The best way to break the cycle of poverty is through education. In Washington State, we focus on promoting successful educational outcomes for all students through a holistic approach, starting at birth and culminating in a college degree or certificate. We call this effort Education Pathways because we aim to support every child on the path to success—by funding quality, evidence-based programs that together enhance opportunities for low-income students and students from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.
We believe that student success depends not only on quality educators but also on the commitment and involvement of parents and social service, health, housing, and community organizations. Our approach has five key elements:
- Improved transitions between preschool and elementary school, middle school and high school, and high school and college
- Data-driven decision making in all programs that focus on student success
- Quality instruction and leadership in early-learning programs and other educational institutions
- Increased innovation to boost student achievement
- Alignment among health, housing, and social service systems that serve students and families
Examples of our Education Pathways investments are detailed below.
We work with our partners to ensure high-quality early learning opportunities that help children enter school ready to learn and succeed. These include home visiting services, which support parents in their role as their child’s first and most important teacher; efforts to improve early-learning environments and the interactions between children and their adult caregivers; and grants that improve and align the education that children receive in preschool and the early years of elementary school.
Children playing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Home Center.
Across all of these activities, we work to help set quality standards and help parents, early-learning providers, and teachers assess how well prepared children are for school. We support a collaborative effort by the state’s Department of Early Learning, the public-private partnership Thrive by Five, and the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a coordinated statewide early-learning approach, which has recently been energized by a federal Race to the Top grant.
Road Map Project
We support the Road Map Project in South Seattle and South King County, which aims to dramatically increase success for a quarter-million young people from birth to college. Seven school districts, five higher education institutions, local governments, and hundreds of community organizations, education leaders, teachers, and parents are involved in a collective effort to keep students on track both in and out of school. Community-driven priorities include parent and community engagement, using data to set targets and rigorously measure results, monitoring early-warning signs to make sure students do not fall through the cracks, support for English language learners, kindergarten readiness, 3rd grade reading, expansion of college access and raising completion rates, and improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. The Community Center for Education Results leads and coordinates this effort.
Participants in the Rainier Scholars program for promising students of color meet with a teacher at Seattle’s Aki Kurose Middle School.
We work to improve teaching and leadership in early-learning settings and K-12 schools. Our efforts in this area include support for a joint project of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Washington Education Association, and Educational Service District 113 to create on online tool for managing the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation process. We have also supported the work of the Association of Washington School Principals to develop a leadership framework aimed at improving student achievement. Another investment in this area is our support for the Seattle-based KCTS public television station’s Golden Apple and Pathways of Education Excellence awards.
In addition to educational work in the region, to address local poverty we focus on homelessness and family stability, and strengthening community.
Homelessness and Family Stability
Homelessness has a profound impact on children’s health and education, as well as parents’ ability to find a job and stay employed. Homeless children have twice the rate of learning disabilities as children who are not homeless, and they have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral issues— including anxiety, depression, and withdrawal.
In 2000, as a first step in addressing family homelessness in our state, the foundation launched the Sound Families Initiative, an eight-year, $40 million program aimed at tripling the amount of available transitional housing—and pairing it with support services in the state’s three most populous counties: King, Pierce, and Snohomish. By its close in 2008, the initiative had spurred the creation of more than 1,400 transitional homes for families emerging from homelessness.
A family that found stable housing through the Washington Families Fund, a public-private partnership founded in 2004.
Family homelessness has persisted, however, and our job is far from done. We have chosen to invest in a new way going forward, based on the lessons learned from our experiences and on promising practices used around the nation. Our goal is to cut family homelessness in the state in half by 2020. We are working with Building Changes, a Seattle-based nonprofit, and the governments of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties to more efficiently deploy existing funding and services from a broad range of sources. Building Changes works to align public and private efforts to prevent and combat homelessness. It also encourages governments at all levels, service providers, and philanthropic donors to collaborate in developing and disseminating innovative approaches and to help the various systems work in mutually reinforcing ways on behalf of families.
Meaningful reductions in family homelessness can be achieved only through a systematic, coordinated approach that provides at-risk families with the help they need, when they need it. Until recently, families who became homeless in Washington State had to contact multiple agencies for different kinds of assistance. Many languished on waiting lists for months. Those who obtained temporary housing often had to wait more than a year to get into a permanent home.
All of this is slowly beginning to change. To bring about systemic improvements, we have identified five principles that guide our work in this area:
- Prevention. We can help keep families in their homes and prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place by offering services such as landlord mediation, help with overdue rent and utility bills, and emergency food, clothing, childcare, and transportation assistance.
- Coordinated entry. Having one simple way to access the system of support services—or one place to go for assistance—helps families get the help they need as quickly as possible and reduces waste and redundancy in the system.
- Rapid housing placement. Shelters are not homes. We work to reduce the length of stays in emergency shelters by quickly placing families in permanent housing, often with rent subsidies tailored to each family’s specific situation.
- Tailored programs. Flexible, coordinated support services that are tailored to each family’s specific needs are essential to helping them rebuild and maintain stability and self-sufficiency.
- Economic opportunity. Housing stability depends on long-term income and employment. By linking services for at-risk and homeless families with income assistance, education, and employment programs, we can help people find jobs and remain in their homes.
We believe that strong communities need the capacity to solve their own problems. We work to strengthen local philanthropic institutions, such as community foundations and United Way organizations, because these partners know their local communities better than we do. These partners use their local knowledge and networks to address the unique needs of their communities, and in many cases they regrant foundation funds to smaller nonprofits, local projects, and community-building initiatives whose aims they support.
We also make investments aimed at strengthening the channels through which nonprofits and community leaders access technical assistance and general knowledge about organizational effectiveness. With effective local partners, we are better able to understand and address the needs of vulnerable families.
We know that the best ideas often come from our partners, who work directly with students and families, and we regularly seek their input. We are seeking ideas for community-school collaboration that can enhance educational success for low-income students both during and outside of school hours. Information about funding for such ideas can be found here.