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Published: November 9, 2011



The 42nd state to join the Union, in 1889. Although the first school was established in 1832 at Fort Vancouver, Washington was largely a hunting, trapping and furtrading area until after the U.S. and British claims to it were settled in a treaty in 1846. Separated from Oregon in 1853, Washington had only about 4,000 white inhabitants. A public, territory-wide school system for white children was established in 1881, and the current state public school system was established in 1895.

The state has 2,233 public elementary and secondary schools, with a total enrollment of more than 1 million students, 26.5% of them minority students and more than 12% living in poverty. Student proficiency in reading and writing is well above average for the nation; fourth graders are comfortably among the top 20 states, and eighth graders score ninth in the nation in math proficiency. Washington has been a continual innovator in vocational education, having created 22 two-year, vocationaltechnical, or VO-TECH, programs at the state’s 35 public community colleges. (There are also three private two-year colleges.) The state has 11 public and 32 private four-year institutions of higher education, including the University of Puget Sound and Gonzaga University. The graduation rate of the more than 145,000 students at fouryear colleges is a remarkable 63%.

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