What Have Dems Done for Us Lately?

by the WAESN Legislative Committee

This post is a companion piece to our WAESUP WAESN?? episode, Bursting the Blue Bubble.

Addressing the Equity Gap in Washington State’s Education Equity Work 

What Gaps?

As recent studies have shown, Washington faces a harsh equity and achievement gap. According to figure one from EdTrust’s 2020 report, students of color and low income students graduate at lower rates than average. The data go on and on. 

(EdTrust Report Figure 1)

The achievement gap and equity gap is best illustrated in the chart below that shows the relationship between SBAC testing (Y axis), school spending (X axis), and percent of students who are low income (color of circle). The numbers show us that students with higher-income houses (green circles) are significantly more successful than schools with higher percentages of low income students (red circles). With no changes being made to how our schools are funded, there is little chance of the inequities here going away. 

There are many approaches to addressing various inequities, including a push for more culturally relevant curriculum, teacher professional development and teacher education, recruiting and retaining more educators of color, and addressing the inequity of the school funding code. We need to not only diversify our teacher workforce, but undergo transformative change by investing in building capacity and leadership from communities that have been excluded. 

What Has the EOGOAC Done for Us Lately?

Since its foundation after the McCleary ruling in 2008, the EOGOAC has been empowered as the official government body that makes recommendations to OSPI on the best ways to address the inequities and bias in our education system 28A.300.136 (EOGOAG) . As we have reported in our blog, the EOGOAC has had fifteen years to pursue multiple strategies to address these inequities, but the incrementalism and exclusion of community has limited any progress. The chair of the House’s Education Committee, Tomiko Santos insists of “reaching across the isle” in order to make changes in education. Not since the McCleary decision, where our state legislature was forced to increase education spending by the Washington Supreme Court, did we significantly increase spending on education. If our lawmakers are left to their own devices, we will continue to see incrementalist changes made to our school funding formulas.  

Instead, we have the EOGOAC and OSPI saying a lot of the right words, but not doing enough. 

OSPI report card data on 9th graders on track to graduate by race 2021-2022 school year

OSPI report card data on graduation rates by race 2021-2022 school year

OSPI report card data on discipline by race 2021-2022 school year

OSPI report card data on classroom teachers by race 2021-2022 school year

To understand the dissonance in speech and action, we take our first inquiry into the latest EOGOAC report from January 2022, which provided their recommendations and summary of the laws passed in the last sessions. 

In their report, they summarize SB5044, a bill we reported on in WAESN blog:

The EOGOAC, who worked on this bill, voiced the need for training once per term, the need for representatives of color, the need to be informed by communities’ of color needs, and representatives accessible to families and communities. These are important measures to uphold. In 2022, we must recognize that representation matters, and yet representation is nothing without redistribution and restructuring of access to power and decision making. 

We have tried to work with the EOGOAC members and partner on pushing racial justice legislation forward, however, we have been consistently deemed to “radical” for doing the very things the EOGOAC claims to support, including holding our representatives accountable.  Here’s a list of what they claim to prioritize followed by our actual experience trying to work with them.

What they say they want:

1A) recruiting more diverse members 

1B) building more interdepartmental and community relationships

1C) providing a support system to build relations amongst current board members of color and potential board members of color. 

What their actions really say:

1A) We have been making calls for more diverse members of the EOGOAC beyond the designated official representatives, such as community members, families, and students with little to no response from EOGOAC members.

1B) The model of ethnic studies we advocate for is interdisciplinary, while OSPI is seeing it as a stand alone alternative housed in their social studies work. We’ve asked the EOGOAC to open up membership to non-profit leaders and other community members of color, but they blatantly ignored our request.

1C) When asked why there isn’t more diverse representation on the EOGOAC (most members who actually show up are Asian or Latinx), we are given a lecture on all the wonderful things the EOGOAC did 15 years ago.

Recommendations 1D and 1E are also good on paper, but in practice we are excluded: 

While in their recommendations they include collaborating with organizations like WAESN as a list of priorities, in our email exchanges, our meetings, and in our legislator’s votes, we have been discounted, and deemed too radical to have the continued inequities facing our children addressed. In fact, our critiques of the EOGOAC and its members, most notably Representative Tomiko Santos, was used by OSPI to determine WAESN is a “political organization,” legitimizing the decision to remove WAESN from the list of professional development providers OSPI created for ethnic studies. Take a moment to reflect on that. The EOGOAC is a political organization making decisions for students in Washington State, but community-based organizations that criticize them are “too political” and penalized.

Shifting Voice to the People

In Washington State, we continue to face devastating consequences of the achievement gap and equity gap for our students of color and low income students. As advocates for ethnic studies, we see our role as one part of building capacity and the foundation for addressing this harmful structural inequity. The system is, however, designed this way and players in the system continue to deny the statistics, academic research, popular opinion, and the experiences of students in our rapidly privatized and defunded school systems. At WAESN, our work advocacy work begins by being the watchmen to the watchmen. In other words, we try to hold OSPI, the EOGOAC, SBE, and PESB accountable to the communities they serve, the students and families we work with as educators.

One necessary step to reducing the equity gap and achievement gap is for educators to be properly supported and trained to provide students with a learning environment that is culturally restorative and builds critical consciousness with our students. As such, one of the main resources we provide at WAESN is professional development for educators on how to be a critical educator of decolonized ethnic studies. After years of organizing, we are in the final stages of developing an ethnic studies endorsement in Washington State using our PD model. However, since Superintendent Reykdal removed the list of ethnic studies PD providers from the state ethnic studies framework, we have seen providers from predominantly white institutions (PWI) awarded contracts to lead ethnic studies PD in our local districts. We are calling on OSPI to provide clear guidance for the resources they provide and prioritize organizations led by people of color working in local communities. The exclusion of POC-led organizations in equity work is harming our ability to serve our students, teachers, and families. 

These official government bodies developed for making toothless recommendations are a hackneyed gesture to quell the good minded liberal who is sure a “task force will take care of it.” The EOGOAC was constructed by the government to hear from “the unheard,” yet they just use a private back channel to exclude us. How has anything changed? 

Calling In and Calling For

After reviewing the EOGOAC 2022 January Report, we have our own recommendations that follow from the equity and accessibility gaps the EOGOAC has created because of their exclusionary practices. 

Section 4 of 28A.300.136, the composition of the EOGOAC, would be amended to include 1-2 POC members of community organizations working in ethnic studies and/or education equity. 

28A.300.136 would also need to be amended to include more specific requirements for the types of resources and support provided for parents and community. As previously mentioned, this should include a list of PD providers that are POC majority led when it comes to DEI and ethnic studies work. 

We call on Representative Tomiko Santos to stop insisting on trying to find common ground with conservative members of the legislature who support the rise in domestic terrorism against Black and Brown Americans, trans and queer folk, and im/migrants of color. Until these conservative members of the legislature demonstrate they oppose the actions of their fellow party members, we must work over and around them to achieve what these conservative members fight the hardest to prevent – racial and economic justice.

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