In May, Maia Espinoza, a general election candidate for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), submitted a voters’ guide candidate statement to the Secretary of State. Under the Education section, Espinoza’s candidate statements lists “MS, Curriculum and Instruction, Western Governors University.”
The degree referenced is listed with other education that Espinoza has assumedly completed, including a BBA from Pacific Lutheran University, an AA from Pierce College, and that she attended Clover Park High School.
No qualification is made to any of the degrees being incomplete.
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After checking with Western Governors University (WGU), the university confirmed to the Washington State Wire that while Espinoza is enrolled as a master’s student, she has not yet completed her degree program.
According to records on file with the student services department at WGU, Espinoza started the masters program on October 1st, 2019 and has a “planned graduation date” of September 30th, 2020.
A worker with the student services department, who was required under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to disclose the information, told the Wire that WGU records indicate that Espinoza has one more capstone course remaining before she can graduate.
Espinoza did not indicate in her candidate statement that she had not yet completed her degree, though she did say in a June interview with Turn Washington, “I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction…when I became a little bit more interested in education and taking it more seriously, I decided to pursue that. I’ll be done in just a couple of months here, God willing.”
In their description of the Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction, WGU writes that graduates “acquire specialized skills and valuable expertise in instructional theory, psychology, design, evaluation, and research—all focused on how to better engage students and deliver improved learning outcomes.”
Based on the description, courses, and competencies the master’s program offers, holding the degree would award Espinoza a credential directly related to the subject matter under the OSPI’s purview. Subject matter expertise could be a priority for voters.
Espinoza completed her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Pacific Lutheran University. Reykdal earned a teaching certificate with his bachelor’s degree, though his master’s degree is in public administration. Both candidates have teaching experience; Reykdal taught high school American and world history. Espinoza taught music.
Republican State Representative Michelle Caldier, who serves on the House Education Committee said that graduate credentials are only one component of what qualifies a candidate for Superintendent.
Honestly I think being a parent and having children in public school, and I know both her and Reykdal do, I think that’s an experience that allows you to learn so much more about the educational system than anything you could learn in graduate school. I do think conventional education and earning a master’s is very important, but I think it’s equally important to have the experience of having children in the educational system.”
Liv Finne, the Director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, a right-leaning think tank, was less convinced that an education related credential is relevant to the work carried out by OSPI.
The research shows that these master’s degrees in education have no direct impact on improving the quality of education students receive. That has been established by rigorous social science research conducted by professors at Harvard and the like. So, this is a paper credential that I don’t think is important for anyone to have earned in order for anyone to bring a valuable contribution to improving the quality of schools.”
The research Finne referred to is a 2007 Harvard Graduate School of Education study which found that a teaching credential “matters little” in raising student achievement. The study of 10,000 teachers in grades four through eight found that student learning was more closely correlated to teacher mastery of subjects like math and reading, rather than whether a teacher held a state-issued certificate.
The Wire reached out to Espinoza’s campaign on two separate occasions for comment. While a staffer said they would provide a comment, the campaign had yet to do so at the time of this article’s publication.
When reached for comment on Thursday afternoon, Reykdal’s campaign said the discrepancy between Espinizoa’s educational background and the way she presented it on her voters’ pamphlet reflected a pattern of dishonesty.
Espinoza’s latest lie is part of a pattern of dishonesty she’s displayed throughout this campaign. This time candidate Espinoza lied about her own education, even while asking voters to trust her with the management of our public school system,” said Phil Gardner, Reykdal’s campaign manager.
Some observers said the manner in which Espinoza’s has presented her educational background does not comport with the standards for honesty voters expect from candidates.
Voters put a high premium on authenticity. It’s probably the single most important attribute in this era. They want their leaders to be straight with them,” said Zach Silk, President of the progressive think tank, Civic Ventures. “Being evasive or misleading doesn’t sit well with voters, And it makes sense: if you aren’t honest with voters on the campaign, why should they trust you to be honest with them once you’re in office?”
Rep. Caldier said that accuracy in completing campaign materials is important, especially since voters might rely on the information included in a voters’ pamphlet to make an informed decision.
I do think it’s important to be accurate in the voters’ pamphlet statement. But for a first time candidate running for statewide office…it would be one thing if she wasn’t in school at all and said that she had the credentials and wasn’t even on track to getting them. But the semantics probably could have been a little bit better.”
The two candidates faced off in a Washington State Wire debate on Thursday evening. Espinoza said she believed the discrepancy is a nonissue and that she is finishing up a capstone project on a timely subject.
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