to the Rubber Room. This practice supposedly ended years ago, but I can see why it frustrates most people. I also understand how this practice is associated with teachers’ unions. However, many teachers are exonerated, and the process is supposed to be less than 30 days. It is equally important that we understand that this happened in NYC and is not representative of all teachers or unions or all school administrations across the country.

The gentleman’s daughter left for the bathroom, and he told me that his grandchild, his daughter’s kid, suffers from seizures. The seizures prevent the girl from attending a public school that can meet her needs, so she attends school online, which is supported by school vouchers. His complaint was that Washington state doesn’t do enough for parents. Whenever school choice is debated, I hear stories like this family’s story. I get asked how I can be against charter schools and vouchers, when I hear stories like this one. My answer is simple:

I am not against school choice.

A parent or guardian should have every right to choose the school that best fits the needs of their child. Zip code or wealth shouldn’t dictate the educational tract of a person. It is a choice that a family makes for their family. The government, nor I, nor anyone should make that choice for anyone else. In my many years as an educator, I have worked at traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, and religious- based institutions. Although I may like some places more than others, it was always about the students and responding to the culture of the youth being served. The question we should be asking ourselves is not “is school choice the answer?” The question is: “why are people so invested in school choice?”

Economics Lesson!!

The Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000 provided tax incentives to businesses that are located in, and hire residents of, economically depressed urban and rural areas. Most charter schools are in lower income neighborhoods serving mostly students from that area. Businesses that invest in charter schools can double their investment in seven years. The number seven is important because the tax incentives last for seven years, before they expire. In order to keep receiving tax breaks, businesses diversify their portfolios by building more and more charter schools in those areas. Of course with the influx of money, comes the prestige associated with money, which leads to gentrification, which leads to why more wealthy white students go to charter schools, than the students that are meant to be served. In effect, charter schools are one of the leading cause of gentrification, and wealth disparity.

All about that skrilla.

The doors open and I sit down at my table, next to an older white couple. We greet each other and I also say hello to the other 7 people at my table. Everyone is white, except me. They are all smiles, so I smile back. The older couple to my left ask what brings me to the event.

“I wanted to hear Devos speak.”

“Do you like what she has to say?”

“No, but I’m willing to listen.”

“What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I’m an educator.”



“Retired police officers.”

Of course, I would sit next to two police officers, at a Betsy Devos event, surrounded by 900 white people.

“Why don’t you like school choice?”

“I’ve got nothing against school choice, but it’s not the answer to solving the problems with education.”

“Yes, we need more teachers working on the bad behavior of students. Those kids won’t learn any other way.”


“Don’t you agree?”

“Absolutely not, the answer isn’t discipline. First we must understand the needs of students and meet those. If we look at the maladaptive behaviors of young people and blame them, because their maslovian needs aren’t met, then our education will continue to operate a system with opportunity gaps. We must look at the teacher training programs and how teachers are prepared to teach. We teach them in a 20th century modality, ignoring the 21st century world, in which we live. The curriculum doesn’t reflect the students being served. I don’t just mean students of color. I mean all students will benefit from having subjects taught in a manner more accepting of different cultures and perspectives. If we end white supremacy, we can solve education problems.”

“Well, I’m sure you know more than I do, about education.”

I apologized for my rant, and she said she appreciated it. It was the rare time I was able to speak with someone, in real life, that had completely opposing views than I. She began talking about her friend, who was a teacher, that was underpaid. She spoke about how Washington was great because it was so welcoming. It was a good conversation.

“Hello and welcome to the Washington Policy Center Annual Dinner!”

The evening’s emcee came out to wondrous applause. He made a joke about the hippies protesting and a joke about the Huskies. I didn’t understand what he was talking about, so I started to eat my salad. When I looked up again, everyone was standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. I stood up, clasped my hands behind my back, and looked at the 100 foot wide USA flag, that was the backdrop for the stage. When the Pledge finished, we all sat down. Then the emcee asked everyone to stand for the National Anthem.

I did not.

My table mates looked at me and then turned their heads. Everyone else sang the song, with hands over their heart. When I could see the stage again, Secretary Betsy Devos was standing at the podium, and addressed the audience.

I wish that I could say that she said something amazing, or that she said something completely onerous, but she did not. She spoke her speech and smiled, in a way only the very wealthy can smile: without joy. She spoke about three students (all of them were of color) that were able to choose their school. One of the three made a video that told the typical sob story of being poor, black, and uneducated, until she was given the opportunity to attend a charter school, where her life changed. She now works with Devos at the Department of Education.

The crowd roared with praise.

Secretary Devos spoke about how school choice saves lives and is the way to go. She said there was no “one size fits all” model for education, then she said school choice will improve education. Then she left the stage and went to the room next door, to speak with the Young Americans.

My cop neighbor table mate asked if I changed my mind about her. I told her I agree that there is no “one size fits all” model, but that school choice is wonderful for those that have the resources to choose a school. School choice is a band aid that only some people can have. The rest of society has to find other ways to cover their wounds.

Somehow, we started talking about police violence and she said that that doesn’t really happen, where she lives, in Kent. I looked at her wondrously. I asked her if she thought Black Lives Matter is anti-cop? She said yes. I talked about how black people were killed by police and we were only saying that our lives also matter. She said, again, that that wasn’t an issue in Washington. I spoke about the several police cases, in Washington, where cops have killed black people. She stared at me. It was at this exact moment where I felt like everyone in the room was also staring at me. My other table mates kept their backs to me, and I went to take a bite of my fish. Before I could a woman came onstage, to say a prayer. She was black which surprised me, but then I remembered how “we shole is gud at chu’ch,” and sat with my hands on my lap.

When the prayer ended, I took a bite of my food, looked at my watch, and excused myself from the table. Not one single person acknowledged that I was leaving. As I walked out, I heard the emcee talk, again, about hippies, but this time it was referencing how the Huskies were losing to those “hippies” at Berkeley.

When I got in my car, my shoulders relaxed. I drove out of the parking lot, playing an old A Tribe Called Quest song.

“Oh my god, yes oh my god

Oh my god, yes oh my god”

I couldn’t have said it better, Busta.

I got home and watched Dave Chapelle’s newest comedy special. I hugged my kids and kissed my wife. When I woke the next day, I grabbed my bag to head to the airport. Today was Saturday, and 45 youth and I were headed to Arizona for Macklemore’s concert.

But that’s another story…




By: James Miles