Diversity appears to be Federal Way’s double-edged sword. We champion our diversity as a badge of courage, but fail to capitalize on its potential.
Federal Way’s school system has the unique status of being the most diverse in the state. Kent, Renton Auburn and Tukwila comprise two through five on the diversity list. Federal Way is also the fifth most diverse in the nation.
Education is a forever challenge and everyone’s political football when results are not up to expectations. For those who may be navigating the choppy waters of finding a school, an affordable home and community to raise a family it means you have lots of homework. Add the goals of being close to employment, or having a reasonable commute as well as finding adequate daycare or after-school programs and your challenge, expands.
The multitude of millennials who are in the market for a home, or potentially a new community, are approaching the task of finding what they need by searching the internet. In previous generations, word of mouth, classified ads, a realtor and a few marketing brochures may have been the key to finding the right fit.
Today’s community shoppers are using online research tools such as: Niche.com, PublicSchoolsReview.com, Schooldigger.com, Census.gov, realty websites as well as other data sources to gain a statistical sense for school proficiency and community characteristics when they are looking to relocate or improve their educational opportunities locally. Schools and school quality are essential to the well-being of a community as well as a community’s capability to maintain sustainability and improve its economic future.
Niche.com uses an A+ to D- scale for their report card. Federal Way Public Schools earned a C+ overall. Kent, Renton and Auburn are rated at B or B-. All of these school districts could say they are doing well for being as diverse as they are, but would that be accurate or an excuse?
The challenge for every school district is to be constantly seeking improvement. It is important to recognize that a good education is within any student’s reach in any school district. The goal for every school district is to achieve quality measurable results for the greatest percentage of students possible. Better K-12 outcomes equates to expanding students’ opportunities for a successful life.
Due to our diversity, there is an underlying feeling that our Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) are not able to compete with some of the Eastside school districts, such as Bellevue and Maple Valley. Searching the internet, I ascertained that the most diverse school district in the nation is Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB), located in the state of Texas and they have an A- overall grade from Niche.com. Interestingly, the student population being served is almost identical to Federal Way Public Schools’ and the economic as well as demographic profiles are similar.
We need to think about the success of one district versus another with similar demographics and diversity. The HEB school district has in 2021 a graduation rate of 96% according to the quick stats profile provided on the Public Schools Review website. This puts them in the top 10% percent for graduation in the State of Texas. Federal Way in 2021 according to Public Schools Review had a 91% graduation rate which put our school district in the top 50% for the State of Washington.
The same website shares district-wide testing statistics. For HEB their testing scores for 2021 achieved an overall testing rank in the Top 10%, a math proficiency of 62% (top 10% in Texas) and a reading proficiency of 62% (top 10% in Texas). Comparatively our Federal Way school district achieved for 2021, in the same categories, an overall testing rank of Bottom 50%, a math proficiency of 35% (top 50% in Washington) and a reading proficiency of 35% (bottom 50% in Washington).
The graduation rate on Public Schools Review’s site is slightly higher than the data published in FWPS’ Summer 2021 Scholar Chronicle of 88.2% for the class of 2020. FWPS states this is the district’s highest graduation rate ever. External reviewing websites specializing in comparative analysis draw from multiple sources and may not always match any district’s numbers exactly, but overall they strive to be accurate.
The cities of Hurst, Euless and Bedford are three suburban bedroom communities located between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. These suburban cities are not economically well-off and in terms of their growth cycle, their primary growth was in the 1960s to 2000s or similar to Federal Way’s path. Their change from being mostly white suburbs to the diversity they have today would also coincide with Federal Way’s change in demographics. Somehow they found a way for all students in their schools to achieve at a relatively high level of proficiency.
It is hard to get excited about any school district that seems to be capable of producing consistently average or below average results. The difference between being rated an “A” district and a “C” rated district may not be significant if as a parent you are committed to being active in all aspects of your child’s education to assure success.
Millennials are not afraid of diversity and they are also smart consumers. Thinking like a millennial family, likely with a college degree or some college education, you approach the task of finding what you need for your family by searching online and perusing data.
Choosing where you to live is important to young families because they want access to the “best” schools, stable neighborhoods, easy shopping, parks, and whatever else is needed to support a family’s lifestyle. In today’s housing market buying a home is out of reach for many but finding an “A” rated school should not be a challenge on any budget — but it is.
Federal Way’s tendency toward complacency and history of rationalizing why we are different than some of our more successful neighboring cities is another way of saying, “the dog ate my homework.” Having a competitive spirit and positive attitude goes a long way in making a community better and improving our schools. Maybe we should focus less on our diversity and figure out what it will take to get an “A” rating.
Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.