Greater Greater Washington

Are DC schools good enough?

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?


Photo by USDAgov on Flickr.

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?

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Good lord, no.

It's time we started considering the welfare of students, not teachers, and closed DCPS. We could take the $27,000 in funds DC gets for each student and give it directly to the kids. That would allow them to attend some of the best private schools in the district.

The terrible, non-educational environment poor kids have to suffer through is inexcusable.

by Michael Hamilton on Jul 17, 2012 12:08 pm • linkreport

This is going to be fun...

by renegade09 on Jul 17, 2012 12:17 pm • linkreport

I don't care if it makes me a white-privileged twit, but never in a million years will I send my child to a DC public middle or high school. And yes, it's a serious long-term barrier to staying in the city I love.

by Corey on Jul 17, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

It seems to me that charter schools affect those two groups you mention pretty differently. They're certainly an improvement (in almost all areas) for people who can't or won't relocate, which is great. But because there are so few slots and so little uncertainty about being able to place a child in a charter school, they don't do a whole lot to help those people who have kids or are planning to, and are considering locating either in DC or elsewhere.

by Gray on Jul 17, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

I'm still a few years away from thinking about kids (though both me and my fiancee are 30, so no doubt she'll start pointing at her watch in a year or two), but as things currently stand I'd have a hard time justifying raising our kids in DC given the school options we'd have in MoCo or Virginia.

by Fitz on Jul 17, 2012 12:35 pm • linkreport

No way. There are some elementary schools that would be good enough, but they're in neighborhoods that don't work for us (because of some combination of price and location). And middle/high school options aren't good anywhere in DC (even Deal and Wilson are a lot worse than what's available in the suburbs).

by Rob on Jul 17, 2012 12:41 pm • linkreport

Ditto what Fitz said (minus a couple of years on my/my fiancee's age).

by Dizzy on Jul 17, 2012 12:41 pm • linkreport

Alrighty, so we can cancel out Corey and Fitz as those who wouldn't consider DC public schools, even under Michelle Rhee. Nothing will change that for them. It's their decision.

@Michael Hamilton, at which private schools would all of these kids w/27k go? There's also this assumption that any DC kid can attend any private school as long as they can afford it. Not true. I know parents of kids looking to enroll them in private schools who can't get in..and they can afford it. How do you make it so that any child can get into any private school? Is that even a realistic goal?

+1 to Gray

by HogWash on Jul 17, 2012 12:44 pm • linkreport

We continue to dump truck loads of $$$ into DCPS. The Chancellor even came back this year asking for millions more. Yet, our results remain among the lowest in the nation.

It is time to cut the school budget until we see the results the bloated bureaucracy is supposed to deliver to our kids.

by Left4Dead on Jul 17, 2012 12:46 pm • linkreport

It's not about whether they're "good enough", in isolation, it's about whether the easily available alternative is compelling. And when Fairfax Co. and Montgomery Co. public schools are just across the border, there's little reason to bother with DCPS. Even the *chance* of getting to send your child to TJHSST is worth moving out of DC for. And if you can somehow afford to live in a place where Whitman or Bethesda-Chevy Chase are your high school options, once again "good enough" isn't even a consideration anymore.

DCPS can't stand up to its competition, when it comes to middle class families' alternatives.

by JustMe on Jul 17, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

More generally, though, you cannot separate the two "educational challenges." It's exceptionally difficult to have a safe, successful educational environment in which all or a large proportion of the students from from the "no-choice" demographic. The ones that do, like the Urban Prep Academies in Chicago or something along the model of the Harlem Children's Zone, are typically self-selecting in the same sorts of ways that charter schools are often accused of being, and thus not generalizable.

There are 168 hours in a week. Given the kind of circumstances and environments that large numbers of underprivileged kids marinate in outside of school hours, 40 hours per week in school is not enough time to ameliorate that. At the same time, the sort of model that might be able to meet those needs would likely not be appealing to those coming from different circumstances.

There is no one-size-fits-all model to education. How to create and balance multiple effective models without descending into a system of de facto segregation (which to a great extent we already have as it is in DC) is perhaps the greatest challenge in urban America.

by Dizzy on Jul 17, 2012 12:55 pm • linkreport

@Left4dead,

No, actually DCPS ranks dead LAST in the nation...not among the lowest, it is the lowest.

There are 3 public highschools in the District and maybe 3 middle schools in the District that I would be ok with sending my kid to, and as along as you live within the boundaries of Cleveland Park, or Georgetown where they are, then fine.

However, like most non-trust funders who also doesn't make the requisite many 6 figures a year, throwing down a million plus on a tiny fixer upper in one of these places isn't in the cards.

The twins are 1 now, and the wife and I have already have the conversation multiple times as to where we are going to move in VA or MD because Columbia Heights "ain't gonna cut it", and we certainly can't afford 60K a year in private school tutition.

by schools on Jul 17, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

@Fitz
I'm still a few years away from thinking about kids (though both me and my fiancee are 30, so no doubt she'll start pointing at her watch in a year or two), but as things currently stand I'd have a hard time justifying raising our kids in DC given the school options we'd have in MoCo or Virginia.

Until you have kids, you really have no idea what you'll look for in a school. The near suburb schools have issues of their own. Some are severly overcrowded despite their higher test scores, and those higher test scores often result from teaching to the test (in addition to kids with more resources to help them succeed).

There are good DCPS and charter options, but you need to do your homework and be prepared to get involved (pretty much a given for suburban public schools too). Middle school is the most persistent concern for DC parents with the means to move or opt into private school, but for parents without kids or with kids yet to even reach early childhood education (let alone actually have kids in elementary), that's an awful long horizon and things do change. The charter landscape is also rapidly evolving, and some of them are very good.

by anon on Jul 17, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

"Nothing will change that for them."

Obviously if there's some sort of sea change in the interim between now and when I have middle-school aged children, I'd change my mind. There's no evidence that such a sea change is in the offing, though.

by Corey on Jul 17, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

HogWash,

That is a valid concern that I share. I see two obstacles to private schools meeting demand:

1. Zoning. It's difficult to open a school in a place like DC where every NIMBY has control over how others use their property. This would need to be explicitly addressed for a successful expansion of private education.

2. A market for public schooling limited by regulation will undersupply. Those that are available under this market will tend to skew towards the high-end, with high admissions standards. You see a similar effect in the DC condo market.

3. Standards imposed by the people who made DCPS an unsafe, useless, and expensive jobs program. They have nothing to contribute to the business of running a school, and could only make things worse.

So, I see a few steps that could get us a long way:

1. Easier zoning rules, as I noted above.

2. Little to no regulation from the DC government. Any impediment from regulation will primarily hurt the poor, and there's little reason to think that the DC government could do anything to make a school perform better.

3. Auction off the DCPS assets. Those buildings could be turned into schools that do things DCPS is incapable of, like teach children how to read.

by Michael Hamilton on Jul 17, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

D'oh. I added a third obstacle but forgot to update my second sentence. Apologies.

by Michael Hamilton on Jul 17, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

Well, I live on the Hill in a desirable district, so yes they are good enough. Middle school is a concern, but these are hypothetical children so middle school is a long way off.

I will say that moving to Maryland or Virginia is not the silver bullet it used to be. Among my friends the parents who are least satisfied with their kid's school live in Montgomery County. Their daughter functions several grade levels ahead of her class (partly because she is smart, but partly because the class is behind) and the school has no idea what to do with her. She pretty much teaches herself.

Now to be fair, my friends had to work hard at getting good DC options for their kids. They got in all the lotteries for the desirable DCPS schools and then applied to a bunch of charter schools. I think this was more effort than I expended on picking a college.

by Kate W. on Jul 17, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

Good intro and I look forward to the rest of the series. But in the end, Anon's advice is really the best: there's no one option that's perfect for everyone. You just have to wait until you're actually a parent before deciding. In my particular case, I'm lucky enough to live in boundary to one of those quality WOTP elementary schools, but I'm unsure about middle school. But that's a decision that is over a decade away. A lot can change in ten years.

