Youth & Education

Stories about education focused on the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Youth & Education reporter, Kyle Stokes.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Seattle's elected leaders can hardly describe the proposed preschool pilot program at the heart of Proposition 1B without using the phrase "high-quality."

City education officials frequently invoke these words when speaking about their desire to pass a four-year, $58 million property tax hike to not only cover preschool tuition for as many as 2,000 low-income kids, but to ensure these children receive the greatest possible benefit from the program.

But amid a broader debate over whether voters ought to choose the city's plan over a competing childcare initiative, Proposition 1A, a smaller debate has roiled among early educators: What exactly constitutes "high-quality" preschool?

Wes Chapman / Flickr

Someone altered test responses at Seattle's Beacon Hill International School in a way that significantly increased the elementary school's test scores. State education officials have now thrown out the entire school's results after noting "heavy erasure" marks on the test forms.

Whatever the reason for the alterations — both Seattle Public Schools and the state aren't using the word "cheating" — the changes produced some pretty startling test results, as a state analysis shows:

Carol VanHook / Flickr

Washington state education officials have thrown out all standardized test scores at Seattle's Beacon Hill International School after a review found "heavy erasures" in the test booklets, district officials said in a letter to the school's parents and staff Tuesday.

State officials think "the test responses were altered in such a way as to significantly increase total scores," Interim Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland wrote in his letter.

High numbers of the erasure marks made from students changing wrong answers to right ones could indicate cheating, according to education experts. That said, there can also be legitimate, innocent explanations for these stray marks.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Tacoma Public Schools officials recently filed suit against a teacher and two guidance counselors at Lincoln High School, alleging the staff members violated privacy laws designed to keep student records confidential.

An attorney for the educators says her clients have broken no privacy laws. She says the district's lawsuit is retaliation for the staffers going public with concerns the school's scheduling practices are pushing too many students out of Lincoln and into alternative school settings.

But district officials say the practice, which attorney Joan Mell and her clients disparagingly call "cherry-picking," is part of a coordinated effort to ensure the district's most vulnerable students can graduate from high school.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Seattle Public Schools officials have reached a settlement agreement with the family of a Garfield High School student who alleged she was sexually assaulted during an overnight school trip in 2012, the district announced Wednesday.

As part of a $700,000 settlement agreement, the parents have agreed to dismiss complaints they'd filed with state and federal officials, and to not pursue "monetary claims" against the district and to stop filing public records requests with the district, according to a Seattle Public Schools statement.

"Our goal was to not have this happen again to another family that would have to live through this trauma," said the Garfield student's father in an interview. (KPLU is withholding the family's name to protect the privacy of the student, who's still a minor.)

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Supporters of a campaign to raise wages and create a training program for Seattle's childcare workers are hitting the airwaves, unveiling a commercial that will air during one of the city's most-watched television events: Monday night's Seahawks game.

Courtesy of Seattle Public Schools

Seattle Public Schools officials will hold a series of public meetings this week to inform parents of another shift in attendance boundaries set to take place next school year, potentially impacting more than 1,100 students at 25 district elementary schools.

The changes are part of a bigger plan. A package approved by Seattle School Board members last year calls for annual, incremental shifts in the attendance boundaries until 2020, all with the aim of finding enough space for a burgeoning student population in new or recently-expanded schools.

Lynne Sladky / AP Photo

State education officials have raised the stakes in Seattle Public Schools' efforts to improve services for the district's most vulnerable students, recently announcing they will hold back $3 million in federal funding until the district can get its troubled special education department back on track.

On Wednesday night, the Seattle School Board members took a step toward potentially getting that funding back, hiring an outside firm to help district officials implement a plan to fix its special education offerings.

Martha Kang / KPLU

Fall classes began at many of Washington's public universities Wednesday, beginning the first term undocumented immigrant students can receive state-backed financial aid under a new state law.

But while more than 2,000 students applied to receive state need grants under provisions of the newly-enacted Washington "Dream Act," state higher education officials say it's possible as many as 700 of these undocumented students won't receive an aid award at all — even if they're eligible.

It's not just undocumented students who will miss out. Though state expenditures on the program have ballooned as tuition costs get higher, there isn't enough funding for the state need grant program to offer aid to every eligible Washington student.

Martha Kang / KPLU

Move-in day at the University of Washington is a jumble of boxes and emotions for incoming freshman Carlos Escutia.

