What’s Behind Washington State’s Low Graduation Rates?

By United Way of King County, on November 25, 2019 | In Helping Students Graduate, Racial Equity

At 79.4%, Washington State ranks 44th in terms of high school graduation rates.

Forty. Fourth.

When we look at those rates by race and ethnicity, they’re even more alarming.

Graduation Rates by Race/Ethnicity

So why are students of color not completing their high school education? Is it because they’re not trying? Not as committed? Of course not.

There are a host of reasons the current system is not a place where kids of color can be successful.  

This week Dr. Ben Danielson, Medical Director at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in the Central District, shared his views on why graduation rates are what they are—and what our community misses out on because of it.

It’s hard to relate. Let’s face it: adolescence is all about relating and finding your place. When students of color don’t see themselves reflected in the teachers and administration of the school, it can be difficult to connect. In Washington State, 88% of classroom teachers are white – compared to 47% of students.

Family obligations. Nearly 40% of high school students in Seattle Public Schools qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. This number is higher for students of color. 82% of African-Americans, for example, qualify. That means that a family of four, for example, is earning $33,475 a year—or less. As students become working age, they may be asked to work to help support the family or care for siblings while mom and dad work more hours.

Racism starts early.  It turns out that black students are much more likely to be suspended from preschool than white students. They make up 18% of all preschoolers, but represent almost 50% of all preschool suspensions. And this carries over: when black high school students and white high school students commit similar infractions, black students are suspended and expelled three times more often than white students.

With donor support, United Way is helping kids get off to a good start through programs like ParentChild+ and, if a young person does become disconnected from school, Reconnecting Youth helps them get back on track.


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