And when that day comes, we'll just have to decide what's best and do what we need to accomplish that.

On some level I feel like a lot of the anxiety over schools (particularly among those with a choice) is driven not because the parents are unsure of their decision, but because they're worried about what others think if that decision. When you have people say that not in a million years they'd see their kid to DCPS, that sort of fosters that anxiety. Best advice is to just ignore what others say, because they're only justifying their own choices. Obviously you can't completely ignore other opinions, but if you try to live up to them, you end up believing that your child's only hope is to go to Saint Alban's. Children of parents like that usually have lots of issues...

by TM on Jul 17, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

@anon:

The charter landscape is also rapidly evolving, and some of them are very good.

This is true, but wasn't all that reassuring to my girlfriend and me when we were looking for a home. The chance of getting a slot in a great charter, while fantastic for someone whose other option would be a regular DC public school, is not so great when you could just move across the DC line and know what you're going to get.

As others have mentioned above, this is one of the really weird things about the DC area: you don't have to leave behind all urban, metro-accessible areas to get to better school systems.

by Gray on Jul 17, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

I seriously think DC should approach the districts in MD and VA about sending its kids to their schools. Take that time to completely dismantle the current mess in DC and start from scratch.

by Kevin Diffily on Jul 17, 2012 1:23 pm • linkreport

While school age kids are about 10-15 years from now for me, I have no intention of leaving DC. 10-15 years is a long time for public elementary schools to improve and 18-23 years is an even longer time for public high schools to see significant changes. This is also plenty of time for weak charters to be weeded out and strong charters to gain substantial experience and reputation.

I strongly believe that DC will change drastically in the next two decades as we embrace smart growth and transit oriented communities. This will be directly correlated to an increase in education and an increase income (therefore an increase in the tax base). This will lead to families who have vested interest in their child’s success regardless of where they get their education. While DCPS has significant administrative problems, the other side of the coin is the current lack of significant family involvement (whether it is due to lack of time, lack of education, or both).

If DC doesn’t sit in the top 10% of public schools systems nationwide and charters have not drastically improved, then to private school they will go. I am currently preparing for that reality.

What young DC citizens need to know is what they can do right now to lead DCPS in the right direction. An educated city is a strong, prosperous city.

by cmc on Jul 17, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

You can complain all you want about DCPS, but when parents don't teach their kids the value of a good education, the kids won't bother learning. My problem with DCPS is not with the school system, but more with the classmates that my kids would have. I see too many parents in DC not giving a damn about society and passing these traits onto their kids. Kids/Teens in this city scare me. No way I'm sticking mine in a classroom with them.

by Rick on Jul 17, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

the short answer to the school question is no. But how to best deal with it is the real question. Charter schools seem like a band-aid to the problem, becasue if you're a lucky kid with (2) parents who'll bust a nut to get you in, what about the unlucky ones? I'd start by dealing with what ails the schools the most, kids coming from households where the parent(s) either can't or won't support their kids the way they need to. A lot of that is cyclical poverty, but the schools ought ot set aside one period where they "school" the kids on how to behave. It sounds crazy, but if you have manners, you can overcome almost anything.

by Thayer-D on Jul 17, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

My partner and I are in our late-20s, buying a house in Petworth near the Barnard elementary school district, and considering having kids who will get to be elementary-school-aged sometime in the next 6-9 years, when we hope to still be living in DC and Petworth. I guess we won't know how we'll feel about all this until (as a previous commenter said) we actually have the kids and know their personalities and needs, and see how we react as parents. For now though, I understand that Barnard is highly ranked in terms of elementary schools east of the park, and that seems "good enough" to me. I think middle and high school would likely be trickier. But honestly, what's most important in elementary school is socialization. As educated parents we will read to our children, have books in our home, and likely teach them to read more or less outside of school. We will be able to be involved in their school and provide them with after-school enrichment that we might not be able to afford if we were paying private school tuition as well. So for elementary school (I hope) we'll be fine with the "good enough" neighborhood options, and be pleased to have our kids exposed to and socialized with the cultural, ethnic, educational, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity that comes along with them. And then maybe there will be a great charter school available nearby for middle school, who knows?

by kavakado on Jul 17, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

This is a big concern in our family. We have a three-year-old and live in Brookland (Ward 5). Paying for private school would challenge our budget and our philosophy. We entered 7 Pre-K 3 lotteries (public and charter) this spring and didn't get in any of them, but we'll try again next year. Our closest elementary school was closed a few years ago when enrollment dwindled to 88 souls of the "no-choice" group...it is now a lackluster charter school. We don't know a single family that sends children to the next two closest schools, including our current in-boundary school which is apparently being restructured for not making adequate yearly progress. The fourth closest school was at the heart of the test-erasure scandal. Any other school, public or charter, would not only require us to go through the lottery crapshoot but also force us to buy another car so we can get back and forth in two rush hours each day. I do think DC schools are improving, but I doubt they can improve fast enough for us...we start kindergarten in two years.

by stocktoe on Jul 17, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

To answer David's question: there are DCPS schools I'd be comfortable sending my kids to, but they are not in neighborhoods I can afford to live in. But I should be clear here: although it seems that the DCPS central administration can be a bit heavy-handed and arbitrary (re-assigning principals and the like), I do not think the problem is DCPS itself. Rather, DCPS is stuck with an enormous number of at-risk students, and as an educated, middle-class parent, I am absolutely not going to send my kids to a school that is predominantly at-risk students.

I get uneasy with wording like "there aren't enough highly-performing charter schools to serve everyone." This is true, in a sense, but it comes very close to making the assumption that school quality is somehow independent of student demographics. High-performing schools perform highly precisely because they have a low fraction of at-risk students.

Has there actually been an example of a school composed predominantly of at-risk students that performs highly? Is the method of such success generalizable and sustainable? (Tricks like transferring out the low-performing students don't count. And there are lots of programs that are successful in their first year, owing to the enthusiasm and extra energy that a new idea brings, but which can't keep up with the success, as the willingness of everyone to put in effort above and beyond can't last forever: this is known as the Hawthorne Effect.)

Fortunately, there are charter schools (I send my older son to one, and will send the younger when he's old enough.) And even though the best ones--meaning, those that draw lots of middle-class students--are oversubscribed, new ones keep getting formed, often spurred on by middle-class parents in search of a good school. I believe this is how Two Rivers was founded.

The ideal school would have predominantly middle-class students with a smaller fraction of at-risk students. This arrangement is generally agreed to be the best for the at-risk students. (The opposite, a small fraction of middle-class students in a predominantly at-risk school, not to much.) DC at present doesn't have nearly enough middle-class students to make this arrangement work for everybody. It might if someday there are more middle-class families in DC, and if the population of at-risk students is divided more equally amongst the surrounding jurisdictions.

The charters are vitally important in a transition to this model, as they facilitate the accumulation of middle-class families and the general recognition of a neighborhood as middle-class acceptable. At some point, there will be a critical mass of middle-class students such that the local DCPS schools, should they all attend, will be considered good as well.

by thm on Jul 17, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

@TM -- excellent point. Too many parents get hung up on how their school choice is perceived by others rather than determining the best fit for their kid(s). I mentally roll my eyes when an older coworker with grown kids asks me when I'm leaving DC for suburban schools like they did two decades ago. They don't know the current school landscape, and more importantly, they don't know what's a good fit for my kids.

@Fitz -- I raise charters only because there are new ones constantly coming on line, and the charter landscape is more agile than DCPS. In some cases charters are actively looking to fill gaps where DCPS has failed to be proactive in meeting the demands of DC residents and their kids (for example language immersion programs, math/science oriented curriculum and International Baccalaureate programs). Whatever charter options currently exist, there will be different options 5 years from now, 10 years, etc.

by anon on Jul 17, 2012 1:57 pm • linkreport

Lots of discussion about cohort, socialization and cost, but nobody has discussed travel time. After quality, this is probably the most important consideration in selecting a school.

