You’ve probably heard this story before. A folksy, man-of-the-people politician has a decision to make, and he needs to know what his constituents think about the matter. He needs to tap into the wisdom of the people so that his policies can “reflect the needs of our diverse community.”
So, the politician (in this case, let’s call him Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal) rolls up his sleeves and meets the people where they’re at, right? He needs to hear from us -- the people! -- so Reykdal reaches out and connects with us on our terms, not his. He listens without making assumptions.
He… schedules a series of informational webinars!
Gosh, Chris. As always, you really get me.
With Washington’s ESSA accountability plan due to the feds in September, Reykdal’s office has scheduled four webinars in August to share details, recent revisions, and ways to give feedback on the plan. I’ve already had to drink an extra cup of coffee just thinking about trying to stay awake through it.
But seriously, this is all real. That line about “reflecting the needs of our diverse community” is taken right from Reykdal’s recent press release announcing these webinars. The stated goal is to get some feedback from people like me and you on our state’s new education plan -- a federal requirement.
If Reykdal is actually listening, here’s what I want him to hear about me and my community:
If you’re not willing to turn things on their head, you can’t solve our problems. The opportunity gap didn’t just arise a few years ago. People of color have always been oppressed in this country, and that has always played out in our education system as well. If you think a few tweaks are all it will take to set our schools on a different path, we disagree. We need you to be bold, or else to sleep at night knowing that your time in this office is coming at the expense of our kids.
OSPI (the state superintendent’s office) will officially release the revised plan on Aug. 7, opening up a 30-day public comment period. They will ask for comment and approval from Gov. Jay Inslee, the state legislature and the state board of education at that time as well. All this feedback will be compiled for Reykdal to review before submission, who promises in the press release to “use our new flexibility to support all students and address gaps for students that have been historically underserved by our education system.”
Nice. But as always, they don’t tell us how they’re going to do it. They just tell us how they’re going to pay for it. So, Washington’s plan describes methods of financial support for struggling students and schools, but it does not outline significant practical changes that can be expected to actually help close our state’s opportunity gap, which is one of the worst in the nation.
That’s going to take bold, drastic, at-times-unpopular changes. Real, concrete changes involving new policies, expectations and repercussions. Instead, we’re getting a lot of people sincerely agreeing that we should close the opportunity gap, then shaking hands and moving on with business as usual.
Reykdal shared his vision for our schools earlier this month, and it was similarly vague when it comes to equity, acknowledging our gaps and our systemic discrimination without offering tangible solutions.
For what it’s worth, just about every state seems to be struggling with this same issue. Still, I question just how effectively Reykdal’s office is truly engaging stakeholders, because that’s where these answers can be found. A group of Seattle educators and NAACP members, for example, offered a “concrete plan to close intolerable opportunity gaps” in Seattle Public Schools just a couple days ago. The Campaign for Student Success has authored a detailed plan for equitable school funding in the state. Organic, community-based ideas and leadership are not in short supply. They’re just not always recognized.
The 30-day comment period that will open up in August is our last chance to impact the plan that will guide our schools into the next decade.
Registration information for the four webinars:
• Tuesday, August 15, 4–6 p.m. (register)
• Saturday, August 19, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. (register)
• Wednesday, August 23, 5–7 p.m. (register)
• Wednesday, August 30, 6–8 p.m. (register)