Education:  Summary & Data Highlights

In 2011, only 1 in 4 eligible King County children participated in publicly funded early education programs. 

Education is widely regarded as the great leveler, an “intervention” that pays off in higher wages and better health. But we know now that timing is crucial. Providing quality education before age 5 creates a powerful domino effect, yielding sustained benefits to individuals and society at large. 

The quality, cost, and availability of child care can vary widely across communities. The burdens of poor quality and limited choice often fall on poor families.  Public funding of early childhood education tries to address these disparities, but falls short of serving all eligible children. 

  • In 2011, an estimated 26% of eligible children in King County were served by the federal Head Start program and Washington State’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECAP), leaving more than 10,000 eligible children without access to these early education options. 
  • The majority of eligible children who could not be accommodated lived in King County’s South Region; more than half were concentrated in 4 South Region school districts – Highline, Kent, Federal Way, and Renton.
  • For Early Head Start, which focuses on low-income families with infants and toddlers, only about 1% of eligible children were served.  Although almost 21,000 King County children were eligible for Early Head Start, a mere 298 slots were available (data not shown). 

For Washington students in grades 3 through 8, the “Measurements of Student Progress” (MSP) assess proficiency in reading, math, writing (grades 4 & 7 only), and science (grades 5 & 8).  Among King County 4th graders …

  • Mercer Island consistently had the highest percentage of students meeting standards.
  • South Region districts Highline, Federal Way, Kent, and Tukwila had the lowest percentages of students meeting standards.

For older students, the High School Proficiency Exams (HSPEs) measure basic reading and writing proficiencies. Statewide,  81.3% of 10th graders met the state reading standard and 85.4% met the writing standard.   Among King County 10th graders …

  • South Region schools anchored both the top (Tahoma) and bottom (Tukwila) of the distribution of students meeting state standards. 
  • 8 districts (Seattle plus 7 South Region districts) had both the lowest proportion of students meeting reading standards and the lowest proportion meeting writing standards.  They were Tukwila, Highline, Federal Way, Renton, Seattle, Kent, Auburn, and Enumclaw.
  • In half of King County school districts, more than 90% of students met writing standards.
  • Although disparities were evident for writing as well, they were most dramatic for reading scores.  Students in the following racial/ethnic groups were least likely to meet 10th grade reading standards:  Blacks, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Hispanics, and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders students were least likely to meet 10th grade reading standards.  Reading scores also varied by English language proficiency, special education status, and family income. The percentages of students who met state reading standards were …

In King County overall, 80% of students in the Class of 2015 graduated “on time” (with the same cohort of students with which they started high school).The following disparities, however, were striking.

School district:

  • More than 90% of students graduated on time in 8 King County school districts; all East Region districts (excluding Skykomish) were in this group.
  • On-time graduation rates were especially low for Tukwila and Highline (70%) districts.

Race/ethnicity and Gender:

  • On-time graduation rates for Blacks, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives Asians were all at or below 65%, trailing the rates for Asians (88%) and whites (86%) by at least 20%. 
  • 77% of males graduated on time, compared to 83% of females.

English proficiency, special education, and low-income:

  • 54% students with limited English proficiency graduated on time.
  • 57% of Special Education students graduated on time.
  • 66% of low-income students graduated on time.
  • 49% of homeless students graduated on time in 2015, up from 36% in 2013.

A perfect storm?  Especially difficult educational challenges are concentrated in a few school districts.  

  • The school districts with the lowest on-time graduation rates also served student populations in which more than 1 in 5 students had limited proficiency in English (36.8% for Tukwila and 24.8% for Highline). 
  • These same districts had high proportions of low-income students (78.3% in Tukwila and 67.9% in Highline).
  • Serving the most diverse language communities in the state, King County school districts face extraordinary challenges in trying to help all students earn a high school diploma.
  • Failing to meet the educational needs of students growing up in poverty, or in homes where English is not the primary language, will profoundly narrow the prospects of thousands of King County children. 

"‘Mommy, I’m afraid I won’t be able to go to college.’ That was what my son said to me when he was 13."
Single mother on disability with 4 children, living in public housing in Seattle

"I cannot help my children with their homework. My English level is limited. In regard to math, I can help. Chinese and English math are the same. I don’t know where to look for help. I want to know where to learn English. I will bring him to get help. My son is struggling with reading."
Chinese-American mother with 2 children living in South King County