You could have the best school in the world, but if it takes you 2 hours to get there, it is not available. OTOH, moving to the suburbs will add 1-2 hours per day travel time to get to work, sacrificing the precious time a parent may spend with children. The time/school tradeoff is what drives up the cost of real estate with nearby good schools, making them "good" neighborhoods. Thus, the quality of nearby schools is by far the most important factor in the residential real estate market.

(BTW, all parents and realtors know this.)

by goldfish on Jul 17, 2012 2:00 pm • linkreport

Believe it or not, this same question was asked in the 1950s prior to Brown v. Board of Education and even then, you had the same problems of an entrenched bureaucracy fighting for its own interests at the expense of students. The only difference was that the schools were legally segregated at the time instead of de facto segregated. So, no, sixty-plus years and they have not improved "yet." You have non-native English speakers in GUAM scoring higher in math and verbal skills than DCPS kids.

by monkeyrotica on Jul 17, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

Its not helpful to slam all of DCPS. Some of the schools are performing very well. The problem in DC is all students don't have access to good schools.

As a parent with kids in Deal and Lafayette I don't think our kids would be getting better educations across the border in Bethesda.

Deal in particular has been fantastic. I can't say enough good things about the school and its hard working teachers.

by Turtleshell on Jul 17, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

moving to the suburbs will add 1-2 hours per day travel time to get to work

You could move to dowtown silver spring and enjoy a very reasonable commute, reasonable housing prices and a high school (Blair) with a 8 out 10 GreatSchools rating.

by Falls Church on Jul 17, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

@Michael, those are good points. But I just don't think the privatizing education is the way to go. Education should be free for any k-12 school.

Now Rick does have a point about parental involvement. But if you segregate your child in a way which removes them from the rest of the world they are destined to live in, it'll likely create more problems down the world w/them adapting to a world you refused to expose them to. In a perfect world, every child in every school would be surrounded by peers whose parents instill the value of an education. That "perfect" world is often seen in the form of private schools.

According to everything I had read, more parents were willing to enroll their child in DCPS under Michelle Rhee because of what they "hoped" would be the future of DCPS. What I'm interested in finding out is how many of these same people are now looking to move away from DC and why.

Also, we often cite the success found in other cities as a reason for why we might do things here. W/that in mind, are there good examples of cities where public schools are doing well that we can follow?

by HogWash on Jul 17, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

I made this decision a few years ago when looking at houses, and the answer was "no." I know people who make D.C. schools work, but it usually meant adding a part time job of visiting and applying to various public or charter schools and then driving kids all over the city to get there. The mess that is currently charter schools has some successes, but the charter system in the city seems to be set up for long-term failure. In addition, if a kid needs special services (impossible to predict in advance), the quality just isn't there. If there were no other options, I guess I could manage.

Unfortunately for D.C., there are options. I looked in D.C. and over the border in dense areas of Silver Spring. Similar houses were actually a bit cheaper in Silver Spring and I get much better schools & better county services. The decision was clear.

by Dan on Jul 17, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

@goldfish: Of course -- travel time is huge. This is why we're thinking seriously about leaving the DC area entirely. There's no place in the entire area that would give us reasonable commutes and acceptable schools at a price we can afford.

by Rob on Jul 17, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

"According to everything I had read, more parents were willing to enroll their child in DCPS under Michelle Rhee because of what they "hoped" would be the future of DCPS. What I'm interested in finding out is how many of these same people are now looking to move away from DC and why."

I will be honest: I saw the firing of Rhee as confirmation that the dominant institutional prerogative of DCPS and the city government was to maintain the institution of schools as job programs. I am sympathetic to that prerogative, but my child is going to get a good education and they are going to go to a school where that - not the maintenance of jobs - is priority #1.

If that changes in the next ~20 years? Great. If not? You can find me in Arlington (or at Sidwell, in case I win the lottery or something).

by Corey on Jul 17, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

Who cares about my opinion, or that of anyone commenting here: the PARENTS of the region have spoken with their feet. If they can, most will move to VA or MD, or will send their kids to private schools. If they insist on living in DC and going to DC schools, they fight tooth and nail to get into the best schools.

Michele Rhee, for all her faults, really showed how much DCPS had been run like a patronage system, not an education provider.

by SJE on Jul 17, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

"I seriously think DC should approach the districts in MD and VA about sending its kids to their schools"

This is similar to suggestions that MD take back DC--why on earth would MD and VA want the headache?

by Mike on Jul 17, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

@Turtleshell

It's not all about the schools -- a lot of it has to do with the kids and their parents/caregivers. Even the best school won't reach achievement benchmarks if saddled with troubled kids with excess baggage, or kids who don't get the kind of necessary educational reinforcement at home. The schools are not the primary determinant of success -- it's the parents/caregivers.

It's not all about poverty either (but it doesn't help) because plenty of poor kids succeed if provided with the necessary support system. It doesn't take a genius to see the demographic disparities, and the success of some of the west of Potomac schools reflects their greater affluence and homogenaity than inherently supperior schools -- the parents invest time and effort (oh, and money) to help the schools succeed. Space is allocated almost exclusively to in bound families. It may work for Janney or Murch, but many other neighborhood schools won't be able to replicate this model, no matter how "good" the school or its teachers and staff.

by anon on Jul 17, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

Gray nailed it: As others have mentioned above, this is one of the really weird things about the DC area: you don't have to leave behind all urban, metro-accessible areas to get to better school systems.

A thousand times yes. I'm kidless and a ways off from changing that status, but the shifts that would have to happen in the next 12-15 years would have to be pretty major to keep me from looking outside for schools. The metro accessible TOD neighborhoods outside of DC are probably the greatest strength of the region.

by worthing on Jul 17, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

School aren't good enough in my area. Parkview elem has terrible test scores, 75% of kids are below grade level. If DC wants to keep more parents in DC schools they need to add more academically gifted classes (real ones, not just the "enrichment" activities open to everyone). I know people don't want to hear that but its true. Even more elementary IB options (kind of a school within a school) would attract tons of middle and upper class families who otherwise would go private or to the suburbs. No parent wants their kid in a class where the subject material has be to slowed down to help 75% of the class keep up. We will likely move in 5 years which is a shame because we love where we live. Its impossible to get into any of the high performing schools now. EL Haynes is a great charter close by but apparently they had 300 on the waiting list for lower grades this year.

by Parkview on Jul 17, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

We live near @stocktoe just above Brookland in North Michigan Park. And there is zero chance we would send our now-9-month-old daughter to the neighborhood school. Our time in DC (somewhat sadly) has a definite expiration date - her enrollment in kindergarten. The charter school / out of-boundary-application system is (1) too uncertain and (2) a freakin' Kafkaesque nightmare that I will have no part of. Whether this means we move to the 'burbs or high tail it back to California remains to be seen. (Our budget does not permit a move into NW or Cap Hill, and then we'd still have the issue of middle/high school.) California schools have their own problems, but even CA's continually deteriorating public school system looks good compared to DC.

If the answer to fixing DCPS was easy & obvious - "starve the beast," scrap the whole system, or whatever commenters propose - it would get done. The problems are not all due to the unions, or the type of students, etc. - stop fooling yourself. It's far more complicated. I don't know what the solution is, but I'm not sticking around to use my kid as a guinea pig.

by NorCalinDC on Jul 17, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

I will be honest: I saw the firing of Rhee as confirmation that the dominant institutional prerogative of DCPS and the city government was to maintain the institution of schools as job programs. I am sympathetic to that prerogative, but my child is going to get a good education and they are going to go to a school where that - not the maintenance of jobs - is priority #1.

I don't mean this as snark. But if you're "really" interested in finding out the best option for your child, can you name a few things that Kaya (Rhee's former deputy) has done to stymie the reforms Rhee put in place..the sort of reforms that made you consider placing your child in DCPS?

