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How do parents pick schools?

For parents in our region, the hardest quality-of-life, "why am I here?" question is not related to transportation or even crime or retail amenities, but education. Is this a good place to raise our kids and send them to school?

Photo by jGregor on Flickr.

In DC in particular, this is the existential question that residents who are starting families have been asking themselves over and over since my wife and I moved here to start a family almost 10 years ago and surely long before then.

There are families who have been in DC for generations but decamped to the suburbs. There are those who moved to DC as singles or childless couples and began plotting their exit as soon as the pregnancy test came back positive. Maybe they'd stick around until their babies hit school age, or finish elementary school, but the question was when, not whether to leave.

Enrollment trends and anecdotes we pick up on the playgrounds and listservs make us wonder: How much of this is changing?

Public school enrollment turning the corner in DC.

DC has a vibrant system of charter schools, which are autonomous, tuition-free public schools. DC also has a school district whose leadership has been in the national news for hard-charging reform for over three years. Both the charters and DCPS have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from private philanthropy.

The aggressive facilities modernization of DCPS has included several flashy projects that are visible from the street, not to mention the improvements behind the scenes. The "state" of DC is one of 12 to win a Race to the Top funding from the feds, a $75 million grant. We just had a Mayoral campaign in which both major candidates pledged to continue aggressive school reform, with the only differences being who and how to implement it.

As DC improves its schools, we should ask what, exactly, do parents look for in schools?

In the mid-90s I wrote a doctoral dissertation using econometric methods to estimate the value that urban parents placed on elementary school options. Based on their revealed preferences from school lottery data, how much farther would they send their kindergartner to attend a school with a special language immersion program? What effect does the racial composition of a school have on parents' likelihood of choosing it for their own child?

How do they trade off distance and quality? Is there a tipping point when they switched from walkable distances to bus-rides? How do these individual preferences aggregate to affect racial segregation? What if you change the rules that constrain parental choice of schools?

I found that factors that were easy for me as a researcher to observe, as well as for parents to observe, like race and distance, were important. Looking at each race/ethnicity separately, all families had a preference for schools where their own group was represented, but according to my estimates each group (white, black, Asian/Hmong, and Native American) had a "bliss point" that was over 30% or 40% but well under 100%. In other words, everyone had both an own-race preference, but also a taste for diversity. (For smaller groups it was harder to achieve statistical precision in determining how strong that taste was or where the bliss point lay).

Distance was critical. Nobody wants to put their six year-old kid on a bus for an hour twice a day, right? Evidence suggested that there were parents who were wiling to pass by half a dozen schools on the way to one with a special program. Fast forward 15 years and I am married, we have a 6 year-old, and that is exactly what we do for an international baccalaureate school with Chinese immersion.

There was insufficient data to distinguish between the hypothesis that students were attending a school for its special program or to be with other kids like themselves. For example, if a school offers instruction in Native American Ojibwe language, does that explain why so many Native Americans cross town to attend, or is it because they want to be in a school with other Native Americans, or both?

Since then there have been some interesting research papers demonstrating further how school quality and race and ethnicity factor into residential and school choices.

The larger lesson for us is that where schools are located and what goes in them educationally will affect who attends them, which will in turn critically impact the city's social makeup and fabric. And our tax base. They affect how we are distributed within the city, but across the region as well.

Almost six years ago my wife and I joined a group of parents who started our own public school through the chartering mechanism and many of our friends and neighbors have used the DCPS Out of Boundary choice system or moved to a particular DC neighborhood to select a traditional DCPS school.

Photo by gsbrown99 on Flickr.
I see anecdotally that more and more families are changing the question. Instead of "How long can we stand to stay here?" it's "Which DC school is right for our child?" and "How long a commute to school can we handle?"

Maybe the big quality-of-life question is about transportation after all.

Steven Glazerman is an economist who studies education policy and specializes in teacher labor markets. He has lived in the DC area off and on since 1987 and settled in the U Street neighborhood in 2001. He is a Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, but any of his views expressed here are his own and do not represent Mathematica. 


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My wife and I lived in DC until we had our first child when we decided to move less than a mile across the border into Montgomery County. It seemed like the primary school would be OK in the DCPS but the middle school and high school were not where I wanted my children to be (drugs, bullying and rampant truancy). Our MoCo local school is a short walk away and the demographics are pretty well split between white, black and Hispanic with no group in the majority.

I could put up with the stupid Congressional oversight, the taxes, the crime, the traffic and the parking. But not the DC schools. I'm glad to see that things are improving and we may return one of these days.

by Joe on Oct 1, 2010 10:35 am • linkreport

That Chinese immersion program sounds pretty cool, although I'd strongly emphasize that IB is not the panacea that it's made out to be.

Attending a US college after graduating from an IB high school was like being a foreign-exchange student in my own country.

Although I normally have no problem tossing aside cultural norms and established paradigms, the IB system often provides very little basis for its quirks and eccentricities, other than its compatibility with traditional European teaching methods. (Worse still, back when I did it, texts and standardized exams were written in UK English, which occasionally made the exams confusing as bollocks). Any school capable of implementing a successful IB program should be perfectly capable of running equally-successful "traditional" classrooms.

