Who Controls Education in Washington State? A critique of the EOGOAC

by the WAESN Legislative Committee

WAESN recently adopted our 10-year Liberation Strategy which includes political advocacy as one of our main foci of work. As such, we’ve been working with various State electeds on legislation that can support K-12 ethnic studies. Increasingly, we’ve become aware of some major barriers to this work. One of them is the EOGOAC. It took us a while to memorize that acronym, but now it’s burned into our psyche. Let’s talk about why in a multi-part series about the history of and current work of the EOGOAC. We’ll start with some basic information, then get to the barriers, and end with some actions you can take to help eliminate those barriers.

The Basics

According to the EOGOAC website, “The Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (EOGOAC) was created by the 2009 Legislature to continue to address the achievement gap in Washington state.” Keep that date, 2009, in mind while reading this series, because it is a sticking point in a lot of the conversations the EOGOAC has about “gaps” in 2021. 

Here is a table from the EOGOAC website of the current members of the committee:

According to the website, Representative Lillian Ortiz-Self and Fiasili Savusa, of CAPAA, are co-chairs of the committee. Honestly, we are surprised at this claim since both are frequently absent and Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos tends to take up most of the air time in these meetings. We’ll get to that later in the series.

Let’s start by breaking down the acronym.

E is for Educational

The first letter of the EOGOAC stands for education. Like most organizations, committees, etc., claiming to advocate for, or advance, K-12 education, not one member of the EOGOAC is a K-12 educator. Usually, when this is pointed out, Rep. Ortiz-Self is tokenized as the educator (of color) of the group. While Rep. Ortiz-Self does work in K-12 education, she is a counselor, not a classroom educator. This statement is not to discredit the important work she does and her inside knowledge of K-12 institutions. Much of the work done to “close gaps” rests with classroom educators, certificated and classified. For this reason, we believe it’s imperative to have K-12 classroom educators on this committee to inform their work.

O is for Opportunity

RCW 28.A.300.136 is the piece of legislation that instructed the superintendent of public instruction to create the EOGOAC. It cites findings from various studies conducted in 2008 indicating students in “demographic groups” failed to meet standards, were over-represented in disciplinary measures and special education, and under-represented in advanced learning programs and college enrollment. Section 3 of the RCW states that one reason for these disparate findings was a lack of culturally competent “instruction, curriculum, assessment, and professional development.” The only member we are aware of that has K-12 teaching experience is Dr. James Smith, who has a background in business and is a retired professor. We argue that cultural competence is an outdated term and idea that perpetuates whiteness and harms students of color, but more on that later in the series.

G is for Gap

We think, but we can’t be sure, that “demographic groups” is code for students of color. Since the members of the EOGOAC include members of ethnic minority commissions, I think that’s a fair guess. The members of the EOGOAC were prescribed by the RCW. It outlines various representation from the legislature, OSPI, tribal governments, and 4 members from ethnic commissions, one each: African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, and Pacific Islander American. If the EOGOAC is charged with addressing racist gaps in education, then those on the committee should have a demonstrated commitment to anti-racism, but we have witnessed Rep. Tomiko Santos consistently dismiss anti-racism, recently referring to anti-racism as “faddish sound bites.” Additionally, one of the ethnic minority commission representatives, Dr. Renteria Valencia, is the person who called the WAESN executive director a racist when they pointed out the lack of representation of people of color on the OSPI ethnic studies committee. We don’t understand how racist gaps will be closed by people who don’t understand racism and anti-racism.

O is for Oversight and A is for Accountability

We combined these two terms because they both have similar meaning in practice. Overseeing something is managing that thing, making sure it’s functioning properly. Accountability is holding someone or something responsible for their actions. We can’t find anything in the RCW that defines how the EOGOAC is responsible for managing any program, group, or individuals or holding anyone or anything accountable. This is problematic, because the members of this committee have demonstrated a belief that they somehow manage education legislation and seem to believe legislators, proposed legislation, and even members of the public are accountable to them. For example, WAESN was invited to the EOGOAC to present on the work we’re doing with ethnic studies. Rep. Tomiko Santos castigated us for doing work that wasn’t aligned with the OSPI work on ethnic studies. When Amanda Hubbard, WAESN board president, reminded Rep. Tomiko Santos that ethnic studies is by and for the people, Rep. Tomiko Santos responded, “So then you shouldn’t be advocating for its inclusion in the state sanctioned program of basic education.” 

screenshot of Rep. Tomiko Santo’s comment in chat

C is for Committee

The RCW that created the EOGOAC has language that very much defines a committee. According to the RCW, the committee should be searching for and making recommendations for possible legislation to improve the education system for “demographic groups” to close gaps. The RCW provides specific activities the EOGOAC should focus on, including expanding family and community involvement, enhancing the cultural competency of educators and curriculum, and identifying data systems needed to monitor gaps. The RCW, as we read it, sounds like the EOGOAC should be in partnership with a multitude of organizations, but from what we can tell, they’re not. In fact, as stated above, our experience with the EOGOAC has been hostile. We have witnessed parents and community members shut down in meetings. WAESN representatives have been mocked, dismissed, and berated.

Oops, we’ve accidentally hinted at some barriers, but next time we’ll go a little deeper and provide some primary source evidence. In the meantime, we encourage you to check out the EOGOAC website and attend some meetings. Unfortunately, recordings of the meetings aren’t readily available online, but you can request them from Heather Rees: heather.rees@k12.wa.us. The next installation will focus on the body of work of the EOGOAC and the barriers it currently presents to ethnic studies and racial justice in K-12 education.

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