By Frieda Takamura and Sili Savusa
For Northwest Asian Weekly
One of our core values as a country and state is providing the best opportunity for our next generation to succeed; this means all children regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or other defining characteristic.
Unfortunately Washington has been failing. Studies have repeatedly shown that throughout Washington we have seen persistent achievement and opportunity gaps that exist between our students of color and the student population as a whole.
The term “opportunity gap” is a term used to describe the structural issues within our education system that can hold back our students. There are many issues that factor into student success. Poverty and parent involvement certainly play huge roles in determining how well a student does in school, but when a consistent 20–30 percentage point gap in student achievement exists between students of color and white students, other factors must be examined.
We have seen that opportunity gaps have narrowed through careful analysis and use of data, targeted strategies to provide equal opportunities to all students, and meaningful partnerships with communities and families. Now is the time to take these ideas and implement them in a holistic way across the state to foster student success.
Crafting a plan for student success
This year the legislature is once again considering a comprehensive plan to address institutional inequities that run deep in our schools. The plan, based on the work of the Education Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (EOGOAC) and stakeholders, is in the form of House Bill 1541 and Senate Bill 6192, authored by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos and Sen. John McCoy.
The EOGOAC, a legislatively mandated committee formed in 2009, comprises representatives from the state’s three ethnic commissions, federally recognized tribes and the legislature. The committee is tasked with advising lawmakers on the best ways to improve educational outcomes for children of color throughout Washington.
The core goal of the committee is to put forth a set of recommendations on how we break down barriers to better achieve equity for all students. Over the past five years, as a result of much research and community engagement, the committee has put forth a comprehensive plan on how to better meet the needs of students of color, regardless of their backgrounds.
The recommendations build upon the assets that our students of color bring to school. Some of these recommendations include promoting the cultural competence of educators, the recruitment, hiring and retention of educators of color, endorsing educators in English Language Learner (ELL) instruction, strengthening transition programs for students, and improving the collection of student demographic and performance data for students of color.
Although these recommendations have passed the House of Representatives, they have repeatedly stalled in the State Senate for multiple years despite repeated attempts by committee members and allies to pass this comprehensive approach to better meeting the needs of our students.
Listening to those who understand it best
What is even more concerning, is that despite a lack of participation in the crafting of the recommendations, during this current session, Republican legislators have dropped their own legislation that ignores the work of stakeholders from communities of color. These legislators are now telling leaders from the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, the African American, the Latino, the Native American and other ethnic communities who have studied the issues exhaustively, that they, the legislators, better understand the institutionalized racism, disparate educational opportunities, and different treatment experienced by students of color than those who have experienced it first hand.
Let’s be clear: Ultimately stakeholders from the EOGOAC believe that our public education system is good. When it fails our students, it is not about intent — it is about impact. However it is critical that we look to better our schools in a holistic way, not just with piecemeal band-aid approaches that tinker on the edges instead of truly addressing the systemic problems.
It’s time for legislators to listen — for the sake of our children and for the sake of equal opportunity for all. (end)
Frieda Takamura is a former educator who serves as the Asian community representative on the EOGOAC.
Sili Savusa is executive director of the White Center CDA and the Pacific Islander community representative on the EOGOAC.
They can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.