"I'm so happy I get to move in first. I get to pick the bed," he says, grinning and carrying a bedspread into his new dorm room. 

For the past 15 years, Escutia's family has worked hard in hopes of celebrating days like this. His parents left Mexico when Escutia was 3, dreaming of better lives and better education for their children. Going to a four-year college has always been Escutia's goal.

A year ago, it wasn't even clear the Lynnwood High School grad would make it to this day. As an undocumented immigrant, Escutia didn't qualify for government loans to cover his college costs. He'd have to apply for competitive private scholarships and hope for the best.

Then the state legislature passed the "Dream Act," granting many undocumented high school graduates access to state-funded college grants. Escutia was among the first to apply, and he is now part of the state's first wave of so-called "dreamers" to start classes.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

This summer's events in Ferguson, Missouri aren't the only things that make Jaedyn Colly, who is black, wonder what makes him different from the police. 

"I have family members — they've been arrested," said Colly, a sophomore at Rainier Beach High School. "You just question, 'What is the difference? What makes [a police officer] so better than me? What gives you the power to have control over me?'"

It's the kind of frustration Rainier Beach High teachers want to bring out into the open. Just ten days into their young school year, they've already carved out half-hour blocks over three days to discuss the police shooting of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the racially-charged demonstrations that followed.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Like in many cities around the country, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says he isn't interested in running the local public school district, but he is interested in how well the city's children do in school.

It's why Murray will propose to roll several youth-focused programs into one new city-level education department when he submits his budget proposal to the Seattle City Council next week.

But unlike other cities where the mayor's office doesn't control the local school district, Murray directs the spending of millions of city dollars on Seattle Public Schools. That's a unique niche for a mayor, policy experts say, and Murray's proposed Department of Education and Early Learning only deepens it.

Washington State University's Board of Regents unanimously approved a plan Friday to establish a medical school in Spokane. It has the potential to generate 120 new doctors every year in the Northwest. But the move also tees up a fight between Washington's two largest public universities.

Austin Jenkins

In an unprecedented move, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled the state in contempt of court in the McCleary school funding case. However, the justices will wait to impose sanctions until after the 2015 legislative session to give the legislature time to "purge the contempt."

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Seattle school leaders will convene a task force to review the district's handling of sexual assault cases, acknowledging in a statement late Wednesday that "substantial work is required to bring the district into compliance" with federal laws designed to protect victims of sexual violence in schools.

The move is Seattle Public Schools' latest response to criticism of how district employees handled the case of a Garfield High School student who alleged a classmate raped her during a school field trip in 2012.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Rainier Beach High School teacher Colin Pierce projected an image of a mortarboard — the flat, black graduation cap — onto the screen in front of his English class.

This week, many high school seniors across western Washington are beginning their final year of pursuit of this "silly little hat," as Pierce called it. He asked his class full of upperclassmen to describe what the mortarboard symbolized to them. Senior Danny Segi was the first to raise his hand.

"The first thing that comes to my head is 'success,'" Segi said.

"Adulthood," another student added. "College." "Goals." "Improvement." "Work hard, play hard."

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

A longtime Seattle private school will re-open its doors Wednesday as a charter school, the first to do so under a new state law that lets nonprofit organizations use state dollars to run public schools.

The conversion of First Place Scholars School is just the beginning of Washington's experiment with charter schools, which voters set in motion by passing a closely-contested initiative allowing for up to 40 charters to open statewide before 2019.

Seth Wenig / AP Photo

An appeals court has affirmed that a pair of early education ballot measures will appear on the ballot not as two yes-or-no votes, but as a multiple-choice question.

The ruling upholds an earlier decision, which established that Seattle voters who support expanding preschool can’t vote “yes” on both the measures before them in November. Instead, they’ll have to pick which one they like best.

It’s a victory for the city, which has proposed a small preschool program as a step toward universal pre-K. That plan will now go head-to-head with a union-backed measure to create a training institute for educators and hike their pay.

AP Photo
S.C. Johnson Wax

Childcare costs in King County are among the highest in the nation, according to a recently-released analysis.

The report shows King County's costs are high even by the standards of Washington state, one of the ten least-affordable states for childcare. Someone earning the median income for single mothers in King County could sink more than half of her salary into the $17,300 average annual cost for infant childcare — a cost already $5,000 higher than the state average.

David Goldman / AP Photo

The impact of Washington's loss of a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act came into sharper focus Wednesday as nearly nine in 10 of the state's schools officially received failing labels despite little change in students' performance on statewide standardized tests.