The reason I ask is because I think there were a lot of people who based their child's education on a "person" and not a "system." From a practical matter, you have to be able to identify what "taking us back to the old days" means today under Gray/Henderson. Anything outside of that is just noise. That is, "well now that Rhee's gone, I know something is getting ready to happen. I might not be able to identify what. There might not be any evidence to confirm my fears. But, I'll be fearful anyway."

by HogWash on Jul 17, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

Are there any parents here whose kids have graduated from DCPS (not top-performing) high schools? If so, post-DCPS, how well do you think your child was prepared for college and what do you wish your child had been equipped w/that wasn't.

by HogWash on Jul 17, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

If DCPSs are good enough for Obama's kids then they are good enough for mine.

by Curious George on Jul 17, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

HogWash, if it were only about the policies, I'd agree with you. But it isn't. The state of DC's schools deserves not just new policies but anger. It is atrocious that normal people cannot live, with school-aged children, in the capital of the most powerful nation in history.

DCPS deserves to be confronted the way Rhee confronted them. It was the unconciliatory attitude I found most comforting about her, not her policies per se (I disagree with her that "bad teachers" are the main problem with DCPS, for instance). Kaya Henderson by all indications has done a good job on the policy and political level, but if I'm going to take a massive gamble with my child's future by putting them in a DC public school, I at least want a chancellor that isn't conciliatory towards the elements of that system that make it so bad.

by Corey on Jul 17, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

The reason I ask is because I think there were a lot of people who based their child's education on a "person" and not a "system."

To amplify this point: there is a wide range of performance is DC schools, and it is pointless to classify them all as "failed" when that is clearly not true. You have to go and look -- actually visit a prospective school and talk to its principal and teachers. Then you really find out how well a school is doing. Problem with test scores is that they reflect several years of teaching, and improvements do not appear there until after the kindergardeners matriculate to 4th grade. Point here is that the nuts and bolts of how good a school is is several steps removed from the superintendent -- good schools have blossomed despite bad DCPS management, and vice versa.

by goldfish on Jul 17, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

To amplify this point: there is a wide range of performance is DC schools, and it is pointless to classify them all as "failed" when that is clearly not true. You have to go and look -- actually visit a prospective school and talk to its principal and teachers. Then you really find out how well a school is doing.

Do you guys really not see what a huge burden and giant gamble this is for parents? Not to mention, as established upthread, the decent schools are likely to be clustered in very expensive areas of the city and - even if they are decent - are likely to be of lower quality than comparable suburban schools.

Basically, parents have the choice between a labor-intensive, risky search for a "decent" DC school, when they could simply move five miles away and have a guaranteed excellent school. It's really a simple calculation, unfortunately.

by Corey on Jul 17, 2012 3:17 pm • linkreport

NorCalinDC
California schools have their own problems, but even CA's continually deteriorating public school system looks good compared to DC.

And wait til you reach college, where the state system is increasingly inaccessible and underserving to Cal residents. At least DC residents enjoy DC TAG - a federal grant providing discounted tuition at all national public universtities and many regional private universities and colleges http://osse.dc.gov/service/dctag-get-funding-college

by anon on Jul 17, 2012 3:17 pm • linkreport

Mr. Alpert's correct in his assertion that school quality will be one of (if not the) fundamental issue for many families deciding to whether or not to stay in the District. We live in Brookland, have two kids (ages 2 and 4) and much want to stay in the city for a veritable litany of social, economic, and environmental reasons. When my first kid was 2 and nearing PS age, I trotted down to the local, soon to be restructured DCPS school and met with everyone including Principal, teachers, head of PTA and ... unfortunately, not a chance would I send my kids there. At least not yet, and for all the reasons thoughtfully described above by some others. Fortunately, we were able to get our daughter into an excellent charter off the lottery and our second kid will be pulled along to the charter when it's time. While we have worries about the logistics (the charter has grown and we are going to have to move with it when it finds a new building) ... the school is safe, warm, demanding, diverse (in terms of race and economics) and my wife and I don't have brutal commutes where we see less of our kids. And yes, we potentially could have managed non-brutal commutes in near-in Silver Spring or Arlington, but not for the same quality of life, house, and neighborhood we are getting in Brookland and, as noted above, in a number of areas the school issue was not entirely solved. At least we don't see it that way and we researched it pretty hard. In any event, if we had not been so fortunate with the charter, we'd be sadly planning to put the house on the market next year before my oldest girl goes to K.
The trick is what happens now and what will happen in the next few years. There's just a silly number of excellent kids below the age of 8 within a block or two of our house in Brookland (15? 20?) -- and not one of them attends a local DCPS school. Most, and it's a diverse bunch, attend charters and a few attend private. And charters seem to be popping up or expanding to meet this demand. But can, will or should such a practice continue apace? I have no idea, but being a parent in the mix, change does seem to be happening fast. See examples such as Mundo Verde, Yu Ying, LAMBs expansion last year, Inspired Teaching, etc. I think blanket conclusions either way ("we are certainly leaving" vs. "it's changing and we'll definitely stay") are premature. So bottom line - this is the big deal for growing a sustainable city and I hope to see the series continue.

by bt&wdog on Jul 17, 2012 3:23 pm • linkreport

If DCPSs are good enough for Obama's kids then they are good enough for mine.

I'm not sure if that was sarcasm or not, but if it wasn't, Obama's kids go to Sidwell.

by JW on Jul 17, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

Do you guys really not see what a huge burden and giant gamble this is for parents?

I personally visited 10 different schools this past year, taking the time off of work to take the tour. I also spent hours online comparing test scored and demographics, as well as going to other school functions. I would have liked to have done more. Yes I am well aware of how much time this takes.

Parenting is not for the lazy. Part of the challenge for the schools is to get the parents in shape -- apparently, you are just beginning to understand that. The advantage the charters have provided is that they completely changed the game. Schools in DC now compete for students, whereas before I agree that it partly (but not entirely!) a patronage system. Rhee understood that, as the proportion of students enrolled in DCPS consistently slipped. DCPS has had to compete or close shop. The disadvantage is that all this choice puts a burden on parents to figure out the best place to send their kids. Those parents that are most prepared for this challenge will get a good education in DC.

by goldfish on Jul 17, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

@anon: Your claim about DC TAG being better than the California system is ridiculous. The UC schools are having major budget problems, but despite that, they're still clearly the best public universities in the country (which means they're the best schools available through DC TAG). And the DC TAG grant is substantially smaller than the gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition at the UC schools.

by Rob on Jul 17, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

if you segregate your child in a way which removes them from the rest of the world they are destined to live in, it'll likely create more problems down the world w/them adapting to a world you refused to expose them to. In a perfect world, every child in every school would be surrounded by peers whose parents instill the value of an education

I think the last thing parents want is for their children to be "adapted" to a world in which lots of parents don't care about or value education. Quite frankly, childhood and adolescence are difficult enough as it is, and I fail to see how it's useful to also dump the obligation to learn to deal with people who don't care at all about school while they are in school.

by JustMe on Jul 17, 2012 3:32 pm • linkreport

I'm going to take a massive gamble with my child's future by putting them in a DC public school, I at least want a chancellor that isn't conciliatory towards the elements of that system that make it so bad.

Although I don't agree with this, you are the parent. So it's up to you. But digging just a bit deeper into my previous question, can you name an instance or two where Kaya (more importantly the mayor) has been conciliatory towards elements of a system that make it so bad.

I'm stressing this because I think if we really claim to be concerned about DCPS, then we have to armed with information separating fact from fiction. I do not believe we should make decisions about our child's future based on fiction. We can feel however we want about DCPS, but it does the city a disservice is we are spreading misinformation about our schools. *not suggesting you are*

by HogWash on Jul 17, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

Parenting is not for the lazy.

If all that work guaranteed that my child would get a good education, I'd do it in a heartbeat. The problem is that it doesn't guarantee any such thing.

