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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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April 18, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Washington’s two-tiered system of higher education

Last Sunday’s story, “From Slipping Through the Cracks to the College Track,” noted that despite our brainy national image, Washington state has shockingly low college-going rates compared to the rest of the country. Only 60 percent of high school graduates here enroll in any four-year institution.

But for low-income kids, the rates are truly troubling.

Among the Class of 2012, only 18 percent enrolled in four-year colleges. Instead, many chose to attend no-barrier community colleges — even those who do well in school and score highly on standardized tests. Number-crunchers at the State of Washington Education Research & Data Center ran figures for The Times, and found that only 21 percent of low-income students who’d tested well in math went to four-year schools. But about one-third enrolled at community colleges (see graph below).

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: Community colleges, counselors, graduation rates

April 15, 2014 at 5:00 AM

More help navigating the college-application obstacle course

Reuben Santos goes over scholarship possibilities with Caroline Sacerdote at Franklin High School's College Access Now office. Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times 2011

Reuben Santos goes over scholarship possibilities with Caroline Sacerdote at Franklin High School’s College Access Now office. Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times 2011

Washington’s dismal rate of low-income students enrolling in four-year schools — a stunningly low 18 percent — surprised some who read our Sunday story about college guidance and the lack of help available to many students.

School counselors, it turns out, are not trained in this increasingly complex arena, which could be a major reason behind the low numbers nationally. (Watch this space for another likely contributor to the low rates in Washington.)

Locally, the nonprofit Rainier Scholars provides a powerful answer to about 60 students each year. But the criteria to get in are rigid. You must sign up in fifth grade. You must be a child of color. And you must show academic promise, as determined by Rainier Scholars.

So what if you’re not right for that program? What if you’re a foster kid who’s bounced from school to school for years and doesn’t have great grades?

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: college readiness, counseling, higher ed

April 13, 2014 at 10:08 PM

Sunday story: Outside guidance helps high-school students get in

Maika Bui, right, a promising student from a low-income neighborhood, has been guided toward college since grade school through the Rainier Scholars program. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Maika Bui, right, a promising student from a low-income neighborhood, has been guided toward college since grade school through the Rainier Scholars program. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

OAKLAND —

In the early mornings while driving his mother to her job cleaning houses, Victor Gomez imagined playing baseball on a college campus. It was 6:30 a.m. in America’s third-most violent city, and he would soon head to class at a high school better known for shootings than scholarship.

Yet against all odds, Victor and several dozen of his classmates will walk onto university campuses next fall, a milestone due not to stellar grades or soaring athletic potential but, instead, the work of another young man hired to create life-changing opportunities where school staff cannot.

Eight hundred miles away, in South Seattle, Maika Bui also might have settled for far less than her abilities warrant, if not for a flier she saw in fifth grade, advertising college preparation. She stuffed it into her backpack and brought the paperwork home from Roxhill Elementary School seven years ago.

Go here for the full story.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: counseling, higher ed

April 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the game: Talking race, culture and multi-colored lockers

JulieGrayscale

Julie Breidenbach

New schools don’t crop up every day. So watching the formation of Fairmount Elementary, scheduled to open this September in West Seattle, has been instructive.

Parents may assume the most difficult tasks would be selecting a curriculum, and hiring the right teachers. Not so, says Julie Breidenbach, a Seattle School District veteran and current principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, selected for this weighty job.

Actually, it’s the little things: Making sure that student lockers are in different colors, so that kids who can’t yet count can still find theirs; ensuring a child-friendly system for communication with parents.

What follows — a free-wheeling conversation with Fairmount’s new principal — is the third installment of “Skin in the Game,” an occasional series tracking the birth of Seattle’s newest school.

Q: You’ve collected a pretty active group of parents already. How do you juggle their concerns as community members with your own ideas for what Fairmount needs?

A: It’s a big emotional investment, where your child goes to school, so that doesn’t surprise me. There are some certain things that educators do, and certain things parents do and sometimes these things overlap — a bit. But I’ve learned over the years to set some very clear boundaries. Time is finite and there are things I’m not going to waste a lot of time discussing, like uniforms. ‘No’ means no.

Q: You’re considered a strong supporter of education for gifted students. But a lot of people around here feel that Seattle’s Accelerated Progress Program, with its vast majority of white children, is little more than racial segregation.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: Fairmount Elementary, Seattle Public Schools

April 8, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Tracking kids over decades shows effect of early-childhood lessons

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

There’s plenty of talk these days about the virtues of early-childhood education, and most of it, predictably, comes via education experts. But when medical types chime in, it can add important heft to cost-benefit analyses. Sort of like when scientists began to confirm that climate change is real.

Last month Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and health policy researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine, happened upon a 30-year study of early childhood interventions that, as he put it “just blows me away.”

You don’t often hear medical types speak in such terms.

Between 1972 and 1977, researchers randomly studied 111 children, from birth to age 8, and followed up decades later to see whether certain education and medical treatments in childhood reaped significant implications when those kids became adults. (The study was published in Science Magazine, which requires a subscription. But you can read a summary here and look over some data here.)

