Historically, local communities developed education systems so that their children could learn the skills needed to secure a job in the local economy – a job that paid enough to support a family. There was a symbiotic relationship between the labor market and the education system. Today, that is no longer the case.
As the economy has rapidly evolved, becoming increasingly global and knowledge-intensive, the education delivery system has been slow to adapt. We must once again build the education system that can deliver the skill levels the economy demands.
The Georgetown University Center on Education in the Workforce projects that, by 2018, 67% of the jobs in Washington State will require a college degree or a career credential. This statistic is not surprising when you think about the type of industries that drive the Puget Sound economy. Our region is known for entrepreneurship and innovation. We are rich with high-tech firms in diverse sectors, all of which depend on a well-educated workforce.
This region boasts one of the best educated adult populations in the nation. Fifty-six percent of adults in Seattle and 47% of adults in King County have a bachelor’s degree. However, only one out of every four King County residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher was born here. Talented people move here from other states and countries for the great jobs that are available – we import talent at a much higher rate than most states. Many other regions have not had such a reliable supply of outside talent. Current trends in developing countries make our reliance on outside talent a significant economic risk for the future of our region. We need to start growing our own!
The Road Map Project seeks to close the longstanding and unacceptable achievement gaps that exist between white students and students of color. Race and poverty level should not determine educational attainment. All students can learn and achieve at high levels if they are given the opportunity and the support. We have to confront our gaps, look at what our students need to succeed, and make changes in our institutions, practices, and policies to better serve students and their families.
We often hear people say we should not expect students from South King County and South Seattle to do as well as students from Mercer Island, Bellevue, or Issaquah. A problem with this thinking is that once kids transition from being students to job seekers, they enter the same competitive labor market as students from more affluent communities and families. It is a moral imperative that we provide all students in South King County and South Seattle an excellent education so they have the opportunity to participate in our economy and in our community.
The dramatic demographic shifts that have occurred in the US and in the Puget Sound over the last 30 years have changed the way we must approach education. Increasingly, the children of our region and our nation are non-white and are from low-income families. Our future depends on our ability to educate those who in prior generations have been left behind.