Photo by USDAgov on Flickr.
This is the first on a series of posts about education issues in DC.
Many younger residents moved to the District in the last 10-plus years, thanks to a resurgent demand for urban living and policies that encouraged residential growth. For many at or nearing the age of having children, one question above all determines whether they will remain in DC or decamp to suburbs: are the schools good enough for my child?
I have heard from many people who very much want to remain in DC, even in the more walkable and urban neighborhoods, but won’t do so if that means sacrificing their children’s future. Private schools are becoming more and more expensive relative to most people’s incomes and inflation.
Still, few good parents who have a choice in the matter will keep a child in school if the educational outcome is actually bad. Is it?
The answer is very different depending on where you live
The District essentially has 2 educational challenges. Just as transit thinks about choice riders (people who could drive but might choose to take transit if they perceive it’s better) and non-choice riders (people dependent on the train or bus, like the poor, elderly and disabled), so are there 2 types of families in DC: those who could move to Maryland or Virginia counties with high-quality schools or send their kids to private school, and those who can’t or won’t.
The non-choice residents comprise the kids who are really being left behind by poor education. Some can get into charter schools, but there aren’t enough highly-performing charter schools to serve everyone. There is no question that we need to provide a better education to break the cycles of poverty and crime and help kids go on to college, a prerequisite for most well-paying jobs in today’s society.
Meanwhile, DC wants to create a school system good enough to keep the many residents who might otherwise leave the District entirely. This builds the tax base to pay for the services that help the non-choice residents, builds support for public education, and improves neighborhoods by keeping them multi-generational.
If you live in certain DC neighborhoods, the answer to “are the schools good enough?” is generally, yes. At least, many people think so. This year’s out-of-boundary lottery, which fills spots in schools not already full of kids living nearby, had almost no spots in elementary schools in Upper Northwest like Murch and Janney, Oyster-Adams in Woodley Park and Adams Morgan, Ross in Dupont Circle, Watkins on Capitol Hill, and numerous others.
For a time, many parents felt that elementary schools might be “good enough” but were more concerned about junior high (which is a tough time for almost any kid, regardless of school quality), and many DC-area private schools have far larger classes from middle school up. In Ward 3, at least, Deal Middle School and Wilson High School are now pretty much full, and incoming classes of younger kids are filling up with in-boundary kids, leaving no room for others from elsewhere in the city.
In less fancy neighborhoods, it’s a different story. Many schools, especially in poorer neighborhoods, are simply not giving kids the skills they need. DC’s current practice is to close these schools and perhaps replace them with a charter school.
Some charter schools have worked wonders for some struggling kids; other charters don’t really turn out to add much value. Charters play a valuable role, especially to test out innovations like a longer school day, which DCPS can later incorporate into its own schools as appropriate. We’ll discuss this in a future part.
Meanwhile, do you think a DCPS school might be good enough for your current or future child?