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The Issue

In today’s economy, lack of higher education generally results in a life of low-wage work. The consequences to the individual, family and community can be devastating. By 2018, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce projects that 67 percent of Washington State’s job openings will require a postsecondary credential. We have work to do!

The Puget Sound’s poor attainment levels portend negatively for our region’s economic future because talented people from developing economies are increasingly able to find good jobs in their home countries. What would happen to the Puget Sound economy if the migration of talent here ground to a halt? This is a very real threat.

The region’s inability to develop its own “human capital” is our greatest challenge. It is our top civil rights and social justice issue. Those left behind are disproportionately nonwhite and low income. Affluent families can ensure their children get a good education. Many opt for private schools — in Seattle over 26 percent make that choice. Others opt for neighborhoods with good public schools, which, unfortunately, are a scarce commodity in certain subareas of the region.

The region’s poor performance is neither acceptable nor is it inevitable. Demographics do not equal destiny, but they often do when the status quo goes unchallenged. The old models of education are outdated and simply won’t generate the kind of results our young people need and deserve. New models of early learning and K-12 are needed, as are new approaches to boosting high school graduation rates and increasing the odds of successfully completing a postsecondary credential with labor market value.

Great results are possible. I say this because it is being done nationally in numerous communities from Harlem to Hillsborough and from DC to Chicago. It is happening here, too. Look at the improvement in WASL scores in both Mercer Middle School in Seattle and Crownhill Elementary in Bremerton (which had 100 percent of its 4th grade students pass the 2008-09 Reading WASL), as well as Renton’s improved high school graduation rate. These proof points must become the norm. Parents and communities must expect excellence and the system must deliver quality.