The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has placed a heavy emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, but critics of the department said that has taken focus off students and academics, and amounts to picking winners and losers.
“The Oregon Department of Education fosters equity and excellence for every learner through collaboration with educators, partners and communities,” the department’s website reads.
The Department of Education’s “Equity Lens,” featured prominently on the website, is designed to help “educators and decision-makers recognize institutional and systemic barriers and discriminatory practices” within the education system. One document on the department’s website lists questions to consider when allocating resources, such as what barriers exist to equitable outcomes, and how racial and ethnic data is being collected.
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A group of girls sit and talk at a school table.
One former ODE staffer said this was primarily virtue signaling among department leadership.
“While ODE leaders seem to use every opportunity to virtue signal internally and externally, their primary goals seem to involve lining their own pockets and ensuring their friends and allies outside of ODE get lucrative contracts with little to no accountability,” the former ODE employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told Fox News Digital.
Marc Thielman, a former school superintendent who ran for governor in Oregon, said the system has begun picking winners and losers.
“What we have is a system that has lost focus on its fundamental purpose, and it’s picking and choosing winners and losers. Everything about it is designed to undermine the system as it exists,” Thielman told Fox News Digital.
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The Educator Advancement Council within the ODE is “aimed at helping Oregon achieve high-quality, well-supported and culturally-responsive educators in every classroom.” Shadiin Garcia previously served as the executive director of the Educator Advancement Council, under which a Racial Justice Institute (RJI) was created to “provide culturally and racially affirming learning environments for educators,” according to the RJI website.
The Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA), an organization based out of Mississippi, was ultimately awarded a $2 million contract from the Education Advancement Council to create the RJI, which would provide professional development “for up to 600 racially, ethnically, or linguistically diverse educators across the Pre-K to 12 School System.”
According to Garcia’s LinkedIn, she later left the ODE, and is now the Executive Vice President at the Metropolitan Group, along with being a Coordinator and Lead Facilitator of the Racial Justice Institute for IDEA.
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Daniel Ramirez served as the interim executive director of the ODE Educator Advancement Council from September 2020 to July 2021, according to his LinkedIn. While at the Department of Education, Ramirez served as the point of contact for a contract with Community Design Partners, which was expanded from $545,000 to more than $1.6 million. Hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Community Design Partners for this contract were approved by Ramirez.
Ramirez subsequently left the Department of Education to work for Community Design Partners, where he began in July 2021 according to his LinkedIn profile. The Community Design Partners website says the organization is “dedicated to a wide range of social justice issues such as accessing postsecondary options, diversifying the teaching workforce, and advancing student success by removing systemic barriers.”
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Carmen Urbina is the owner of the Oregon Center for Education Equity (OCEE), and simultaneously worked as the Deputy Director of the ODE. In her position at the Department of Education, Urbaina signed off on a “Taking it Up” training to be delivered to ODE staff. The training was developed by Urbina’s company, OCEE, and delivered by a previous owner of OCEE. The training document presented to the ODE staff goes so far as to list “Special Appreciation to the Oregon Center for Education Equity.”
In a contract request form that questioned whether the contract could “benefit the people involved,” Urbina listed no conflict of interest; however, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said that out of an “abundance of caution,” Urbina did declare the potential conflict of interest to them.
The “Taking it Up” training itself was a two-day seminar, focused on “the institutionalized racist barriers that hinder elimination of the racial achievement disparities in school.”
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A spokesperson for the ODE, Marc Siegel, said in all these cases, the procurement process was completed “with integrity and adherence to state laws and practices.” He also noted that the department worked to align with Gov. Kate Brown’s Executive Order 2018-3 “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion Opportunities for Oregon Minority-Owned, Women-Owned, Service-Disabled Veteran Owned, and Emerging Small Businesses” within the process.
Thielman said the Department of Education’s equity priorities are filtering down to K-12 schools and affecting education.
“ODE has been working hard to purge conservatives from the industry in general,” Thielman said, encouraging parents to pull their children from public school if they can. “There is no representation for a conservative parent, it does not happen.”
In the end, Thielman said, the entire funding for the Department of Education is dedicated to pushing racial ideology.
Changing the structure of the department would take a complete overhaul of leadership, Thielman said. “ODE is nothing but a political organization of the governor,” he added.
Image of school lockers
Siegel defended the focus on equity within ODE.
“It is clear that racial equity must be addressed to support every learner. We know there are long-standing inequities in our systems that have led to gaps in outcomes for students of color,” he told Fox News Digital. “We do emphasize culturally responsive professional learning and an inclusive curriculum that is reflective of all communities in our state. There is both an intellectual and ethical basis for centering equity in professional learning and instructional materials, primarily so ODE can meet its responsibility to create the conditions in which every student can reach their full potential.”
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“There is a long and painful history of racial bias in education. Students are ready for systems and institutions to change. Creating a just and equitable learning environment that embraces the history and experiences of its learners is not only good for students, but also for our communities and our shared future,” he continued.
The Metropolitan Group, IDEA and Community Design Partners did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
Kelsey Koberg is an Editor with Fox News Digital.