The Road Map Project works to mobilize the region to dramatically improve education for the children growing up in one of the most knowledge-intensive economies in the world. Economies are no longer contained, localized labor markets. The region has become the dominant economic unit, and the search for talent has gone worldwide. We want the young people of our region—whether they grow up on Mercer Island or in Tukwila—to have the same shot at career opportunity and economic success. Today, they do not. Research done by the Georgetown University Center on Education in the Workforce states that by 2018, fully 67% of the jobs in Washington State will require some form of postsecondary credential. Today, only about a third of the young people growing up in the Road Map Project area receive a two- or four-year degree by their mid-20s.
Thousands of people with advanced degrees are being imported, leaving local children largely by the wayside. Fifty-six percent of the 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.
The realities of opportunity are very different depending on address. The pall of inequality casts its shadow across our region, especially as poverty has rapidly spread south. We may be one regional economy, but we are two divergent societies: one “have” and one “have not.” The Road Map Project, with its focus on increasing postsecondary attainment—especially for students of color and for low-income students—attempts to counter these demographic trends. The project pushes instead to advance equity and improve education for the children and youth who are full of talent but live just outside the ring of affluence and prosperity.
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 children 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 United States 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.