Youth & Education

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

Colin Archer / AP Photo

Students receiving special education services in Washington public schools are less likely than their peers to graduate from high school and more likely to end up suspended or expelled, and in many cases, their disabilities are not to blame, according to a new state report.

In the report, the independent state office that handles disputes between parents and public schools calls on state lawmakers to empower a blue ribbon commission to determine how best to remove "unnecessary divisions between 'special education' and 'general education.'"

Hope for Gorilla/Flickr

Should Seattle schools adjust their start times to let middle- and high school students get more sleep?

It's a riddle that's vexed Seattle Public Schools for the last six years, and a 30-member district task force kicked off a months-long process Thursday night of solving it.

Some parents and sleep experts have lobbied district leaders to let the district's schools, most of which currently start classes at 7:50 a.m., begin their school days at a later hour. One way to accommodate that change, they say, is for elementary schools, which currently begin their days at either 8:40 or 9:30 a.m., to start classes earlier.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

How often does a ballot initiative in Washington state garner 60 percent support or better in public opinion polls before Election Day, only to wind up losing?

Pollster Stuart Elway can count the times on one hand. But now, there's a real possibility he could add a statewide class-size initiative to the list. 

Two October polls showed voters supported Initiative 1351, which calls for hiring thousands of teachers in an effort to reduce public school class sizes, by wide margins. Yet the vote count as of Thursday afternoon showed the initiative trailing by 12,171 votes, or 0.86 percentage point. An automatic recount occurs if the margin is 2,000 votes and less than one-half of a percentage point.

Susan Walsh / AP Photo

Seattle Public Schools students don’t get enough time to eat lunch, according to a group of parents. Dozens in a group calling itself “Lunch and Recess Matter” rallied at the Seattle School Board meeting Wednesday.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Seattle Public Schools leaders have dropped a bid for a property that could've been the site of the district's first downtown elementary school in more than six decades.

School board members balked at the estimated $53 million cost of renovating the vacant Federal Reserve Bank building, noting the district would have to take on debt it might have trouble paying back.

In voting 5 to 0 to drop its application, the board passed up a golden opportunity for effectively free land in a pricey real estate market, the school's supporters say; the U.S. Department of Education could have deeded the property to the district for practically nothing.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

A statewide ballot initiative aimed at limiting class size in Washington appeared too close to call, according to early election results Tuesday.

Initiative 1351, which calls for hiring more than 7,000 teachers over the next four years in hopes of reducing class sizes in Washington's public schools, was failing by less than 1 percent.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

As voters, teens and young adults don't have the best track records, especially in off-year or midterm elections.

In 2010, less than one-third of 18- to 29-year-olds in Washington state voted, and that's the age group's best turnout rate in more than two decades. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of older voters cast ballots.

But consider how election season can sound from a teen's point of view.

"There's things that I want to be engaged in. I try to listen, I try to be engaged, but it’s like all these old men droning on and on, and on," said Halley Norman, 18. "It’s not very engaging. It’s not something that makes me feel passionate about the issue."

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

If a recent poll is any indication, Washington voters appear poised to again pass a ballot initiative that calls for steeply reducing public school class sizes, this time by hiring more than 7,000 teachers over the next four years.

Voters passed a similar measure in 2000 that had little effect. Lawmakers repealed it two years ago and the state's student-to-teacher ratio remains one of the nation's largest.

But the group behind that 2000 class-size initiative has urged voters to reject this year's version, Initiative 1351. The group joins skeptical lawmakers and newspaper editorial boards who fear a class size-reduction measure would complicate their task of meeting a state Supreme Court order to pump another $2 billion into the state's K-12 budget. 

Mark Humphrey / AP Photo

Seventeen years ago, Bill Bond was the principal at a small high school in western Kentucky that was rocked by a school shooting. It happened before the term "school shooting" had even entered the national conscience.

The Columbine massacre was still a year and a half away when a 14-year-old freshman at Heath High School entered the lobby in Dec. 1997 and opened fire, killing three fellow students and wounding five more. The shooter eventually surrendered to Bond, who says it all happened "right in front of him."

"People are going to want a solution" to prevent shootings like at Heath or Marysville-Pilchuck High School last week, Bond said. "But there's not a perfect, simple solution there. The solutions are hard."

Mark Stahl / AP Photo

Where should a transgender student in a public school use the restroom? In which locker room should the student shower or change clothes? And how should a teacher refer to a student: as a he, a she, or neither?

The Highline Public Schools Board will vote Wednesday night on a new, formal set of guidelines to help staff answer these questions.

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.

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