Just 260 of the state's nearly 2,200 schools met their required yearly progress goals under the outdated federal law, state officials said as they denounced the impractical standard they say Washington schools must now meet.

Matthias Rietschel / AP Photo

Toddlers use intuition for probability to their advantage, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Washington.

The researchers don't contend children as young as age 2 understand statistics, but they do wonder about potentially tapping into the intuition to help prepare children for concepts older students often struggle with, like fractions.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Three-year-old Kai Semke has all the trappings of a future soccer star: speed, stamina, awesome shorts — and as if that weren't enough, he boasts, "My feet are super-hard, and I kick it super-hard." (Competitors, take note.)

With not much yard at his family's Wallingford home, though, Kai normally lacks a regular space to have a kick. But that's not the case this summer.

Neighbors shut down a residential street a short distance from Kai's home as part of a new city initiative, turning a block of North 39th Street into a temporary soccer pitch — or basketball court, or scooter racetrack, or general public play space — one evening every week this summer.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Amid a fresh wave of public frustration over Seattle Public Schools' response to a 2012 incident on a Garfield High School trip, district officials outlined a plan for addressing future allegations of sexual violence against students.

The parents of a former Garfield High School student say district administrators failed in their legal duty to investigate their daughter's allegations that a fellow student sexually assaulted her during the school trip two years ago.

But at Wednesday's school board meeting, as a dozen protesters decried the district's handling of the case, interim superintendent Larry Nyland pledged the district would do better. He said district officials have undergone new training and implemented new procedures for handling "critical incidents."

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

A union-backed advocacy group for Seattle childcare workers has appealed a lower court ruling that pits a voter initiative the group favors, Initiative 107, against a city-endorsed pre-kindergarten proposal on the November ballot.

The advocacy group, Yes for Early Success, asked the state Court of Appeals to review a King County judge's decision that states Seattle voters cannot cast votes in favor of both I-107 and the city's proposed preschool plan.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Come November, voters can choose one or neither of the two ballot measures that deal with childcare — but not both, according to a King County judge's ruling.

Judge Helen Halpert on Friday shot down a legal challenge designed to allow Seattle voters a chance to approve both measures, namely a pilot program to fund low-income kids' preschool tuition and a minimum wage hike for the city's more than 4,000 childcare workers.

Jessica Hall / AP Photo

Just days before he died in the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, 6-year-old Jesse Lewis scrawled three words in a first-grader's uncertain hand on the family's kitchen chalkboard: "nurturing, healing, love."

"Those three words were, of course, phonetically spelled," his mother Scarlett Lewis remembered, "because he was in first grade, just learning to write."

Why her son wrote those words at all remains a mystery to Lewis. But since his death, Lewis has dedicated herself to instilling "nurturing," "healing" and "loving" practices in American schools — a mindset she believes would've stopped 20-year-old Adam Lanza from shooting and killing 26 students and staff members, including her son, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Five small colleges across the Pacific Northwest are attempting to find ways to work together on projects they might not be able to pull off on their own.

The schools' most recent stab at collaboration: a food systems course that sent a class of college students traveling hundreds of miles across the region, tracing the region's food chain from its beginning — the fields and orchards of eastern Washington — to its very, very end.

The students' environment changes day to day. After watching combines comb wheat from an industrial-sized farm field in the Palouse the week before, 10 students from three of the colleges took their summer study of agriculture and food systems to the waste treatment plant in Tacoma that turns the city's biosolid waste into soils for lawns and gardens last Tuesday.

Ashley Gross

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is pushing a plan to give parents a bigger tax credit for child care expenses. The high-ranking Democrat and former preschool teacher dropped in at a downtown Seattle daycare center Thursday to publicize the legislation, called the Helping Working Families Afford Child Care Act.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

The Washington state Supreme Court on Monday received three separate petitions, each urging the court to clamp down and force lawmakers to fund public education in the upcoming legislative session.

Kyle Stokes

Seattle voters might not have to choose between the two early childhood education programs slated for the November ballot despite city leaders' warnings that the two questions are incompatible and contradictory.

Union leaders backing Initiative 107, a ballot initiative that would hike wages and mandate training for the Seattle's 4,000 early childhood workers, filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to allow voters to give separate up-or-down votes on their measure as well as on a second, city-backed proposal to create a preschool pilot program.

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