Seven Seattle-area school districts have been awarded a $40 million federal Race to the Top grant. The money is aimed at improving academic achievement in high-poverty schools in the Seattle, Kent, Federal Way, Highline, Renton, Auburn and Tukwila districts.
One of the beneficiaries will be White Center Heights Elementary, the poorest school in Highline School District. At White Center Heights, 94 percent of students are living in poverty. Last school year, only a third of White Center Heights fourth-graders passed the state math test. But teachers and kids say an online math program is helping.
In a computer room full of fourth-graders focusing carefully on their screens, nine-year-old Jordan demonstrated the program. "I’m dividing by four by whatever number there is," he said. "So there’s 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16. So 4 goes into 16, 4 times."
As Jordan clicked the right answer with his mouse, an animated penguin named Jiji waddles across the screen. Jordan loves penguins. "It feels like it’s teaching me something, but it also feels like a game," he said. Teachers at White Center Heights say the program gives them instant feedback about how their students are progressing in math.
The districts that won the federal grant plan to use it to buy more online math programs like the one at White Center for kids in low-income schools. The money will also go toward
- Collaboration between districts and early learning programs to ensure kids are ready for kindergarten.
- Teacher and administrator training in math, science and English Language Learner instruction.
- Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career exploration programs.
- Free PSAT and SAT test-taking opportunities in high schools.
- Assistants and training for middle and high school guidance counselors.
- Expanded Advanced Placement, STEM, International Baccalaureate, world language and career certificate options.
School and government officials hailed the grant announcement. But some education advocates say Race to the Top grants are just a federal effort to influence local education policy. That’s because districts and states need to have teacher evaluations and other policies in place in order to qualify for the money.