UPDATE: The district has now given us figures that might contradict earlier information, but don't entirely make clear how many Rainier Beach students are going to four-year colleges. Details after the jump.
Late last week, Seattle Public Schools released new figures showing that it had vastly underestimated the number of students qualified to attend a four-year college. The figures--a correction of a correction--made the district's high schools look a lot better, particularly Rainier Beach High. Whereas once the district said that only 20 percent of the South Seattle school's students could go on to college, it now appears that 43 percent can. Yet in some ways that makes the story of Rainier Beach even more poignant.
At the school board's March 2 meeting, Rainier Beach PTSA president Carlina Brown took the podium with what she considered good news: Ten Rainier Beach seniors last year--10 percent of the graduating class--went to a four-year college. (See video of the meeting.) She was making the point that Rainier Beach was not the troubled school many thought it was. "We didn't need a second principal," she said, refering to the district's installation of an additional administrator there last year to boost enrollment and academic performance.
At the time, Brown's jubilation seemed premature. Maybe the school's college-enrollment rate was improving, but it was still very low. Unnecessarily so, it now seems.
If 43 percent of the school's seniors can go to college, why are only 10 percent doing so?
Neither of Rainier Beach's two principals could be reached today. But it seems likely that the usual suspects--poverty and related cultural expectations--play a big role. Seventy-three percent of the school's students are poor enough to qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.
The district's new figures do give hope, of course. They suggest that, perhaps even more than another principal, Rainier Beach needs a college counselor with a knack for helping kids fill out financial-aid applications.
UPDATE:Several hours after asking the district for confirmation of Brown's figures, SPS told SW that 49 percent of Rainier Beach's students last year enrolled in some form of higher education within a year of graduating. But that doesn't quite settlle the matter since "higher education" surely includes community colleges, not just four-year schools. We've asked for more information to explain the discrepancy, and will let you know when we hear.