Suburban schools aren't guaranteed to give anyone a good education either, but hopefully we can agree there's a lot better chance a kid will get one there than in DC. That's the simple truth.

by Corey on Jul 17, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

My child attends our neighborhood school. When we first enrolled seven years ago or so, VERY few people in the neighborhood enrolled their child. When kids hit elementary age, they typically bailed on Capitol Hill and moved to the burbs. Rather than in-boundary, the school was populated with kids from Maryland, Bolling and ward 7. Now it has gone from being so underenrolled it was on the list for closure to having massive waitlists. Realtors that used to steer families away from the neighborhood now tout the neighborhood school as an asset. Housing prices have skyrocketed and I think the school is one part of that. Things can change CRAZY fast. Middle school is totally uncertain, but that is a couple years away for us and BASIS, Howard Math and Science, Latin and private schools are all possibilities if the neighborhood middle-school is not an option. It seems unlikely that the neighborhood middle schools would be an option, but people said the same thing about our elementary school just a few years ago. Stranger things have happened!

by 20002 on Jul 17, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

@20002

Your experience is why I think parents and children are likely to stay in the district, rather than fleeing to the suburbs the way they used to. As several people above mentioned, schools are secondary to socioeconomic conditions and home life in terms of academic success. As the neighborhoods fill up with college-educated two-parent households, the schools are going to get better. And even if the schools keep a large number of at-risk kids, the kids within the schools will self-segregate into cliques that exclude people not in their socioeconomic class. Pushing DCPS to move back to track systems would be helpful though.

Schools are a trailing indicator. They improve after the neighborhood, but they do improve.

by JW on Jul 17, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

As the neighborhoods fill up with college-educated two-parent households, the schools are going to get better.

This is the giant elephant in the room that no one really wants to talk about, but I agree. The problem is that it's a collective action problem - a bunch of people have to be willing to make a choice that is individually less-than-optimal in order for it to happen.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a bump in test scores/educational attainment as a result of demographic change, but for some reason I doubt the demographic shift will be of a sufficient magnitude to make the schools anything more than decent. We'll see.

by Corey on Jul 17, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

Is part of the Capitol Hill phenom that @20002 describes a function of the "organizing" that Mothers on the Hill (MOTH) did to get all those middle class parents, part of the changing demographic on the Hill to agree to all (or nearly all) put their kids into a public elementary school? I also understand that Capitol Hill was where universal pre-Kindergarten (for three and four-year olds) was piloted for the last 2-3 years. That is basically free, all-day day care for 3 and 4-year olds and this school year, DCPS has expanded it to be offered citywide, albeit perhaps with uneven availability.

I realize that many parents may be just as selective about pre-school, but it seems that the bar might be low enough, along with the "free" part - hey you can start that savings account for private school - to entice middle class parents to give it a try. To the extent that a widely available universal pre-K helps to "organize" middle class parents to throw in with each other and with lower income parents and the principal and teachers at neighborhood elementary school, that might effectively change the demographics INSIDE the public school in a very short time and give you the kind of results that @20002 experienced. DC is one of very few urban public school systems that is giving this a try and I think it has the potential to be transformative.

by AubreyO on Jul 17, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

I think the answer is still "no" to the basic question as to whether DC schools are good enough. However, I would also point out that suburban schools, while still vastly superior to most of their counterparts in DC, are declining in some instances. Just as suburban poverty has grown over the last decade, so too has it started to affect school systems.

A few friends of mine who are teachers have noticed the quality of students decline. In some instances, teachers are frustrated by a system that expects them to bring a new student, who may be several years behind, immediately up to grade level to meet exam requirements. The good thing for suburban school districts in this area is that they are almost singularly focused on education and have quality people and systems in place to better deal with the new reality their facing, but they are feeling the shift.

by Adam L on Jul 17, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

*reality they're facing.

No, really. I did go to school. :-)

by Adam L on Jul 17, 2012 4:10 pm • linkreport

I made a choice to stay in DC when my child came of age. It was a selfish one, wanting the whole "vibrancy" thing in my life, but I did so knowing there was going to be financial sacrifice with it because it meant I was going to pay a fortune sending my kid to private school (St Albans in this case).

Deal seems to be the best school in the District, of any level of middle or highschool. People rave about it and it is a decent school, but it is evenly matched with just about any random highschool in Arlington, Montgomery County and Fairfax. The point is...even DC's best is just "eh" everywhere else.

Sure, if you search hard enough, spend yoour entire years allotment of vacation visiting charters, wishing every year for a good school lotto pick then you can get your kid an "ok" education, but are you as parents really fine with an "ok" education.

Undergrad degrees are worth about as much now as a highschool diploma was back in the 80's. In another 15 years, having one won't mean squat, everyone will need a masters. Do you really want to roll the dice with your kids future which is already going to be far more competitive than ours by keeping your "fingers crossed".

As someone above said, DCPS ranks dead last in the US in every possible metric. Sending your kid there is the last thing you should be aspiring to do.

by anons on Jul 17, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church:

You could move to dowtown silver spring and enjoy a very reasonable commute, reasonable housing prices and a high school (Blair) with a 8 out 10 GreatSchools rating.

This is exactly what my girlfriend and I are doing. We would have loved to stay in DC, and looked quite a bit in NoMa, Brookland, Petworth, and Takoma. But in the end, going right over the line to DTSS was too appealing. We'll be able to walk to the metro as well as lots of restaurants, grocery stores, bars, etc., and we won't have to worry about the schools.

FWIW, we're in the district for an elementary school that actually has a pretty poor, mostly non-white student body. But because it's MoCo, they throw tons of resources at that school and the kids do pretty well. And that's the kind of public schools I always went to, so I'm very happy with that. Though of course the schools could change significantly by the time we're actually using them...

by Gray on Jul 17, 2012 4:15 pm • linkreport

Parenting is not for the lazy. - @goldfish

Thank you, @Corey, for pointing out that all of the work that @goldfish did *happened* to work out for his/her kids. But there is no guarantee. I could have visited 15 schools and taken off twice as much time as goldfish (I'm lucky that I have such flexibility, many parents don't) and it's entirely possible that my kid wouldn't get into *any* of the schools on our "acceptable" list.

Although it may not be a priority for everyone, I'm not interested in hauling my kid halfway across DC for school, I'd like her to attend the neighborhood school. I prefer her to live in the same vicinity as her classmates.

@goldfish - Calling out parents as "lazy" for not wanting or having the time/ability to do the same research as you did is a cheap shot. Most of the parents who care enough to engage in this conversation do A LOT for their kids. But I, for one, have chosen to draw the line somewhere - especially since all of that work could be for naught.

Also, I'd like to say that I'm happy to see this conversation has not devolved into something nasty as I so often see. Thanks for an interesting discussion!

by NorCalinDC on Jul 17, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

The other part of "good enough" is not just output, but input. The per-pupil cost in DCPS is in the range of elite private schools. What is it in neighboring counties, and what are their educational outcomes?

by SJE on Jul 17, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

"I seriously think DC should approach the districts in MD and VA about sending its kids to their schools"
This is similar to suggestions that MD take back DC--why on earth would MD and VA want the headache?

Given the massive shift in DC demographics over the last two decades, and the corresponding decline in some suburban schools, I think one could make the argument that this is already happening...

DCPS will improve to the extent that there is a shift in the proportion of extremely poor kids to middle-class kids enrolled. If that happens, things will improve. If not, not.

As far as HogWash's assertion that there's no difference between Rhee and Henderson, that very similarity is one of the biggest points of grievance to a lot of erstwhile Gray supporters. Read the comments section of the WaPo education blogs--the idea that the anti-Rhee reactionaries are somehow just fine with Kaya is pure fantasy. They hate her, and see Gray's support as a betrayal.

by oboe on Jul 17, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

DCPS deserves to be confronted the way Rhee confronted them. It was the unconciliatory attitude I found most comforting about her, not her policies per se (I disagree with her that "bad teachers" are the main problem with DCPS, for instance). Kaya Henderson by all indications has done a good job on the policy and political level, but if I'm going to take a massive gamble with my child's future by putting them in a DC public school, I at least want a chancellor that isn't conciliatory towards the elements of that system that make it so bad.

While I totally understand this sentiment, I think that it is more useful to focus on the tangible outcomes rather than whether the chancellor is confrontational enough for you. If Henderson is able to accomplish the same things as Rhee but is allowed to stay on longer, then she does more good than Rhee does, who basically lost her job because people hated her.