I'd send my kids across town so that they could avoid IB, and I don't think you'll find many adult graduates of the program in the US who have kind things to say about it.

(Sorry that this is somewhat offtopic. I just wanted to share some of the pitfalls of alternative education methods.)

by andrew on Oct 1, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

Just two quick thoughts: first, there are some great charter school options in DC. Most are terrible. Just like with DCPS. If you can get into Yu Ying, Two Rivers, or EL Haynes, you're a happy camper. If not--and can't get into one of a handful of others--you're screwed.

Similarly, there are a few high-profile, traditionally great DCPS elementary schools: Key, Janney, and a few others...

Then there are the few in-boundary schools (mostly on Capitol Hill) that only parents who are plugged-in know about. Those are now pretty much immpossible to get into as an out-of-boundary parent.

So the experience of many, many parents whose children are coming of age is no different than what it's been for years--either your in-boundary school is decent, then you apply to a few good charters hoping to win the lottery, then you either pay an exorbitant private school tuition or move across the river or up Connecticut Ave.

The promising thing is that the number of decent DCPS schools is slowly inching up every year. It would be even better if the DC charter school board were to shut down the poorly performing charters and let the decent ones open new "franchises". It's an open question whether schools like Two Rivers or Yu Ying could scale up, but at least they should be given the option.

by oboe on Oct 1, 2010 10:42 am • linkreport

[O]nly parents who are plugged-in know about. Those are now pretty much immpossible to get into as an out-of-boundary parent.

Just to clarify--since this reads as a bit contradictory--there are a *lot* of plugged-in parents these days! (But even more who have never heard of Brent, the Cluster, or what-have-you)...

by oboe on Oct 1, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

How parents make school choice is an interesting question, but I'm more curious about whether school choice makes a difference. Clearly different schools perform differently, but would the same student in a different school perform differently? It seems like most schools with poor performance have neighborhood challenges as well (unstable households, absentee parents, etc.). But if a kid from a good background is put into a great school or a mediocre school, I'm curious how much difference that makes for the student. Or if a kid with trouble at home is put into a great school, does that fix things?

by Gavin on Oct 1, 2010 10:49 am • linkreport


Where did you go to high school? My high school was IB also.

by Paul C on Oct 1, 2010 10:49 am • linkreport

@Joe-- there are plenty of gangs and drugs in MoCo. And bullying can be found on even the most genteel campuses. Wilson, the high school you're running away from, also has "no group in the majority". So I'm guessing you've never actually been inside or spoken to an alum (I'm not, but I know many).

I wonder why so few people bother to look at school districts in DC when buying property. You know why this condo is more expensive than that house? Elementary school zone, thats why. And then I hear so many of these same people at cocktail parties act shocked that "everyone" in Arlington cares "so much" about which schools they're zoned for. It happens in DC too, they just aren't paying attention

by Alex on Oct 1, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

Oboe makes an interesting point about parents on the Hill. I'm a father of an out of bounds child at Brent Elementary.I guess you can call me plugged in, as oboe reference above, but with aggressive school choice comes responsibility to choose well. Whether you want to play the scout out school districts ahead of time and buy there, or play the lottery game, one way or another you're choosing your kids school.

I've found lots of great options on the Hill for public education, and sooner or later it works out for everyone. The standard metrics (test scores, etc.) are totally useless. It would be like picking who your friends are by who has the lowest standing heart rate.

It all comes down to finding the right school for your kid. A great school for one child might be a nightmare for another. This is why I'm a strong supporter of school choice vs. traditional neighborhood schools. We have a diverse community of parents and children in DC who have different needs and different cultural assumptions.

by TimK on Oct 1, 2010 11:25 am • linkreport

@Gavin, this is only one data point so others' mileage may vary. My kid went to an under performing DCPS school because we believed that with a group of like minded parents who were sending their kids from our relatively affluent neighborhood that we could affect change. We calculated in the stable household, highly educated parents and lots of reading and cultural enrichment that we as parents provide. However this could not overcome the 6 hours/day of boredom due to the remedial curriculum at the school. Our child disengaged from the learning process and regressed academically. We now realize how self-important our decision was and truly regret it. After the first year more than 50% of the original consort of kids from the neighborhood transferred out of the school to various DCPS, DCPCS, and private schools. The original school did not have the capacity or desire to cater to our children so rather than move the mountain we moved the children. We were lucky to get a lottery slot at a great school West of the Park where the teachers and staff worked carefully with our child and rekindled the love of learning in the school setting. It is so nice for my child to attend a school where the teachers use correct English grammar, teach respect and take pride in watching their students excel instead of ware housing them daily.

by mommyworks on Oct 1, 2010 11:27 am • linkreport

So the experience of many, many parents whose children are coming of age is no different than what it's been for years--either your in-boundary school is decent, then you apply to a few good charters hoping to win the lottery, then you either pay an exorbitant private school tuition or move across the river or up Connecticut Ave.

