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City View Newsletter

Volume 4, Issue 28 • February 2011
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Note: There will be a public hearing on the proposed renewal of the Families and Education Levy next Thursday, February 17 at 5:30 p.m. in City Council chambers at City Hall (2nd floor, Fifth Avenue between James and Cherry Streets). Please join us.

Facing the facts on education

There's an elephant in the room that we don't like to talk about: the widespread inequity in Seattle Public Schools.

While many public school students receive an excellent education in our city, others are not so lucky. I like to say "facts are friendly," but that doesn't always make them easy to hear or act upon.

Consider a young student from a Seattle family living in poverty. When she enters kindergarten, she has slightly better than a 50-50 chance of reading at grade level in the 3rd grade. From the beginning, she has only a 60% chance of graduating from high school on time. But, it gets worse. If she fails a core subject in 6th grade, her high school graduation chances fall below 50%. In high school, she has a 1 in 3 chance of believing she has been tagged by teachers as "not college material."

Even if she does know the right courses to take to prepare for college (40% of low-income students won't), her odds of making the grades she needs—A's, B's or C's in all her core courses—are a slim 1 in 7. If she decides to enroll in community college, she has a 50% chance of needing to take at least one remedial course.

The barriers to success are massive for our children living in poverty and our children of color. It's easy to look at the facts, feel overwhelmed and—as we have for decades—quietly accept the status quo.

But we must recognize that without a solid education, young people lose out on their future. And some young people are losing more than others. Nationwide, black men aged 20-34 without a high school diploma are more likely to be behind bars than employed.

We must also recognize that graduating from high school no longer ensures success and a living-wage job in today's global, knowledge-driven economy. A recent study found that 67% of all jobs in Washington State will require some form of post-secondary education by 2018. We are not preparing our children for this reality.

But there's good news, too. We know much more today why some students succeed and how we can help those who are failing.

Everyone has a part to play. The City's role centers on our Families and Education Levy, which provides support services to students and families designed to boost academic performance.

Right now, my colleagues and I are considering whether to place a renewal of this important Levy before city voters in November.

The proposed legislation is the result of eight months of preparation by a 24-member levy advisory committee and excellent collaboration between the Council, the Mayor and the School District. In response to the dramatic inequities they found and the new reality of the global economy, the committee unanimously recommended renewing and enhancing the City's investment in education. The committee chose an ambitious goal: All students in Seattle will graduate from high school ready for college and career.

With specific and measurable outcomes, the renewed Levy would require City-administered performance contracts with schools and other community organizations. If the performance measures are not met, funding would be reallocated.

The renewed Levy would provide a spectrum of necessary support interventions, including early learning for pre-kindergartners; focused academic support for children who have fallen behind at key school transition points; school-based health centers proven to keep kids in class; and case management services to families who need extra help negotiating the education system. Using researched-based best practices, the Levy proposal seeks to reduce the academic achievement gap by targeting the students and schools that need the most help.

The proposal would collect $231 million in Seattle property taxes over the next seven years, a cost of $124 (about $10 per month) to the homeowner of the average assessed residential value of $462,045 in 2012. Admittedly, this amount represents a significant increase from the previous Levy and will be an added burden to property owners.

But, after immersing myself in this issue for the last eight months, I fully believe it is an urgently needed investment. Everything we want for Seattle—a strong and growing economy, an equitable society, a fair justice system, safe and family-friendly streets—starts with a strong education for all our children.

Let me know what you think on this issue. I'd love to hear your opinions either by e-mail or at our public hearing next Thursday.


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Quick City View

From my personal blog

On my desk

Charles Payne: So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools
This is a very interesting book. Payne traces the American experiment with public education, especially related to African American children living in urban poverty. Solid recommendations on how to improve.

Through the lens

On January 20 I gave brief remarks to a packed house at Town Hall on the subject of child sex trafficking. 

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(206) 684-8806
PO Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025
Physical address:
600 Fourth Avenue, Fl. 2
tim.burgess@seattle.gov

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