I liked Rhee's style, myself, but it looks like Henderson's strategy is to give DCPS a "dignified out", whereas Rhee forced many of the interest groups within DCPS into a corner, and their only option was to fight their way out of the situation.

by JustMe on Jul 17, 2012 4:42 pm • linkreport

The other part of "good enough" is not just output, but input. The per-pupil cost in DCPS is in the range of elite private schools. What is it in neighboring counties, and what are their educational outcomes?

I'm curious what the poverty rate is in neighboring counties. Poverty is expensive, and corrosive to achievement. And not something that a small local government can "fix".

by oboe on Jul 17, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

I'm curious where folks are getting the statistic that DC is the lowest-ranking school district in the US. I'm not finding that with a quick Google search, and I'm wondering if people are erroneously comparing DC (a single district) to the 50 states (which contain multiple districts.) I've not heard of studies that directly compare all school districts in the country, and I'm skeptical that DC would rank last in all metrics among all districts. Especially because our primary method for ranking districts (academic mastery on standardized tests) varies by the choice of test used in each state.

On another note, I don't think it's fair to compare Deal or Wilson to a "mediocre suburban school." Both schools have tremendous diversity, racially and socio-economically, which are difficult-to-measure benefits that many suburban schools can't deliver.

by SchoolWatcher on Jul 17, 2012 4:45 pm • linkreport

I was one of those idealistic young professionals who took a chance on the rough edge of Capitol Hill 20 years ago. We didn't have kids, but thought the schools would improve as the years wore on. We bought a house, had a couple of kids and for a long time the Capitol Hill schools our kids went to were great. Peabody, Watkins and Stuart Hobson were solid schools with a solid enrollment of middle class families, great teachers, great projects and interesting special projects. For the most part I think these schools are still okay, but what I have witnessed over the last 16 years has made me wonder if I would do it all over again. And, sadly, I have to say no-if I were having kids now, I would head for VA or MD, probably Montgomery County. The schools are just so stable there, unlike DC. What has changed my mind has been two main things. First, the crazy amount of testing that goes on now. It's dibels in pre-k and K to weeks of testing with all the baseline assessments every year. Last year, my youngest had something like 8 weeks where he was getting ready for or taking tests! The kids are really stressed about it now. They are told to do well for the school and their teachers, pep rallies for testing instead of football games. It's pitiful. Gone are the really cool art projects, the amazing history fieldtrips and museum walks. Now the testing is something that isn't unique to DC-all schools have to do it thanks to NCLB.

The second thing that makes me realize DCPS and charters are just doomed ultimately for failure, (and the one that is unique to DC) is the constant churning in enrollment and school population that this choice/consumerist system encourages. Every year, it's a constant stream of kids who switch schools from DCPS to charter and back again. Every year there's a new "hot" charter where all the supposed child-geniuses are encouraged to go, so they all leave, but then when the grass isn't greener, they're all talking about moving around again. Or the kids who can't cut it at the charter are encouraged to find another school, so they flood the DCPS lottery or head to their neighborhood school, which has to take them. I know many kids who have been to 5,6 different schools before they get to high school. How can any school get better when you don't know who's coming and going and you have to start over with a whole new set of kids? There's this decreased sense of community and school spirit and loyalty that I think a school needs in order to inspire kids and parents and teachers into making it great.

It's sad and depressing and it literally breaks my heart, but I don't see it getting better any time soon. In fact, I think ultimately we'll have a DCPS which consists mainly of the high-performing schools in Ward 3, and the rest of the system will be turned over to mediocre charters or school management companies, but then at least it won't be any politicians problem, just parents.

by Been there done that on Jul 17, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

I've been a public school parent for 9 years now. My advice would be move if you can, because it is a nonstop battle to get your child a decent education.

I can tell you that if the school is safe, clean and relatively well run, it will probably last you through second grade. By third grade the relentless focus on standardized testing and a lack of differentiation for high achievers starts to wear you and more importantly your child down.

As a previous poster said, DCPS and DC Public Charter schools have some ok offerings, but they are still weak compared to Montgomery or Fairfax County.

We've worked very hard to get our children a quality education and we managed to last in public through 5th grade. Of course West of the Park you might make it longer.

My oldest is doing brilliantly at a top notch private (which we really can't afford) and they all love living in the city. I think they are nicer more interesting people for having attending at Title I elementary school with kids that were very, very different than them.

That said, if you haven't sunk into real estate in the District, save yourself the headache and do a close in suburb. The hassle and drama of public school isn't worth it.

Finally, since her name has come up here, I can tell you that Rhee did nothing to make our school better. She created a lot of drama and strife but ultimately she made things worse for the children we know.

DCPS struggles because of poverty. My kids did just fine in Title I classrooms. The teachers were top notch. If anyone needed to be fired, it was some of the parents...Oh, and the rock stars downtown. They needed to go too.

by DC Mom on Jul 17, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

With all the talk about Michelle Rhee here, I'd like to add my two cents: by and large, Rhee was a charlatan. Her claims of boosting student achievement as a teacher herself were, at best, highly inflated, and could have been outright lies. It is quite possible that a substantial part of whatever rise in scores did happen happened because poorly performing students were counseled out. Her central argument was that bad schools are bad because they have bad teachers; as I mentioned above, this is not true. The "value-added" metric that Rhee put in place, which purports to measure the role a particular teacher had on their students' test score changes, is worthless numerology (and there are statistical analysis that demonstrate this). There are likely to be long-time teachers at poorly performing schools who have developed ways to cope with the depressing churn of at-risk kids, a churn that causes many an idealistic young teacher to burn out sooner rather than later. But there is no evidence that replacing existing teachers with "good" teachers can lead to sustainable, generalizable improvement in a population of at-risk students.

What Rhee did that was good was to convince parents in wealthy neighborhoods to send their kids to their local DCPS schools. The effectiveness of her other reforms was irrelevant; breaking the chicken-and-egg cycle that keeps neighborhoods with lots of middle (and up) class families from creating a critical mass of students at a school is what counts.

by thm on Jul 17, 2012 4:57 pm • linkreport

One other tradeoff in the schools decision is in choosing location over available space.

My wife and I had a son four weeks ago, and over the last ten months, we've had a lot of conversations about schools, real estate, and the like. We've spent the last 6 years renting an apartment in Georgetown, with dreams and plans of purchasing a house sometime soon in a much more affordable neighborhood, but once our family situation switched to "parents", the calculus changed.

At the moment, it makes much more financial and family sense for us to sacrifice on square-footage (and property ownership) for location, in boundary for a top ES, decent middle school (Hardy) and Wilson. If we have a second child, the space constraint may force a different decision, but for now, we have a path to a very solid DCPS education, without breaking the bank.

I think this also follows some of the discussions that come up on GGW fairly frequently, about how many people and families will make different choices about living style, and possibly even ease out of the SFH dominant lifestyle if they see options of walkable neighborhoods with resources (schools, libraries, parks, playgrounds) in reach.

I agree with those who have talked about the "collective action" problem in neighborhoods like Brookland which currently have many middle-class families with children not heading to DCPS elementary schools, and no parent wants their children to be a social experiment. That said, as DC demographics change, I think there is going to be a fairly dramatic increase in test scores (not evenly across schools, but on a jagged, school-specific basis), sparked by changes like those in Capitol Hill.

by Jacques on Jul 17, 2012 5:03 pm • linkreport

Calling out parents as "lazy" for not wanting or having the time/ability to do the same research as you did is a cheap shot

I didn't read it that way at all. What might distinguish goldfish from many of those "seeking" to move out of DC is that he/she was invested in living IN DC and wanted his/her child to go to school IN DC. When you've committed to living in an urban environment like DC, you make sacrifices. For Gold, the "sacrifice" was going to as many schools as possible to ensure that the child matriculated in a DCPS. Not everyone has the time to do the same...but a lot of them surely do. No, parenting is not for the lazy.

