By Lizzeth Mancilla
Engagement and Policy Intern
In this webinar co-presented with the College Spark Foundation, we have assembled a statewide panel including student activist Charlie Fisher of the Washington state Legislative Youth Advisory Council, founder of Unite Ridgefield, and advocate for legislation to diversify school curriculum, Alexandra Manuel, Executive Director of the Washington State Professional Education Standards Board, Dr. Mia Tuan, Dean of the University of Washington College of Education, Dr. Margarita Magana, Director of Outreach & Recruitment of the Heritage University Education Department, Dr. Goldy Brown III, Director of the Principal Certification Program at Whitworth University, and Dr. Gisela Ernst-Slavit, Professor of English Language Learners at Washington State University Vancouver Campus College of Education. Panelists discuss how educator and principal prep programs work to undo the injustices that have led to the current disparities between the diversity of students and educators, what more is needed, and how we can work together to support and sustain a diverse education workforce in Washington state. They also answered your questions.
There’s a significant disparity between the diversity of Washington students and educators. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) youth make up nearly half of our student population, while more than 90% of our teachers and education leaders are white. Studies show that BIPOC students who are exposed to teachers who reflect their race and ethnicity have higher graduation rates, and when more of the adults in schools reflect the communities they serve, deeper, more authentic school/community partnerships become well-positioned to transform schools in ways that dismantle racism and benefit from the wisdom and vision of families. In this moment of racial reckoning for our country, it is more important than ever to grow, sustain, and advance the priorities of BIPOC educators.
Dr. Warren Brown from the College Spark Foundation emphasized that advancing educator diversity in Washington state isn’t a new effort, rather a renewed one. It will lead to better student outcomes, close opportunity gaps, and prepare students to succeed in an increasingly diverse society. With much work needed ahead, “it takes change… community… and collaboration,” he stated.
Based on your experience as a student, why is it important to advance educator diversity?
“What do you want us to do about it?” is the response Charlie Fisher, a Junior at Ridgefield High School (Ridgefield, Washington) received from her school administration when she reported a group of students who repeatedly called her the n-word. Charlie stated that this experience opened up her eyes to cultural competency training. She believes that all educators should receive proper training in order to know how to respond to the situation she was put in and help promote inclusion in the classroom. “I don’t think a young person should be asked ‘What do you want us to do about this? How do you want us to discipline the student?’” she added.
How is higher education working to recruit and develop more BIPOC educators?
Dr. Mia Tuan, Dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington shared that UW is in partnership with the Education Deans for Justice and Education where they reflect on their schools’ culture, practices, policies, recruitment, funding, etc. “It’s a comprehensive 360 degree of self-reflection and being honest about the way our practices do or do not disrupt the status quo and making the hard decision to shift and change,” she said. Their constant reflections allow them to discuss and implement changes that support BIPOC teachers and educators.
What more is needed to address the injustices that have resulted in a largely white educator population in Washington state?
Alexandra Manuel from the Washington State Professional Education Standards Board shared that it is critical to reflect on how schools, partners, and stakeholders are creating spaces that reflect what they want to see, whether it’s through “prioritizing anti-racism, racial literacy, [or] community cultural wealth.” It is important to put an emphasis on centering work around the students who are being served.
“Education is political,” Dr. Goldy Brown III from Whitworth University said. As a local process, educators need to hold each other accountable in order to see change. Principals are accountable to superintendents, who are accountable to the board, who represent the beliefs of the local community, he explained.
“If it’s not in a principal’s evaluation or superintendent’s evaluation to make it an issue, then it’s just lip service even if they’re well intentioned. Because the reality is at the end of the day, we’re all trying to keep our jobs.”
By 2025, 25% of students are projected to be English Language Learners and a large share of Washington’s families speak a language other than English at home. How are Colleges of Education working to recruit, develop, and support teachers who reflect the linguistic diversity of school communities and why is this important?
Dr. Gisela Ernst-Slavit from WSU Vancouver discussed how colleges still use traditional admissions processes, including reviewing GPAs and transcripts. However, she shared how her college has been thinking outside the box by providing alternative route teacher education programs. These programs allow her college to grow paraprofessionals in partnering school districts throughout the state who, in reality, already have the qualifications, experience, and knowledge of students and communities they serve.
“Why do we need to increase the number of teachers of color? It’s because they have an understanding of the trials and tribulations of the challenges of the students they serve.”
Dr. Margarita Magana from Heritage University added that it is essential for their faculty to reflect the students they’re recruiting in terms of shared experiences and injustices. They find it necessary for faculty to be able to relate to situations students are experiencing, such as being an ELL student in the classroom. In addition, the Martinez Fellowship Program, a statewide initiative that prepares and supports teachers of color to become educational leaders, has been helpful for her community. It also serves as a support system as they join the program, participate in it, and exit the program.
What are some of the state-level policy issues and opportunities at play here and how can we collaborate to address and leverage these? At a policy level, what’s hindering a more diverse education workforce in Washington, and what are some near-term opportunities to make meaningful progress?
“We have to look at our own history and the history of the education profession. It’s not an accident that we have a pretty homogenous profession,” Alex said. It is important to decide what to prioritize when developing and supporting educators in order to reduce barriers and provide pathways into the profession. This requires flexibility, reviewing the educator assessment system, being accessible to graduating high school students, providing alternative routes, etc.
“[We need to] think of how we invest in strategies to diversify the educator workforce and address shortages,” she added. It is crucial to support BIPOC students who want to become educators.
Sustaining a diverse educator workforce requires more than increasing the number of BIPOC educators and principals that enter the field: district and community support are essential to sustaining BIPOC educators. What are some of the promising strategies you are seeing districts implement to better support teachers and education leaders of color? What additional changes are needed here?
While it lasted, Charlie appreciated her school creating an equity and engagement committee where students had the opportunity to work with the district, community members, law enforcement, etc., because it allowed youth and adults to be on the same page. The pandemic made it difficult for them to meet this past year; however, Charlie was hopeful it would start up again in May/June with the Black Lives Matter movement. Therefore, Charlie called for more consistency in such conversations.
Dr. Ernst-Slavit shared three strategies she has seen in districts she works with. One highlight is school districts are creating equity surveys to identify the issues they need to work on. Others are appointing positions such as Directors of Equity and Inclusion in their schools. But, the most influential initiative she has seen is one specific school district nurturing parent leadership organizations. These leadership programs invite parents of English Language Learners to not only learn about the school/district, but also to share their traditions, needs, and expectations with them. In addition, this program has even led to some of these parents realizing they’re interested in a career in education and become paraprofessionals. “And by that, [the district] has created a little pipeline and at the same time, a system of support because by the time those parents get into the school as teachers, they have already had all these connections with administrators [and] with the community,” she added.
Read the LEVinar audio transcript
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