What We Do

Washington State

Education Pathways



A student attends a class culmination ceremony at Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland, Washington.

Our goal:

ensure every child in Washington State has the opportunity to start school ready to learn, graduate high school ready for college, and earn a college degree or certificate.

The Challenge

At A Glance

Through Education Pathways, one of the Gates Foundation’s top priorities in Washington State, we promote successful educational outcomes for all students through a holistic approach, starting at birth and culminating in a college degree or certificate.

More than one-third of the children participating in WaKIDS entered kindergarten below their expected skill levels. Children from low-income families were even further behind.

Low-income students score 31 points lower on the average National Assessment for Educational Progress reading scores than their peers.

About 77 percent of Washington students graduate from high school on-time. High school graduation rates for students of color are even lower.

Washington’s on-time graduation rates from fouryear colleges is 69 percent, third highest in the nation, although only 41 percent of Washingtonians ages 25-34 have some kind of college degree (slightly higher than the national average).

In Washington State, we work to create opportunities for all children to succeed. We believe the best way to provide opportunity and break the cycle of poverty is through education.

For a number of reasons, many children enter kindergarten without the skills necessary for a strong start, and about one-quarter never graduate from high school. The chances of earning a college degree or certificate are even lower.

This is an urgent problem: by 2018, two-thirds of all jobs in Washington State will require some postsecondary education. The industries that drive Washington’s economy—technology, science and global health, and those requiring innovation and entrepreneurship—demand a well-educated workforce. That these opportunities are less available to low-income children and children of color is unacceptable.

We believe the best way to provide opportunity and break the cycle of poverty is through education.

The Opportunity

To boost student achievement, Washington State has adopted the following important policies and programs:

  • Quality standards for early learning and kindergarten readiness that help parents, early learning providers, and teachers understand how well prepared children are for school.

    Children and their families play with instruments at the Educare Early Learning Center in South King County.

  • The Common Core State Standards, ensuring Washington’s K-12 students are fully prepared for success in college and careers.
  • A new teacher and principal evaluation program to give our state’s teachers and leaders ways to improve their practice and serve students better.
  • High-quality public charter schools to improve educational opportunities, particularly for those who struggle to learn.
  • College Bound Scholarships, which allow all low-income students who maintain good grades to attend our state’s public colleges and universities.

Our Strategy

The foundation has set an ambitious national goal in education: to graduate all students in the United States ready for success in college. Our work in Washington State builds on these efforts—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. We strive to create opportunities for students to learn more effectively through sound policies, by aligning systems that support young people, and by supporting better practice by teachers, principals, and parents. We specifically focus on enhancing opportunities for low-income students and students from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.

In partnership with educators, school leaders, and the community, we support the implementation of Washington’s key policies to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed in school, career, and life.

Areas of Focus

Education Pathways recognizes that the full cycle of educating our youth spans decades, following a child in Washington from birth until they start a career. We must enlist the support of parents, educators, local communities, advocates, schools, and regional and state agencies to enhance the educational opportunities for our children. We do this by providing grants that support additional investments, such as federal funding from Race to the Top, or advancing work in five key areas that will help more students succeed:

  • 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.

Our Education Pathways grants emphasize Early Learning and K-16 Education, and include a specific focus on the Road Map Project region of South Seattle and South King County. We also work to ensure our programs and partners support the diverse set of families and communities throughout the state.

Early Learning

Early learning is one of the best investments to make in a child’s future. That is why, since 2005, we have worked with public, private, and community partners to ensure highquality 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 children’s first and most important teacher, and efforts to improve early learning settings by increasing the quality of both the learning environments and the interactions between children and their adult caregivers. We also provide grants that improve and align the education children receive in preschool and the early years of elementary school.

Building a Strong Early Learning System.

It takes more than an increase in funding to make sure all Washington children enter kindergarten ready to learn. To build a coordinated early learning system, the Department of Early Learning, Thrive by Five, and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction—with input from hundreds of Washington residents and early childhood advocates—developed the Washington State Early Learning Plan. The plan serves as the state’s handbook to ensure that all children have what they need to succeed in school and life.

The Gates Foundation support efforts to ensure every teacher gets the support they need to do their best work.