The kids, all of them from poor families in rural North Carolina, were divided into two groups. One half received language lessons, social stimulation and emotional guidance — that is, high-quality daycare — eight hours a day, for their first five years. They also got two meals, a snack, regular check-ups and medical treatment when ill. The other group received no special attention.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: early ed

April 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Tireless quest for more civics instruction winning backers

Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times.

Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times.

No one can accuse Web Hutchins of being all talk or shying from the public square.

For three years, the Madison Middle School history teacher has been beating the drum to incorporate more civics into Washington’s public school curriculum with his Civics for All initiative.

Now he’s persuaded legislators in both the Seattle City and King County councils to endorse that notion, too.

Citizenship should be “as vital as the ‘Three Rs,” agreed County Council Chairman Larry Phillips, prime sponsor of the motion, which garnered unanimous support in a vote on March 17.

Hutchins’ belief in the importance of civics is not merely a matter of personal opinion. An Education Lab blog post in February noted several national studies that suggest teaching students about representative democracy is a powerful tool for academic engagement.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: civics, Peter Levine, Web Hutchins

March 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Anxious about the SAT? More colleges say ‘don’t worry about it’

Almost anyone who has applied to college can trot out a horror story about the much-dreaded Scholastic Aptitude Test, better known as the SAT. The four-hour, fill-in-the-bubble test of math and reading skills has spawned innumerable opinion pieces, diatribes and nightmares.

There’s even a book, The Perfect Score Project, by Debbie Stier, a single mom and public relations professional who took the exam seven times (surely an exercise in masochism), trying to achieve a perfect 2400. Stier’s book is filled with tips for improving student scores, most of which boil down to one unsurprising adage: Study more.

Yet anyone who has flipped through an SAT-prep booklet knows there are easy strategies for gaming the test — techniques that can dramatically improve one’s score, as described here, by Education Lab opinion columnist Dennis McDuffie, a high school senior in Richland, Wash.

Likewise, educators across the country insist that the SAT is a poor measure of student aptitude or likely college success — a backlash that gained more credence after a recent SAT-overhaul by the College Board, which is trying to better align it with classroom curricula.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: higher ed, SAT, standardized tests

March 25, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Talk less, listen more: Five lessons for teachers from global educator

Kimberly Mitchell

Kimberly Mitchell

Everyone has a moment when past experiences tumble together and point the way forward. For Kimberly Mitchell, that happened in 2005, as she stood in front of a crowd of suburban schoolteachers who folded their arms across their chests in disgust, as Mitchell tried to explain her concept of “inquiry-based” classroom instruction.

“You’re giving us nothing,” one said.

Mitchell, a former teacher and assistant principal at Chief Sealth High School, had traveled to California to preach her belief in the transformative power of an approach to education that features less teacher-talking and a lot more listening. But she was an outsider, a mouthpiece, more noise in the clatter of education reform.

“People like you come here all the time and talk to us about ‘inquiry,’ and we never know what you’re talking about,” the same teacher griped. So Mitchell had to act out what she meant — in a classroom, with kids, as the teachers watched. It terrified her. And it changed everything.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: education reform, Kimberly Mitchell, teaching

March 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Ecology? Hamlet? Who cares? Millions of kids clicking online

Screen shot of a

Screen shot of a YouTube CrashCourse on ancient Mesopotamia

When a lesson in biology or A.P. World History gets more than a million page views, it behooves anyone interested in education to find out what’s so compelling.

Such statistics are standard for CrashCourse, a YouTube channel hugely popular with high school students and, by extension, their curious parents. As of this month, CrashCourse has earned more than 1.4 million subscribers and attracted 82 million video views since it first aired on YouTube in 2011.

What makes John Green’s lessons on the agricultural revolution or ancient Mesopotamia so much more interesting than traditional history lectures? Memorable examples that convey emotion and use animation to illustrate key concepts, say students.

Put another way: CrashCourse is reminiscent of classic “Schoolhouse Rock” episodes, but for big kids. Students often use it to augment their understanding of in-school classes, which is likely why acclaimed non-profit tutoring center Khan Academy posts the Greens’ 10-minute lectures on its own site.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: CrashCourse, online learning, YouTube

March 18, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Dropouts build futures with hammer, nails and job skills

Courtesy YouthBuild

Courtesy YouthBuild

Six months ago, the future looked bleak for 18-year-old Esequiel Sandoval. He had dropped out of Highline High School, believing that he lacked the credits to graduate with his class, and bounced between several part-time jobs — McDonald’s, house-painting. Whatever might net him a few dollars.

But next week, he will graduate from YouthCare’s YouthBuild construction apprenticeship program — with his high-school diploma, a carpenter certification and the chance to earn starting wages of about $21 per hour.

“It’s a huge turnaround for me,” said Sandoval, who is awaiting the birth of his first child. “If I wasn’t in this program, I probably wouldn’t be doing anything.”

All of the 125 young people who have been through the Seattle-area program during the past five years could say the same. But amidst the thundering din surrounding education reform, most of the racket focuses on sending more young people to college. Pathways for success outside the classroom earn only a rare mention.

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0 Comments | More in News | Topics: dropouts, YouthBuild, YouthCare

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