@Oboe, that very similarity is one of the biggest points of grievance to a lot of erstwhile Gray supporters. Read the comments section of the WaPo education blogs--the idea that the anti-Rhee reactionaries are somehow just fine with Kaya is pure fantasy

So are you really relying on blog posts as your gauge for how Gray supporters view current reform efforts? IMO, a better gauge is to look at what Nathan Saunders says..since he represents the group most disaffected with Rhee. Rhee's problem was that she and her boss cared little about the PR nightmares they created. Kaya is much more attuned to the politics and the policy and any successful leader is able to effectively straddle the two. Crash and burn does not work.

BTW, if we had to gauge "opinion" on blog posts like the Wpost or WCP, we'd be angry about everthing...everyday. Show me something from people who don't hide beyond a computer screen and scream bloody hell.

@JustMeIf Henderson is able to accomplish the same things as Rhee but is allowed to stay on longer, then she does more good than Rhee does, who basically lost her job because people hated her And unfortunately, her boss left her to the elements. That's horrible management 101.

but it looks like Henderson's strategy is to give DCPS a "dignified out", whereas Rhee forced many of the interest groups within DCPS into a corner, and their only option was to fight their way out of the situation.

Consider this, Rhee was the bain of many people's existence, touring the country, having magazine profiles of her sweeping the dirt from DCPS, and having every one of her decisions either praised or lampooned by the media/blog, mtopic of every negative. Instead of reform being the issue, SHE became the issue herself. OTOH, Kaya has navigated the PR water swimmingly. You didn't read horror stories when she fired teachers and principles. You don't hear about her antagonistic relationship w/teachers nor the union.

Education reform is not "in the news" as it was during her reign. But the reform continues. Now, what's in the news is how much people hate VGray. So hatred of Rhee/Fenty has been replaced by hatred of Gray. fortunately, DC gov't trains haven't stopped running.

by HogWash on Jul 17, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

I'm curious where folks are getting the statistic that DC is the lowest-ranking school district in the US.

DC ranked dead last in 8th grade NAEP comparisons.

There is a known phenomenon in DC where even compared to students with similar household incomes, DC students perform worse than similarly poor students in other states, but I can't find that statistic right now.

by JustMe on Jul 17, 2012 5:13 pm • linkreport

DC ranked dead last in 8th grade NAEP comparisons.

While DC's schools are indeed deplorable, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

by Corey on Jul 17, 2012 5:15 pm • linkreport

@JustMe -- that is a state-by-state comparison, not a district-by-district comparison.

Which (if it only includes DCPS, and not also charter schools) means that DCPS has a lower score than the average of any state, not than the worst-performing districts in any state.

by Jacques on Jul 17, 2012 5:16 pm • linkreport

I grew up in an urban setting and attended very diverse schools, and that's exactly what I'd want for my kids whenever that happens. However, I had that experience in downtown Silver Spring.

I'd venture that parents who want to expose their kids to real ethnic or socioeconomic "diversity" will have a much easier time doing so in an area where a wider variety of people arrived "by choice." For instance, I went to school with a lot of kids whose families emigrated from Ethiopia, Vietnam, India, etc. — and I'm talking middle and working class families — and generally those communities have not settled in DC but in parts of MD and VA.

And as other posters have pointed out, as long as there are "suburban" areas like Silver Spring that offer short commutes, transit access, a diverse population etc., DC will continue to struggle to improve its schools.

by dan reed! on Jul 17, 2012 5:18 pm • linkreport

@Rob

DCTAG pays up to $10K to cover the difference between in and out of state tuition for public universities. While a few Cal schools would rank highly (Cal more than Cal St), some DCTAG beneficiaries may have preferences for other top public universities like Michigan, Wisconsin, or UVA.

And the savings for Cal residents comes at further cost to in staters -- Cal loves out of staters because they can charge them more (upwards of $23K/yr), and they take up space otherwise needed by underserved in staters. At a school like Michigan that $10K will cover most of the difference.

by anon on Jul 17, 2012 5:22 pm • linkreport

@Michael Hamilton: Where did you get the $27000 per student number? I've seen $18K or even $19K, but never $27K.

http://febp.newamerica.net/k12/rankings/ppexpend

by OG jindc on Jul 17, 2012 5:42 pm • linkreport

We decided to homeschool and not worry about the school lottery system. The amount of time we'd have had to pour into commuting, attending PTA meetings, and being invested in our child's school can instead be devoted to his direct education at home. Plus, this enables the child to have teachers with advanced degrees (MA and PhD) working with him/her one on one. We love D.C. and didn't want our child to suffer through the boredom experienced by so many teenagers in the suburbs - even the close-in suburbs like Arlington, Alexandria, or Silver Spring.

Looking at the trends in the city vs. suburb - home values increasing in the city and decreasing in suburbs - we didn't want to be stuck with a home in the suburbs in 15 years that lacked value. Also, in 15 years our teenagers will not have to yearn for life in the city - they'll already live here.

by ZinDC on Jul 17, 2012 5:50 pm • linkreport

@oboe: poverty is a problem in DC, but I think we need to move beyond using it as a catch-all excuse. The question is how to raise educational outcomes. DCPS has thrown money at the problem with little result. Time to reconsider approaches.

by SJE on Jul 17, 2012 5:52 pm • linkreport

This is a pretty amusing and high on the pedestal thread. To be sure there are a number of level comments, but to all of you who act like DCPS = your kid being a fuck up, dealer, and relegated to a life of burger flipping and car washing really are on some other planet. I went to DCPS for 14 years from PreK-12, attended a public ivy (and had admission to actual ivy schools), and am now happily employed in a job that pays well and I like.

I think you all need to find some people that actually went to the schools about which you speak and consider something other than the mutual hysterics of other yuppie parents too afraid to move out of your sweet scented bubble. Not only did I receive a decent education, but instead of being surrounded by a bunch of BMW driving 16 year olds, my class reflected much more of the real world and not the coddled existence of suburbia. It might be tough to stomach, but sometimes it's a good thing to build social skills with people who aren't like you in every way and learn how to deal with a more realistic representation of society than Whitman or TJ.

by stinkykoala on Jul 17, 2012 7:26 pm • linkreport

Interesting that the article suggests that Wilson HS is bursting at the seams, but doesn't focus on the fact that the brand-new school was only built to accommodate 1500 students. That's much smaller than the average HS in MoCo or Fairfax. If that's all DCPS had planned for the city's best-regarded HS, it tells you that there's not a lot of smart strategic planning taking place.

by Dan on Jul 17, 2012 8:39 pm • linkreport

@ZinDC:

We love D.C. and didn't want our child to suffer through the boredom experienced by so many teenagers in the suburbs - even the close-in suburbs like Arlington, Alexandria, or Silver Spring.
Looking at the trends in the city vs. suburb - home values increasing in the city and decreasing in suburbs - we didn't want to be stuck with a home in the suburbs in 15 years that lacked value.

Do you really think that the metro-accessible portions of Arlington, Alexandria, and Silver Spring are all that different from DC? They certainly haven't experienced these home value declines you seem to think they have. I suppose this "boredom" measure is subjective, but it seems hard to believe that these areas differ much along that dimension either.

I totally understand why people wouldn't want to move out to the car-dependent suburbs to raise children (I certainly wouldn't!), but I don't get why some people in this discussion seem to see this dramatic, discrete difference between DC and non-DC. As I've said above, the presence of close-in urban areas that are separate jurisdictions is part of DC's unique problem, so denying it isn't particularly helpful.

by Gray on Jul 17, 2012 10:12 pm • linkreport

@smellykoala has it exactly right. Motivated kids who finish their time at DCPS are as well-prepared as any and better prepared than most for the next level, whether it is HS or college. The smelly marsupial does not mention it, but on national NAEP tests, DC demonstrates a huge achievement gap in large part because the successful kids at DCPS score off the charts.

Your kids will all do fine in DCPS.

