A reluctance to get real about mediocre school performance has long plagued education in this country, and in this region.
But in 2010, more than 500 parents, educators and organizations decided that enough was enough, joining forces through the Road Map Project to candidly assess where our schools are failing low-income kids — and what to do about it.
“The spirit of this,” said project director Mary Jean Ryan, “was that we knew we had problems as a community and that we were banding together.”
Three years later, their efforts, aided by a hefty $40 million federal grant from Race to the Top, are beginning show results: Many more low-income students are taking advanced courses in high school, there has been a huge leap in the rate of young people signing up for College Bound scholarships, and suspension and expulsion rates are trending downward.
“Major progress is being made,” Ryan told a crowd of 200 parents, educators and politicians who’d gathered to hear her year-end report Thursday. “At the same time, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Targeting seven high-poverty school districts — Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, Tukwila and the south end of Seattle — that together educate 121,000 kids, Road Map aims to double the number of students on track to graduate from college (or earn a career credential) by 2020.
But that will mean overcoming some significant hurdles:
- As poverty has grown in King county suburbs — now affecting 72,000 students — the number of homeless children has jumped from 1,882 to 3,156 in the last three years.
- In seventh-grade math, performance gaps between white students and those of color are the largest in any tested category, yawning 46 percentile points. In eighth-grade science, it’s 45 points, effectively eliminating most of them from prime jobs in the region’s high-tech economy. “If we don’t turn around math and science for kids of color in our region,” Ryan warned, “they are systematically shut out.”
- Only 28 percent of students from the class of 2007 have earned a college degree. One reason, perhaps, is that 46 percent of community college students here need remedial math. In other words, they graduate high school unprepared for college work.
“This is not news to us,” Ryan concluded. “This is why we started the Road Map Project.”
If the early returns are any sort of indicator — particularly in parent engagement and early learning — the future should be brighter.