To inform this work, WEA reached out to UW College of Education faculty members with an open-ended invitation. In response, the three project leads Manka Varghese--a leading scholar on teacher identity and multi-lingual youth, Ana Elfers--a researcher on teaching quality, and Marge Plecki--an expert in policy and the economics of education, formed a larger contributing team of UW and Washington State University faculty and community-based organizations already engaged in relevant educational justice work around the state. The result is a series of 13 in-depth reports centering the voices of communities, students, teachers and administrators of color and their networks. Called A Roadmap to Reducing Barriers to Educational Justice in Washington State, the scholarship seeks to inform WEA and the larger system.
With the report recently completed, it's still early in the process. Next comes the challenging task of digesting and using the information to make change both within the WEA and beyond. "We want the authors to be working partners in presenting and explaining their work," says Djibril Diop, government relations director at the WEA. The WEA's recently created Center for Racial, Social, and Economic Justice will also support this effort, led by its newly hired director, Michael Peña. Leaving his position as a Mukilteo district math teacher, he's a longtime WEA member and a strong advocate for Washington Senate bill 5044 concerning dismantling institutional racism in the public school system, which passed into law and became effective in July of 2021.
"The pandemic hurt everybody in different ways," says Sharonne Navas, co-founder and executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition and author of one of the roadmap's reports, A Community Perspective on Educational Justice in the Time of COVID. "Our parents and students were emotionally bereft about how little they heard from educators. The lack of forward thinking of our systems really hurt us at that moment. Technical colleges and community colleges have been doing online learning for quite some time, but our school systems were not able to transition as seamlessly as families anticipated."
Navas sees the pandemic and this work with the WEA as a disruptive opportunity to think more holistically about the purpose of education. "What's at stake?" she asks. "Our future. We're having more students of color graduate without the basic ability to read, do math, attain a post-secondary education. We're seeing more students having to choose low-income jobs for survival."
In addition to the inequities are the questions of whether the system is working for anyone. "Is the goal of education critical thinking or meeting standards?" Navas asks. "We as a society have created this villain of the educational system, handcuffing our teachers. In concert with the WEA, now is the time to reevaluate and revolutionize what education looks like, with the end goal being a populous able to critically think."
The need for people with critical thinking skills has never been more apparent than in the challenging work of acknowledging and addressing structural inequities caused by centuries of colonialism and racism. In addition, an already complex problem is made more dangerous and complicated by the spread of misinformation, hot-button responses, and a lack of nuanced dialogue across the nation's divisive two-party political system.
Because of this challenging context, the roadmap asks the WEA to think critically, including questioning assumptions and beliefs about how the state practices and finances education. To help with this process, the report's overview summarizes the studies' common areas for change into four interactive principles.
The first is recognizing and disrupting the education system's historical roots in settler colonialism and segregationist policies and practices.
The second is to build an equity-based school finance system in keeping with the state's constitution to provide "ample" support for public education.
The third is to let changes and reimagining be led by those furthest from justice.
The fourth specifies the need for a web of support that cares for students, families, and educators furthest from justice.
Together, all the principals support the idea of being historically honest about who we are, having integrity in how we treat each other, and the courage to stand up for the best of humanity to create a better future for all.