Education in Washington State: Pt 1

As an extension of some work that I did for an acquaintance at Seattle’s Road Map Project, I decided to look into some educational statistics for K-12 schools in this great state of Washington. I was able to retrieve data from Washington State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, which lists various Excel spreadsheets for educational statistics across the state, at the levels of state-wide, county-to-county, district-to-district, and school-to-school. The entirety of my analysis with Python can be found at this link, but I’ll summarize what I can here.

The bottom line is that while there are some distressing trends, it doesn’t look all bad for Washington State, and certainly not for King County (where Seattle is located). The following map, for example, shows the estimated graduation rates in 2014 across the state, county-to-county. King County is outlined in red.

For reference, the average nationwide graduation rate for the 2011-12 school year was about 1%. What this means is that, overall, Washington is performing at right around the ational average, give or take a few percentage points. Of course, there are some counties that are doing far better (e.g. Columbia & Garfield counties; grad rates of 96.7% & 96.4%), while some are in what appears to be a graduation crisis (e.g. Clallam & Stevens counties; grad rates of 49.7% & 64.7%). Further study may reveal some correlation of graduation rate with median household income, or another economic marker, but this is a start.

We can, of course, also ask the question of how these counties have performed over time. A county may appear “good” now, but it may be on the decline if examined over a period of a few years. The following map looks into that question and shows the overall change in graduation rate over about 7 years.

This is a very promising map for Washington state, as it shows that over the past 7 years almost all counties have managed to improve on their graduation rates. Unfortunately, Stevens is down, as is Jefferson on the west side of the state, but most are seeing positive growth. Whatever initiatives have taken place over that seven year period are showing results!

Now, graduation rates and changes over time may paint a positive picture of education in Washington state as a whole, but only one dimension of it. It’s taking all the results from all possible breakdowns of the data and flattening it, so we only see one side of a multi-faceted issue. The racial breakdown tells a different story.

This data makes one fact painfully clear: for a K-12 student that isn’t white, the public school system is failing. Note: I’ve excluded asians & pacific islanders in this analysis as the 7-year data set combines them as one population for a few years, then separates them later on. For blacks and hispanics, there is potential for a brighter future though rates appear to have stabilized within a few percent. First Nations students, however, aren’t making the cut. Their rates seem to fluctuate wildly, and appear to be trending downward since 2010. A closer look at the data shows low numbers, so they may be suffering from small changes in small numbers translating into larger percentage changes overall, but I’m willing to bet that it’s more than just a statistical difference. First Nations students are being particularly failed by the state of Washington, and I’d like to hear more about any programs targeting their a) retention, and b) mentoring/nurturing.

That’s it for now. Next time we’ll look at some correlations between these data and some economic indicators, exploring how such economic factors can paint a fuller picture of what may influence educational outcomes for K-12 students.