The most successful parents of tiny toddlers I've seen are those who find a way to get involved in their neighborhood schools (and neighborhoods) as soon as they move in. Magically, their neighborhood schools and neighborhoods tend to improve.

by Trulee Pist on Jul 18, 2012 12:37 am • linkreport

Still giggling at the irony of @stinkykoala complaining about stereotypes of DC in a post stereotyping the suburbs.

by Mike on Jul 18, 2012 7:49 am • linkreport

@mike
I think my only stereotype of the suburbs was regarding their choice for a first car. Go to a parking lot at Whitman or Churchill or BCC and tell me there is no difference between that parking lot and the largely non existent parking lots at DC High Schools. I suspect it will be more similar to the St Albans or Sidwell mix than not.

The surest way for DCPS to never shake the bad rap is for everyone to keep quitting on it.

by stinkykoala on Jul 18, 2012 8:09 am • linkreport

@NorCalinDC: Calling out parents as "lazy" for not wanting or having the time/ability to do the same research as you did is a cheap shot.

No: parenting is not for the lazy, emphatically, because otherwise your kids will grow up to be ax-murderers. Just kidding! But really, the parents that put the necessary time into raising their kids do better than those who don't, regardless of income or class. Duh.

The work a person does to get the best education possible in DC pays back in the shorter commute. I did a lot of research visiting schools over the past year -- now I do not have a 2 hour commute in perpetuity. Of course, YMMV.

by goldfish on Jul 18, 2012 9:01 am • linkreport

in response to AubreyO's question about the role of Mothers on the Hill (MOTH), it is a tough question. MOTH was helpful for those of us that wanted to get the word out about our interest in attending local schools. But the flip side of that is that many people would criticize those schools -- and many MOTH founders were/are founders/leaders at Two Rivers. So you can imagine MOTH was actually the setting for more intense disageements than uncritical DCPS boosterism! In addition to tension between Two Rivers supporters and neighborhood DCPS supporters, there was/is tension between the capitol hill cluster and non-cluster DCPS schools like Brent, Maury, Tyler, etc.

It's just complicated. For example, I was one of the persons that pushed Tommy Wells to get pre-K 3 at the neighborhood schools. What gave me this idea? Two Rivers. They were doing it-- "why couldn't the neighborhood schools do it to?" I asked Tommy. Then he got Janey on board. Note, this was a pre-Rhee project, but I give her credit for not shutting it down, even though she was not a fan.

by 20002 on Jul 18, 2012 10:18 am • linkreport

Ack! sorry! "Why couldn't the neighborhood schools do it TOO?"

I will hang my head in shame and not post again for a long, long time!

by 20002 on Jul 18, 2012 10:21 am • linkreport

We live in NW DC. My wife and I are both lawyers. Our three children attend DC public schools. The schools are not perfect-no school is, public or private--but we make it work. We are actively involved in the schools and in our children's educational development. VA and MD have good schools and not so good schools. However,if you not putting in effort in with your children and engaged with their schools, you will not have success--no matter where you enroll your children.

by Proud DC Parent on Jul 18, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

Did anybody here succeed after going to a school that wasn't great? I'm from a very rural area with some poverty and not a lot of educational achievement.

It didn't matter. I wanted to learn, my parents made sure I studied even though my peers didn't care much. My standardized test scores were great even though other kids' weren't.

My kid will be fine going to a low-performing school in our neighborhood as long as we as parents do a good job making him interested in reading, writing, math, etc., and remind him to think of his future.

The only issue for me is security. As long as the school is essentially safe, even if my kid is a nerdy minority, my kid can go there.

by Arf on Jul 18, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

@stinkykoala:

I went to DCPS for 14 years from PreK-12, attended a public ivy (and had admission to actual ivy schools), and am now happily employed in a job that pays well and I like.

I don't think most folks here are saying that's an impossibility. They worry DCPS makes their child's chance of success less likely.

Of course, without knowing where you attended middle- and high-school (and roughly when) it's tough to address your points. Lot of rich kids on the Ivy track from Deal to Wilson. From Kramer MS to Ballou, not so much.

by oboe on Jul 18, 2012 12:49 pm • linkreport

@OG jindc, those numbers don't include capital costs, or a lot of the other things that schools spend money on. It's a lot of work to reach that number, but you have to go through the annual report(s) and compile all the different "funds" they channel money through. Sometimes you have amortize capital costs over several years, etc etc.

by Michael Hamilton on Jul 18, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport

Great discussion and very happy that it has remained informative for the most part. My kids have been at Lafayette since Pre-K. One starts at Deal this coming Fall and the other will be entering 1st grade. We have been very happy with Lafayette and learned the most about it when our oldest daughter was one or two years old and we would talk with parents of public and private school kids at birthday parties to get actual data/experiences about the schools, rather than people who say "my friend's brother's cousin went to a DCPS in the 1970s and it was really bad." Now that Deal has made major improvements and it is in big demand, fewer Lafayette parents are moving out of this great neighborhood when 6th grade comes along. Of course I was lucky enough to buy my house in 1998 when the purchase price was one-third of its current appraised value so I know that "just move to a neighborhood where the DCPS is good" is now easier said than done. I was single when I bought my house and had no clue that Lafayette was one block away!

I work for a no-profit affordable housing organization in DC so I spend a big part of my work day in Wards 5, 7 & 8 and there are indeed challenges with a good chunk of DCPS schools there but be careful not to stereotype everyone who lives east of the river. They want what is best for their kids, and like you, will spend the goo-goo years (when kids are 0 to 2 yrs old!) talking to everyone they can find about schools.

So to all you single and young married couples out there: Enjoy sleeping through the night, not tripping on toys at 1 am, and going to the movies/dates whenever you want (as opposed to lining up sitters etc.). Most of all, look forward to the most wonderful and yes thankless role you will ever have: being a parent. You will get tons of advice (especially from your parents!) but in the end you as the mom and dad will make the choice that is right for your children. Don't get too stressed this early. Once they are in school you will have to start thinking about summer camp! Enjoy!

by D. Smyth on Jul 18, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

If DCPS ever becomes close to adequate, property values will absolutely skyrocket and the District will become even less affordable for average incomes than it's already become.

by 20011 on Jul 18, 2012 7:27 pm • linkreport

For all the people claiming DCPS to be dead last, I think it's well-known that it doesn't get any worse that Detroit Public Schools. There's no "West of the Park" in DPS.

by 20011 on Jul 18, 2012 8:46 pm • linkreport

We left DC after a few years at our local DCPS and a charter. The DCPS had some good teachers but the majority were awful and most of the parents were not involved. Many of the students were rude and disruptive. Things were better at the charter but the education was at the lowest common denominator. Note that this charter is considered desirable because of the alternative but really not so great (also has disruptive students, high teacher turnover, poor facilities). I wondered why some middle class parents stayed. Basically, they thought it was good enough. Well, I guess we had different standards.

by anon on Jul 18, 2012 10:20 pm • linkreport

One issue that I wish GGG would examine is the cost of public transportation for DCPS students. Currently, there is no smart card discount for students, though there are some discount bus options (monthly passes or half/price tokens). What this means is that if the fastest and most efficient route for your student is metro, the cost is over $200 per month for a family of 3 kids.

by anon on Jul 22, 2012 2:04 pm • linkreport

@anon

DCPS students should have a DC One Card which has the option for an unlimited monthly pass (metrobus and rail) for $30.

http://ddot.dc.gov/DC/DDOT/Services/Transit+Subsidies/School+Transit+Subsidy+Program

And the program applies to ANY elementary or secondary student in DC, not just DCPS students.

by MLD on Jul 23, 2012 8:08 am • linkreport

Not all DCPS schools are bad. In fact, some (mostly located in upper northwest) are as good as most expensive private schools. These include Deal, Murch, Lafayette, Janney, Wilson, Walls, Banneker, and Key. The issue are all the other schools that make DCPS the worst school district in the country. Many parents can't afford to send their kids to private school or to live in the really pricey neighborhoods where their kids could go to the higher performing schools. Don't pay thousands of dollars on private schools or move out of DC if you live in an area nearby the good schools.

by Grace on Nov 18, 2014 6:03 pm • linkreport

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