Changing expectations of public education | Andy Hobbs

Federal Way Superintendent Rob Neu’s recent “state of the schools” speech contained a weighty observation: “We’re no longer educating kids. We’re raising them.”

Some readers reacted in the vein of “I can raise my own children, thank you.”

However, the context of the superintendent’s statement demands a closer look.

Schools operate under an evolving set of roles and expectations. We entrust schools with our children each day for 13 years or more. We expect schools to help students succeed, and we blame schools when students fail.

The rise of divorce and the latch-key generation shifted the responsibilities of educators. Their to-do lists were stretched beyond the standard reading, writing and arithmetic of yesteryear.

The catalyst for this change is diversity, a loaded but legitimate buzzword.

That said, Federal Way schools are the quintessential example of diversity.

Federal Way plays in a different league of diversity compared to the well-heeled demographics of Mercer Island, Bellevue and other top-scoring school districts with established taxpayer bases.

Federal Way plays the hand it was dealt.

More than half of the district’s population qualifies for free and reduced lunch. Nearly 22,000 students run the gamut of ethnicities and socioeconomic status. More than 100 languages are represented. With a lower cost of living, Federal Way attracts more working families and immigrants, many of whom struggle to find their footing and make ends meet.

The student population is more transient as families move in and out of Federal Way. For some families, their next meal is more important than homework. And if not for school and today’s meal programs, those same children would go hungry. Schools often treat the symptoms caused by Federal Way’s social and economic ills, but that’s a conversation for another column.

Are the schools literally raising our children like a surrogate parent? Webster’s dictionary defines “raise” as “moving to a higher position” and “to set up the framework.”

The dictionary also defines “parent” as “a person who brings up and cares for another.”

Lastly, the dictionary defines “educate” as giving “intellectual, moral and social instruction.”

Parents accept that responsibility for their children. Schools help get the job done and reinforce the proverb that it takes a village to raise a child.


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