We have supported several key projects from the plan to create a strong, coordinated early learning system that measures and improves the quality of services for children. This includes:

  • WaKIDS. The Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills, or WaKIDS, brings families, teachers, and early learning providers together to support each child’s learning. WaKIDS provides a statewide snapshot of where children in Washington are in their development at the start of kindergarten. This helps inform state-level decisions about education policy and investments and helps teachers tailor their instruction to children’s needs.
  • Early Achievers. We support a collaborative effort by the state’s Department of Early Learning, the University of Washington, and Child Care Aware to expand a statewide early learning program that was energized by a federal Race to the Top grant. Early Achievers—Washington’s Quality Rating and Improvement System—is a voluntary program for helping licensed providers offer high-quality child care. Early Achievers connects families to child care and early learning programs with the help of an easy-to-understand rating system. The program also offers coaching and resources for child care providers to support each child’s learning and development.
  • Preschool through Third Grade. We provide grants to a number of school districts to support their preschool through third grade alignment. These districts and early learning programs partner to improve instruction, transitions, and supports to assure children are ready for kindergarten and succeeding by third grade.

K-16 Education

Support for Effective Teaching and School Leadership. Teachers are the most critical in-school factor for student success. That’s why we support efforts to ensure there is a great teacher in every classroom, that every teacher gets the support they need to do their best teaching, and that there are strong instructional leaders in early learning settings and K-12 schools.

Washington State is implementing a new teacher and principal evaluation project. We fund the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington Education Association, and Education Service District 113 to create a web-based tool designed to manage the process. We recognize great teaching and schools that are helping to close the achievement gap by funding KCTS public television station’s Golden Apple and Pathways of Education Excellence awards.

We also support the work of the Association of Washington School Principals to develop a leadership framework to assess what good leadership for principals looks like, particularly as it relates to improving student achievement. We support the work of the Center for Reinventing Public Education to examine the current and future needs for Washington’s principal workforce.

Students from Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma, Washington, practice their LegoRobotics for competition.

Support for Advocacy. Washington State is home to a host of dedicated, passionate advocates working to help every student succeed. As leaders advocating for implementing important policies including WaKIDS, full-day kindergarten, strong evaluations, and college and career readiness efforts like the Common Core standards and College Bound Scholarships, we invest in the Excellent Schools Now Coalition and its many partner organizations. We provide funding for several local organizations that work to elevate the voices of teachers, parents, and communities of color. We support the Our Schools Coalition’s efforts on behalf of Seattle Public Schools’ teachers and principals.

Support for Innovation. We are working with state, community, and education partners to support the creation of high-quality public charter schools. In addition, because of the impact that science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) learning has on student achievement, we have invested in the organization Washington STEM and its efforts in teaching and learning.

Through SkillUp Washington, we supported partnerships in six communities to accelerate the progress of young adults with lower educational levels. These partnerships—comprised of local community colleges, community-based organizations, and workforce development councils—provide educational and social support services that help participants succeed in community college certificate or degree programs that lead to family-wage jobs. We also commissioned a report from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to assess innovative schools across Washington.

The Road Map Project

Too often, educating kids is done in disconnected silos. Early Learning programs did not coordinate with the elementary school grades, nor did high schools with local institutions of higher education. At the same time, parents and communities struggled to understand how they could engage with their children’s schools.

We are working to change this in one region of Washington State. We invest in a collective impact approach in the region of South Seattle and South King County, referred to as the Road Map Project. The idea of collective impact is simple: No single program, organization, or institution can bring about large-scale community change alone.

The Road Map work is coordinated by an organization called The Community Center for Education Results (CCER). CCER helps to bring together the many organizations and people contributing to this work, helps to launch cross-sector projects, and generates data and research to help the project move forward. This strong coalition helped the Road Map school districts secure a $40 million federal Race to the Top district grant in 2012, which will be used to expand early learning opportunities, enrich science and math learning, and offer support to high schools so more students can take college-prep courses and get college advising.

Collective impact also relies on the contributed wisdom of many throughout the community. The investments we make are guided by the plans and ideas of hundreds of community members actively engaged in Road Map workgroups. 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, third-grade reading, expansion of college access and raising completion rates, and improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills.

The foundation supports the Road Map Project by providing funding directly to the effort as well as many of the institutions and organizations working on educational outcomes in the area. For example, the Seattle Community College District is using a foundation grant to increase success of students taking developmental education—or remedial—courses. We also provide grant funding to multiple school districts in South King County seeking to improve their parent engagement efforts, and to other districts that are increasing the connections between their K-3 teachers and their local child care centers.

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