Wednesday, February 15, 2017

DEL's Racial Equity Initiative: Closing the Gap

Race matters. During my time in the legislature I saw how government policies can dis-proportionally impact people of color. The way agencies make decisions and implement programs can have profound effects on the people they are trying to serve. Why does this matter for an agency like the Department of Early Learning? Because Washington is becoming increasingly diverse - 44 percent of the estimated 446,000 children under 5 years of age are from racial and ethnic backgrounds that are either American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, multiracial, or Pacific Islander. Children of color are the fastest growing subgroup of all children under 5, and currently make up 60 percent of children under 5 years of age living in the lowest-income households.[1]
Race/Ethnicity of WA Young Children Under 5
by Household Income, 2015

While children of color currently account for 46% of the kindergarten population, they only make up 38.6% of the children who enter kindergarten ready for what lies ahead.[2] And we know that the opportunity gap doesn’t shrink in a child’s K-12 career.[3] When I put forth a goal for DEL to get 90% of kids ready for kindergarten by 2020, I very intentionally included in that goal that race and family income should no longer be predictors of readiness. With that in mind, I established a Racial Equity Initiative at the agency.

WA Opportunity & Achievement Gaps by Race/Ethnicity,
2015-16 School Year
Our focus for 2017 is to lay a strong foundation for ongoing efforts. This is not a quick fix with instant gratification. Making systemic change takes time and stamina. While I expect some short term results from my team, I am fully on board with a long-term commitment and strategy developed and implemented in partnership with families, communities of color and key partners.

Here’s what our plan looks like:

A. Develop and implement a comprehensive racial equity strategy. This strategy includes: 
  • A racial equity framework or shared approach to leading for equity. This framework will include a vision for the early learning system, principles, and a shared understanding of the historical and current context, language/definitions, and key concepts. 
  • A racial equity plan with specific goals, data, benchmarks, and priorities that lead to the greatest impact on closing opportunity gaps and removing barriers for children, families, and professionals of color. This plan will build on the Racial Equity Theory of Change for Early Learning. It will include both internal and external-facing strategies for DEL programs, policies, and practices with clear actions and accountability mechanisms. 
B. Develop and continually refine tools and processes (making time to gather input and consider impacts at planning and decision points) necessary to implement the racial equity strategy, including: 
  • Tailored racial equity impact analysis tools for program, policy, grant application, initiatives, and budget development. 
  • An agency-wide family, community, and stakeholder engagement protocol to ensure policies and decisions are meaningfully informed and influenced by those most impacted and marginalized. 
  • Disaggregated data and metrics to track results and measure the impact of DEL’s actions at the child/family/community level and outcomes at the program/agency level. 
C. Train and support DEL staff to increase their knowledge, awareness, and capacity to lead for equity
  • The first step is to convene and support a Racial Equity Team that will provide leadership in developing the racial equity strategy, tools, training, and processes. Team members will model culturally and linguistically responsive practices. They will play a critical role in setting the conditions and environment necessary to engage others in racial equity conversations and efforts.
Though DEL is at the forefront of many things, we are definitely not the first to undertake something like this. The City of Seattle, King County, the Puget Sound ESD, and a number of other governmental institutions have been implementing racial equity programs for several years. Lawmakers and bureaucrats are slowly coming to the realization that we cannot effect the change we’re seeking without making change internally and with the guidance and leadership of communities.

I’ll be personally participating in training sessions and will be guided in my decision making by the Racial Equity Team and its manager, Evette Jasper. As a white man from Microsoft and the Legislature, I’m doing my best to lead DEL as an ally to all of our providers, families, and children. My goal is to leverage the amazing opportunities we have to close the persistent and pernicious opportunity gap. I hope you join me in this critical and exciting work.

Thank you,

Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning

Read my statement on DEL’s support for inclusion and tolerance.

Want to learn more about the initiative and our progress at DEL in eliminating race as a predictor of kindergarten readiness? Visit this page.

[1] American Community Survey PUMS 2015 1-year data
[2] WaKIDS 6/6 readiness rates and kindergarten enrollment
[3] WaKIDS percent 6/6 and English Language Arts SBA percent met standard

No comments: