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Reassign students before improving school quality, not the other way around

Both of the leading candidates in the DC mayoral race have come out against Mayor Gray's new school assignment plan, saying school quality should be addressed first. But reassigning students may be the only real way to inspire parent confidence in less desirable schools.

Photo of chalkboard from Shutterstock.

Councilmember and mayoral candidate David Catania announced yesterday that he will "take action to delay" the new school assignment plan recently approved by Mayor Vincent Gray, saying that DC first needs to focus on improving school quality. And today his rival Muriel Bowser said that only the next mayor can address the "unanswered question" of "inherent inequalities across neighborhoods."

Catania issued his statement as chair of the DC Council's education committee, although it's not yet clear what he can do in that capacity to delay implementation of the plan. Nor is it clear how Bowser could do that from her current seat on the Council. But obviously, if either is elected mayor he or she will have a lot more power in that regard, even if some of the planned changes will already be underway.

Catania also says he's concerned there isn't enough time to do the planning that's necessary before the recommendations take effect a year from now, as scheduled. For that reason, he intends to take action to delay their implementation "until at least school year 2016-2017."

Catania, Bowser, and others who insist that improvements in quality must come before reassignment have a point. Telling people they have to send their kids to a school they regard as inferior will not only make them angry, it risks driving them out of the system entirely.

But if the core issue is equalizing school quality across the District, it's hard to see how the essence of the plan could be implemented as soon as 2016, as Catania suggested he might do. In fact, it's impossible to predict when DC schools will be equal enough in quality that families will be happy to attend any school they're assigned to.

The limits of improvement plans

Catania has called upon DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to come up with a plan for school improvement. Catania spokesperson Brendan Williams-Kief elaborated on that by saying DCPS needs to be able to tell families who are being reassigned that "this is the new school leader, and this is the curriculum, and this is how it's going to look." The idea is that these plans will instill confidence in, for example, middle-class families who don't want to leave the coveted Deal-Wilson feeder pattern for lesser schools.

But will they instill that confidence? Eastern High School, which sits on the eastern edge of largely middle-class Capitol Hill, was the target of just such a plan. The school, which had a troubled history and served an almost entirely low-income population from across the Anacostia River, was closed for a year and underwent a dazzling $77 million renovation.

It reopened 3 years ago with a dynamic new principal and an energetic new staff. Last year it began offering the rigorous International Baccalaureate Diploma program, just the kind of thing that should inspire confidence in nearby middle-class families and attract them to the school.

The school now has the second-highest test scores of all non-selective high schools in the District. But so far, it hasn't attracted middle-class families from its neighborhood. Eastern is still almost entirely low-income.

That's partly because its boundaries largely extend to the east—all the way to the Prince George's County border. Some Capitol Hill residents as close as 6 blocks from Eastern are zoned for Dunbar High School. Others in the neighborhood are actually zoned for Wilson, in Upper Northwest. But even those middle-class families who live within Eastern's current catchment area aren't sending their kids there.

The new assignment plan would extend Eastern's boundaries all the way west instead of all the way east, giving some reality to its slogan, "The Pride of Capitol Hill." But no doubt many Capitol Hill families who are now within Wilson's boundaries are dismayed at the prospect of sending their kids to Eastern instead, despite the improvements there.

The importance of a critical mass

Maybe that's because parents are looking for more than just a good plan, or even a good principal, faculty, and curriculum. They also want some assurance that there will be other kids like theirs at a school—and not just in terms of race and socioeconomic status, but in terms of academic preparation and achievement level.

And it's a sad but undeniable fact that, at this point in our history, kids who are more affluent generally achieve at higher levels. Many people are working to change that fact, but there are no guarantees about when, or if, that will happen.

There are, of course, plans to improve DCPS schools. DCPS may not have formulated the plans in exactly the way Catania wants, but the fact is the school system is trying all sorts of things. Some of them are working better than others.

But if what middle-class parents want is a critical mass of middle-class kids at a school, the only way to get to that point may be through reassignment. Yes, some of the reassigned families may leave the system. But let's hope that, given the lead time engineered into the plan, others will band together and commit to sticking around—and being, as the bumper sticker says, the change they wish to see.

Natalie Wexler blogs at DC Eduphile and is a contributor to the Washington Post. She serves on the boards of DC Scholars Public Charter School and The Writing Revolution and chairs the DC Regional Leadership Council of the Urban Teacher Center. She has also been a volunteer tutor in reading and writing in DC Public Schools. 


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I'm a fan of the new boundaries and agree that reassigning students is the best way to improve school quality. At the end of the day what the affluent or middle-class Caucasians of DC need to understand is that you don't have to send your kids to their boundary school. DCPS is not forcing you. If you don't like it, LEAVE or send your kids to PRIVATE SCHOOL. If you can't afford either, then KEEP QUIET AND WORK WITH THE SCHOOL TO IMPROVE IT FOR EVERYONE!

People will say I'm making this about race when it is about education. WRONG. When the words "affluent" and "low income" are used in these stories, they are referring to white and black students. If you're stupid enough to believe otherwise, then I'd prefer that you leave DC as soon as possible. Without DCPS changing the boundaries, overall test scores won't improve in the near future.

by StringsAttached on Aug 26, 2014 2:07 pm • linkreport

We cannot have this conversation without talking about Race.
Eastern High School is 97% black.

Capital Hill is 30% White

Wilson High School is 25% White

Dunbar is actually 97% black too so I am curious if there is some questionable zoning in capitol hill sending all the white kids to Wilson and everyone else to other schools.

Based on these stats Capital hill seems to be divided based on race as the number one factor.

by Matt R on Aug 26, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport


I agree with you 100%, but it is not limited to DC. Montgomery County recently had some talk, nothing concrete just talk, about changing school boundaries and there was conservatory.

by Matt R on Aug 26, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

"WRONG. When the words "affluent" and "low income" are used in these stories, they are referring to white and black students.WONG. When the words "affluent" and "low income" are used in these stories, they are referring to white and black students."

actually some of more vocal areas in the dispute, in Sheperd Park and Crestwood and 16th street heights, contain a significant number of relatively affluent blacks, so its a bit more complicated than that.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 26, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

Thanks for providing the statistics @Matt R.

I happen to live in DC and have an 11 month old so DCPS has been a contentious issue in my home lately. Doing some internet research and seeing what is going on in some of the newer and improving neighborhoods west of the river (i.e., Van Ness Elementary - has made it very plain to me that there is unspoken segregation going on in DC. The sad thing is that it's coming from both of the major racial sides. One of the main reasons I'm a fan of the new boundaries and rules (no more lottery system) is that it will really show which families want to live in DC and which don't.

by StringsAttached on Aug 26, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

@Matt R ...I am curious if there is some questionable zoning in capitol hill sending all the white kids to Wilson and everyone else to other schools.

Actually, only a very small part of Capitol Hill is zoned for Wilson: west of 4th Street SE, south of C Street SE, and north of the highway. The majority of Capitol Hill is zoned for Dunbar, with Hill East and the blocks east of 4th SE and south of C SE currently assigned to Eastern. I suspect far more likely is Capitol Hill parents send their children to private school or SWW for high school.

by Birdie on Aug 26, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport


I appreciate your contribution to the discussion but could you elaborate on the complexities you're referring to?

by StringsAttached on Aug 26, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

at a very minimum that there are middle class and affluent blacks in DC, with their own preferences and a distinctive voice on school issues. Its not only objectively not the case in DC that black=poor and vice versa, but I think that fact is well known in the discussion. There are also a great many other considerations of geography, ambition, and relative affluence (some whites are affluent enough to live in upper NW and still pay for privates, while many other can afford to live in the better school zones only if they can use public schools, etc)

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 26, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

@ stringsattached--there will still be an out of boundary lottery. In fact, schools will have to provide a certain percentage of seats for out of boundary students, and reserve a certain percentage of those for "at-risk" students.

by sbc on Aug 26, 2014 3:39 pm • linkreport

Race and class are inextricably linked to every aspect of schools in DC, but the simple tropes really aren't sufficient.

None of the charter schools is more than 50% white, yet there are several that are sought after by middle-class white parents. For example, Two Rivers PCS is 63% black, 27% white, 39% low-income. Middle-class white families would be overjoyed to get into Two Rivers.

Middle class parents, of all races, understand that you need a critical mass of middle-class students to make a successful school. Nobody has ever figured out a repeatable and scalable way to get at-risk students to perform at the level of middle-class students. It is known that at-risk students tend to do better when in a predominantly middle-class environment. I doubt there are, at present, enough middle class students in DC to make every school predominantly middle-class.

by thm on Aug 26, 2014 5:00 pm • linkreport

Attempts to force parents to send their children to schools they don't want for them is poorly considered. Particularly if its done in hopes of raising the general income averages among the student's families. Its misguided, illogical with any knowledge of human nature, and probably from past experiences somewhere - a proven failure.

The rich families you seek will move away or enroll their children in private schools. The lower middle-class and poor families aren't the demographic you were seeking in the first place, and after their families were forced against their wishes out of the schools they wanted, got good reason to not want to be the involved, supportive parents you want to have.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 5:35 pm • linkreport

You don't have to be rich to escape you assigned DCPS school. The charters will continue to be the winners here.

by alexandrian on Aug 26, 2014 5:56 pm • linkreport

alexandrian yes, those also.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 5:57 pm • linkreport

The boundary problem has to be fixed. Not everyone can be in the feeder pattern for Wilson, which is already bursting at the seams.

There is no way to fix the boundary issue AND satisfy all stakeholders at the same time. If some people want to opt out of DCPS then so be it - this plan will make the schools better overall and will in the end lead to more schools that people find "acceptable."

What is the alternative? Keep everything balkanized so that most the "good" schools continue to feed into Wilson? That will really help things.

by MLD on Aug 26, 2014 6:06 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Molly on Aug 26, 2014 6:12 pm • linkreport


I understand your argument, forcing people to schools they did not plan on when the bough their house will likely never work. However compromise can be made to grandfather families into their traditional school district, thus only new people to the area will be affected.

I am also willing to listen to other options, but we can not continue to segregate DC schools by race indefinitely.

Now I am also willing to play devils advocate a little and point out that if Eastern is doing so well, will it continue to do so after a huge boundary change?

by Matt R on Aug 26, 2014 6:18 pm • linkreport


It seems the lottery system will be predominately used first for children identified as being at-risk then for students living in boundaries with Title I schools. Schools would also give priority to at-risk students if less than 25 percent of their students are at-risk. Seems better than than the free for all it is now.

by StringsAttached on Aug 26, 2014 6:42 pm • linkreport

Molly, it's fine to feel disagreement (I often do) but I think that's harshly unfair. Not an attack. my opinion.

Matt R. Segregation was an institutional oppression forcing people to schools that were inferior!!

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 8:21 pm • linkreport

Matt R. I do think the grandfathering though time consuming is a good courtesy, since it wouldn't separate children from their school friends and family.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 8:31 pm • linkreport

It's important to note that StringsAttached does not have a child in DCPS and knows nothing about DCPS. I sent my son to our local school years ago and was stunned to find that it wasn't the students who were bringing the test scores down, it was the terrible teachers. My son and his friends floundered and backslid that first year, then we transferred to a Ward 3 school west of the park and he flourished. People without kids in the school think that school success is some combination of parenting and kids' interest- simply not true- educational success is tied to the ability of teachers to teach.

To quote one of the teachers in my son's first school- "My grandmother worked for the mayor and she got me this job and I've been teaching ever since." DCPS teachers in underperforming schools are crony hires from the Barry era who need to get fired.

by Northwesterneer on Aug 27, 2014 8:43 am • linkreport

I sent my son to our local school years ago

Depending on how many years ago, things could be very different. Most of the worst teachers are gone.

DCPS teachers in underperforming schools are crony hires from the Barry era who need to get fired.
That was the point of mayoral control/school reform.

by MLD on Aug 27, 2014 8:53 am • linkreport

Would you mind naming the school with the poor teacher you're referring to, Northwesterneer? Humor me although I know nothing about DCPS.

by StringsAttached on Aug 27, 2014 9:18 am • linkreport


Poor teachers is a huge problem in any system. However more details would be needed. Were multiple teachers bad, is this something many parents in DCPS say about teachers?

by Matt R on Aug 27, 2014 9:23 am • linkreport

I remember reading an article where Warren Buffet told Michelle Rhee the only way to improve the public schools was to ban private schools. Essentially unless there is a fiat order preventing people from having a choice, reassignment first will not work. I get that you need a critical mass to make improvements but it does not happen by force.

Frankly you want to improve schools improve the lot of the poor with higher minimum wages and better housing options and you will find that critical mass.

by DC Parent on Aug 27, 2014 9:25 am • linkreport

Northwesterneer - A lot of times children will feel like they'd almost rather not go to school at all than have to sit through a class with a teacher that's incompetent.
On the other hand, I've seen a Kindergarten teacher so good that I know nobody in their care during their long careers ever left class without at least knowing how to read. She used the phonic system, and that was why she left PG public school teaching - one year they tried to stop use of that technique. She left and worked private schools then until her retirement. (Only telling that story to show that sometimes pushing through teaching fads that don't work causes permanent consequences.)
Which means I worry about the focus on test taking to determine school status vs. focusing on learning in depth, and teaching how to learn and think critically. Ask about how many days per year is spent on preparing and doing mandatory standardized tests.

MLD- I hope you're right.

by asffa on Aug 27, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

I feel as though the main topic of the article is being ignored. I think we can all agree that DC will always have a population of low-income families just like any city. I believe that there are enough middle and upper class families in the district to support many more well performing schools. The issue is that those parents either concentrate their children in clusters of schools or send them to private school. I can't tell another parent not to send their kids to private school but I don't think we should then turn around and say the majority DCPS underperforms when the population a great number of those schools serves is lower-income. Should we really expect anything else? So these parents have jobs in DC, realize great financial gain from real estate transactions, and leave the system in no better shape than they found it because they chose not to participate in it.

by StringsAttached on Aug 27, 2014 9:32 am • linkreport

Stringsattached, 25% of the seats in some lotteries will be held for at-risk students but that still leaves seats for which plenty of non-at-risk families can and will enter.

There is NO out of boundary preference for people who live in boundary for Title 1 schools (some might be at risk, and they'd get that preference, but they could also get the at-risk preference if they didn't live in bounds for Title 1). The only place where Title 1 comes into play is that all families in-bounds for title 1 elementary schools have the right to enroll there for PK3 and PK4, just like they do for K-12. They'll still be able to go to charters or out-of-bounds schools if they get in, but if they list their in-bounds school among their lottery picks they WILL get in there.

by sbc on Aug 27, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

StringsAttached - The first thing many do with children when they look for a house is try to find out about the local schools.
Sometimes they decide a place has a great neighborhood, but they'd send their children to private or charter.

I'm not part of the DCPS - but from this outsider's view - there may be problems at the top. Perhaps there's no consistency, or supportive relationship with those actually teaching. Talk to a teacher - good, loyal teachers will leave in droves to teach somewhere else if their "bosses" are mean and condescending.

by asffa on Aug 27, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport


I agree 100% with everything you've said. My wife is a teacher with Fairfax County and we live in DC in the Ketcham Elementary boundary. We bought our house knowing the schools weren't the best.

I believe DCPS is working very hard to correct some errors made by previous administrations but they'll need the participation of the middle and upper income families to realize the benefits of their labor. And if the great majority of those demographics don't participate, it won't get better. And we end up with this never ending cycle of underperforming schools.

by StringsAttached on Aug 27, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport


So are you telling me not much has changed about the DCPS lottery system?

by StringsAttached on Aug 27, 2014 10:09 am • linkreport

Oh yeah, @Northwesterneer, since I've had to say that my wife is a much for me not knowing anything about DCPS.

Like I said, it's been a big topic in my house so I'd like to think all of my research has amounted to at least a rudimentary knowledge base as I'm trying to understand the issues the plague the system before agreeing to sell our house and move :-)

by StringsAttached on Aug 27, 2014 10:13 am • linkreport

Idles anyone else find the Eastern HS "boosterism" curious? Hyping the test scores as the second best in the City next to Wilson is laughable. Wilson proficiencies for math and reading top 70 percent while Eastern's languish in the low 40's. Is it any wonder that there is no middle class buy-in, irrespective of race? Moreover, any discussion of Eastern is pointless without an understanding that the overwhelming majority of middle class Hill, Navy Yard and SW families will not send their children to either Jefferson Academy or Eliot-Hine for middle school anytime in the foreseeable future (and have no feeder rights to Stuart-Hobson, which is filled with out-of-boundary kids feeding from schools like JO Wilson, Watkins and Ludlow-Taylor). With kids East of the River being reassigned to Anacostia HS, Eastern will lose a big chunk of per pupil funding and thus have to cut programming and staff, which does not bode well for the much ballyhooed IB program.

by Hillman on Aug 27, 2014 10:53 am • linkreport

I suspect Eastern will not lose many students. Kids currently assigned to Eastern, including elementary schoolers who have reached 3rd grade, can continue to attended Eastern, even once the boundary changes go into effect. I live in one of those neighborhoods that is currently Eastern, but will be re-zoned for Woodson (not all EotR students attending Eastern are being sent to Anacostia, FYI). The family a couple door down from me is adamant that their kids will continue to attend Eliot-Hine for MS and Eastern for HS. I can't imagine they're the only ones who feel this way.

by Birdie on Aug 27, 2014 11:42 am • linkreport

Hillman - My point about Eastern was not that it was so great, but even that with an "improvement plan" in place, it's hard to improve a high-poverty school to the point that middle-class families will want to send their kids there (perhaps especially at the HS level). You can start an IB program, but if the kids who are in it are largely unprepared to do the work, the mere fact that it's there is still not going to attract middle-class families. You need to first get middle-class families to start sending their kids to the school so that the IB program will be able to draw on students who are equipped to do the work. Then you'll start to get more middle-class families.

And no, Eastern's test scores are not close to Wilson's, but Wilson's test scores are largely a function of its relatively affluent student population. It's significant that Eastern's scores are higher than other high schools that have high-poverty populations.

I don't think it's impossible to bring Eastern's test scores up to Wilson's level while maintaining its current demographics, but I do think it will take a long time. Obviously, if Eastern's student body included more affluent kids, its test scores would improve more rapidly.

by Natalie on Aug 27, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport


You do bring up a good point that its not just about high schools. As a parent myself in a school district with a a great elementry, very questionable middle school, and decent high school its something I consider.

by Matt R on Aug 27, 2014 12:25 pm • linkreport

I remember reading an article where Warren Buffet told Michelle Rhee the only way to improve the public schools was to ban private schools. Essentially unless there is a fiat order preventing people from having a choice, reassignment first will not work.

Sorry, but this displays a big leap from the first concept to the second. And the first concept isn't even the real idea, which is:
"Warren Buffett framed the problem for me once in a way that clarified how basic our most stubborn obstacles are. He said it would be easy to solve today’s problems in urban education.

“Make private schools illegal,” he said, “and assign every child to a public school by random lottery.”"
From here:
He didn't say it was the "only way" - he said it was the "easy way."

So I'm not sure Buffett's thoughts on the matter actually supports your idea that "reassignment first will not work." Never mind the fact that this is hardly the first item that is being implemented.

by MLD on Aug 27, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

"I sent my son to our local school years ago "
"Depending on how many years ago, things could be very different. Most of the worst teachers are gone"

7 years ago. Most of the worst teachers were fired by Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee- the best DC government staff we've ever had. I know parents who stayed at that school until third grade, and it only slightly improved because the new principal was a flake who had strange religious motiviations/beliefs, kind of ran the school like a preacher with "call and response" weirdness which alienated staff.

However that does not mean that somehow underperforming schools have changed. In the 7 years that I've had kids in DCPS I've gone from paying for library

"Poor teachers is a huge problem in any system. However more details would be needed. Were multiple teachers bad, is this something many parents in DCPS say about teachers?"

At that school, which for property value reasons I'd rather not name, but it's in Ward 1, when passing the Praxis certification was enforced by Michelle Rhee, it's my understanding that 9 teachers were fired or resigned after not being able to pass Praxis. Then I understand that another 3 teachers were fired during the first semester of the following school year, including one teacher fired for mental cruelty (she made her students stand in front of the class and get work right or else no one got to go to recess). So that was 12 teachers gone in one calendar year.

However even at my kids' Ward 3 school I've seen I think 6 incompetent or semi-competent teachers get fired. One beloved teacher turned announced his retirement and then started calling in sick multiple days per week- Later he told a sympathetic parent that he had 128 days of sick leave coming to him and he was going to use them all and was trying to fake disability! I had to pay for a tutor that year to keep my son on track.

On the whole I regret ever buying a house in DC. The hassle with the entrenched, undereducated power structure in this city, has been really troubling. In 2007 I was called a newcomer, interloper, gentrifier and other code words meaning "White." I think parents should definitely get into their neighborhood schools and see how much they match their idea of education. I went into ours with rose-colored glasses and thinking that my child and my volunteer efforts could change the schools, but when classroom teacher discounts what you think about education for reasons that you think are prejudicial, it's harder to change the culture of a school than one might think.

by Northwesterneer on Aug 27, 2014 1:11 pm • linkreport

Can we all agree that Bowser and Catania are both spineless opportunists pandering to the upper income parents east of the Park?

by Nathan Harrington on Aug 27, 2014 1:28 pm • linkreport

"So are you telling me not much has changed about the DCPS lottery system?"

I wouldn't say that, exactly. But you had said "the new boundaries and rules (no more lottery system)" and in a later comment "It seems the lottery system will be predominately used first for children identified as being at-risk then for students living in boundaries with Title I schools." Neither of those are accurate.

The lottery has changed for people with PK kids who live in-bounds for a Title I school: instead of the chance of being shut out everywhere, they know that if they list their in-bounds school they will definitely get in. As a result, people will list it as their bottom choice; any school they prefer will go above so they can stay on the waitlist for it. But there is no special preference for people who live in a Title 1 school zone to attend an out of boundary school.

The lottery has changed for at-risk kids: 25% of seats offered in a lottery at schools whose student body is less than 25% at risk must be reserved for at-risk kids. So if the school doesn't offer any seats, there's no ability for out-of-bounds at-risk kids to get in. But if the school offers 12 seats in the lottery, 3 are set aside for at-risk kids.

The lottery has also changed its rules for out-of-boundary folks in general. All elementary schools must set aside 10% of their seats for out-of-boundary students. That percentage is 15% for middle schools and 20% for high schools. That *could* increase the number of out-of-bounds seats. However, since students who attended a feeder school count (example: you live in Columbia Heights, but you got into Hardy out of bounds. You get to go to Wilson and you count toward the 20% out of bounds seats) there are not necessarily going to be more seats available.

Finally, the lottery has changed for some people by virtue of boundaries changing. Some people will now play the lottery to get into schools they used to be in-bounds for. Some people won't play the lottery because they prefer the school they now have a right to attend.

by sbc on Aug 27, 2014 1:44 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the follow up/break down @sbc!

by StringsAttached on Aug 27, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

I feel strongly that many schools won't improve until the boundaries are settled, even if a fabulous "school improvement" plan were launched first. Parents and neighborhoods can't and won't commit to school improvement if they can't figure out where their kids are going to go. The old out-of-boundary process and the busted feeder system make it impossible to expect any real buy-in from the stakeholders who must be key players in the long term improvement of neighborhood schools. Delaying boundary change sounds like a sop to those who don't like their new boundary. Implementing boundary change sounds like a step in the right direction for those of us who are sick of the current system's chaos.

by stock on Aug 27, 2014 3:10 pm • linkreport

The reassignment plan would make more sense if parents had to choose between their neighborhood schools and leaving the city. A cruel choice if you are the parent in this situation, but maybe it would improve the school system as a whole. Let us just assume that the DME had a crack team of sociologists and statisticians game-planning all this. But the problem is that we now have a strong two-sector system and parents can choose between charters, traditionals and departure. This third choice is what puts a real damper on the mayor's attempt to create a more equitable system. How are the majority-poor middle schools and high schools supposed to attract this core of motivated middle-class parents when a large percentage will choose to enter the expanding charter sector? Maybe I'm missing something crucial. But as the parent of kids in the DCPS system, it's hard to ignore the motivations of the many parents who have opted out of DCPS. They see charter schools with more middle-class families already in the system and bolt. Again, ten years ago, maybe our public school system could have been improved by innovation within DCPS alone. But DCPS, it seems to me, no longer has enough control over the system to engineer its desired outcomes. I hope I'm wrong - I would be one of the parents who benefited if I am - but I do not see great reason for optimism given the "evidence" of middle-class behavior (white and black, I should add). That is not to say that DCPS cannot create quality middle and high schools outside of Ward 3. They exist, and could in greater numbers. But they will be quality schools not because they attract large numbers of middle-class parents and look good on tests.

by Aaron Hanna on Aug 27, 2014 3:14 pm • linkreport

@Aaron Hanna: I think it is still possible to create those schools that you mentioned, but the opportunity is fleeting and will evaporate if the city doesn't seize the opportunity. Delaying another year or two or five until some magical point when all parents will be happy with a boundary change is just foolish. You can never please everyone.

Catania and Bowser are both rodeo clowns pandering to the audience. I'm seriously considering throwing a vote to Carol Schwartz just to keep my integrity.

by hoos30 on Aug 27, 2014 4:33 pm • linkreport

Just read Eastern's demographic - on the right side of screen
I think some of that school's avoidant parents might worry about their children not fitting in. I think this worry could oftentimes be calmed with the right approach, which is not using force or cruelty.
You know the forced busing of the past? Just see how well that worked - parents who lived through that as students are now fighting for choice in their children's schools. Schoolchildren shouldn't always be treated as social experiment guinea pigs or pawns on a gameboard, and their parent's unhappiness will be felt by them.
I would think a responsible administration would try to get parents on board to choose their schools, instead. Teachers and Principals taking some time to meet up with parents and children and discuss with them the benefits of their school. I've seen that approach done, btw. - it obviously makes a difference. (If there are no benefits for anyone, then they deserve to close)

by asffa on Aug 27, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

hoos30 - the forced busing experiment meant that I had to start at a school requiring a bus ride knowing no one instead of being able to walk to the local school with my friends.
I'm not playing a violin here, but there's a point to delay/grandfathering - those are other people's children that could be hurt unnecessarily. That's all.

by asffa on Aug 27, 2014 4:44 pm • linkreport

@asffa: There is a difference between "delay" and "grandfathering". Under the DME plan there is essentially three years of grandfathering, which seems reasonable to me. Delay means putting off all of the changes until some unknown point in the future.

by hoos30 on Aug 27, 2014 5:13 pm • linkreport


Kids in third grade and above can go to their currently assigned track. And basically all of the middle school to high school tracks are staying the same. Very few kids in third grade and above will be forced to go to another school. In fact, they will be able to choose between the new track and the old track like you want.

And I don't think that it's obvious that every parent will choose the "safe" old track either. I have heard some parents say that it's probably better for their kid if they go to one of the schools where they can stand out and maybe be one of the top 5 kids in their class rather than someplace else where they'll be in the middle of the pack.

The kids who are in second grade and below will be the ones changing school demographics as they move up; it will be a gradual process.

by MLD on Aug 27, 2014 5:15 pm • linkreport

hoos30 - I didn't know there were two meanings there. MLD I think did a good job of explaining it to me. Thanks.

MLD - I'm all for the choice and not against changing if that's what people want to do.

"Very few kids in third grade and above will be forced to go to another school. In fact, they will be able to choose between the new track and the old track like you want." I hope the "very few" really means nobody.
Are the elementary students all switching? In a few years or as of next year? I'm just wondering about that.
Other than that, 3rd grade and above (with adequate notice) being able to go where they had intended seems being pretty strongly amenable to reason, TBH.

by asffa on Aug 27, 2014 5:45 pm • linkreport

asffa -- According to the plan, no students, at any grade level, will need to switch from the school they're enrolled in. And not only can students in 3rd grade or above stay in their old feeder pattern, they can stay in it if they're younger than that and have an older sibling in the old feeder pattern. Basically, the only students who will be affected immediately are students who are new to DCPS. Here's a link to the recommendations -- the grandfathering provisions are on p. 14:

by Natalie on Aug 27, 2014 6:01 pm • linkreport

Natalie -thank you!
TBH I'm impressed.

by asffa on Aug 27, 2014 6:14 pm • linkreport

I'm afraid folks who are looking for DCPS to create more equitable schools don't understand the current demographjcs of the system. It's a matter of--as someone put it upthread--not enough middle class kids to go around.

The high childhood poverty rate in DC means that a system in which middle class kids are equally distributed among schools is a system where every single school is a high poverty school.

That creates one of two outcomes: either every school will be a high poverty failing school; or every school will be a high poverty KIPP style school.

Either way, middle class students will be driven out of DCPS, which will result in a vicious cycle of declining middle class enrollment & higher poverty percentage.

Neighborhood schools largely segregated by income is a poor state of affairs and the worst scenario--other than every other possibility.

The only long term solution is to move the poverty numbers for school age district residents

by oboe on Aug 29, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Oboe - You have a point, but under the most recent version of the boundaries plan, no one is trying to distribute middle class kids equally among all schools in the system. No one, for example, is assigning kids from east of the river to schools west of the river. If you just focus on schools that are already in fairly diverse neighborhoods, I think it's possible to get a critical mass of middle class kids in them.

by Natalie on Aug 29, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport


The new boundaries do just that. They assign middle class kids from west of 16th street to east of 16th street. Taking them from thriving Deal and distributing them to a new lower average income school.

by leeindc on Sep 5, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

I have a baby in my life. And this helped me make the decision to save for private or parochial.

That's the reality.

There is no format in the country where parent involvement changed the quality of schools at the middle or high school level. And when I leave among other it reduces the school systems per pupil funding.

In 9 years New Orlean went to an almost all charter school system. That could be the cad here.

by Ursula Draco on Sep 8, 2014 10:57 pm • linkreport

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