Parents can't get involved and improve their local DCPS schools? That's not my experience. Your comments make parents sound like inefficacious passive objects, instead of effective agents in delivering good education options for their kids.

by Trulee Pist on Oct 1, 2010 11:36 am • linkreport

@mommyworks that is disappointing to hear, your original plan is ours as well (tentatively) but we are concerned about getting a similar outcome. May I ask the school and the time period?

by tim h on Oct 1, 2010 11:41 am • linkreport

My hat's off to the people who navigate the DC school system but I wouldn't want to gamble with my kids education though. It's a crime that only the lucky ones get a good education and the rest get screwed. We de-camped to Silver Spring, demographically similar to DC and simply the next stop on the train out, but a world of difference in the school system. It's too bad Rhee and Fenty didn't have the political sense to kiss some butt while they did the ugly but necessary job of trying to clean out the school system. Eventually they'll get there, in the mean time, all the best to DC's children.

by Thayer-D on Oct 1, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport


I know you mean well, and I respect your decision to choose what's best for your kids, but those of us with kids in DCPS don't like it when others imply we are "gambling with my kids education". Not that their haven't been problems and bumps, but I would never do that, nor do my neighbors.

And, wow, wouldn't it have been great if Fenty and company had done exactly as you suggested?

by TimK on Oct 1, 2010 11:49 am • linkreport


That first article really hits home to me, as I'm a black female who will be making similar decisions in the next 10 years. However, I think sometimes with the whole school choice deal we baby our kids too much. I had one bad kindergarten experience( bullies from the proverbial "hood"), so my mom switched me to a nearby (still in walking distance though) school the following year. While still in a lower-income area, the parents met together regularly, helped watch over the kids, supported the teachers, etc. I had more fun there than I've had at any school (including the suburban high-school I later attended due to some shakeups in my family unit that are too numerous to detail here). I think we spend too much time being afraid of other people's kids and their pressure. Yes, we all deal with peer pressure, but one of the first lessons we can learn is to say no. Also, to work hard, no matter if the school is crumbling. I had classmates from my actual district school in high school (which was supposed to be "bad"), attend and do well at the same Research I, tech-heavy state university I attended.

Maybe the issue is not so much school reform(although there are people in both admin and the classroom that should have never been hired), but neighborhood reform.

by Kristen on Oct 1, 2010 11:52 am • linkreport

We bought a house in an "up and coming neighborhood" and figured we'd move or go private when the kiddos came along. When we got preggo a wise friend counseled not to make the same mistake as he had and urged us to stay in the city until they kids started school b/c moving to the suburbs early was torture for them. We took that advice.

4 years later, and our crappy local DCPS school does not look so bad anymore. Completely remodeled, new principal, more affluent neighborhood parents actually sending kids to the school. We were ready to try the same experiment that MommyWork's tried, hopefully with better results.

Then, we "won" the lottery for a great charter school that is rarely mentioned here or elsewhere. And, we feel like we really did win the lottery. Our children are thriving in a demographically diverse classroom.

I'm not sure if school choice is good for DCPS however, if there were no charters I tihnk more middle class parents like us would have kids in the local elementary school and that school would be better. (Of course, on the other hand, maybe we would have moved to MoCo by now).

by CharterMom on Oct 1, 2010 12:03 pm • linkreport

I'm not implying any cavalier attitude towards you or any one's children, rather a clear eyed assesment after reading the luck invovled in getting into a school we all want for our children. Let's not have needless semantical arguments between ourselves, there's no judgement from me as I assume people who stick it out don't judge the people who moved out. We're all in the same boat. As for Kristens point, I might add culture reform. We need to expect more from eachother, regardless of our background. Demand civility.

by Thayer-D on Oct 1, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

Glad to see a thoughtful, useful posting about education on GGW.

by Andy Peters on Oct 1, 2010 12:06 pm • linkreport

Great article, Steven.

The article you reference on the monetary value parents place on school quality has an interesting conclusion:

Parents are willing to pay 2.5 percent more for a 5 percent increase in test scores.
So, if test scores improve 20%, house values go up 10%.

by Ken Archer on Oct 1, 2010 12:07 pm • linkreport

>> I see anecdotally that more and more families are changing the question. Instead of "How long can we stand to stay here?" it's "Which DC school is right for our child?" and "How long a commute to school can we handle? <<

This is weak. Our sons' school (in Arlington), like many others in the county and around the region, is way over capacity. Should I say "more and more families" are choosing Arlington schools? Well, yes, but just because more and more families are choosing lots of different schools in lots of localities across the region.

So I'm not really sure what the point of the post is. Just the observation that some people who would have left DC at some point in the past so far haven't? But maybe it's also the case that some who would not have left in the past recently have. Or that some who would leave never move in (they can't afford it). Who knows?

I also wanted to say that it should be important, in making the kinds of points you are making, to mention that having enough good schools to keep some of the families who would otherwise move away, retaining them for the tax base and all, is only a small part of the picture. As long as there are terrible schools for most (or even just some) students, there's a moral failure which is the real reason to keep working on the problems.

by P on Oct 1, 2010 12:09 pm • linkreport


These discussions are always difficult because, as I'm sure you know, there is no decision or choice in your life more important than how you raise your children.

That's why I think the semantics are important here. I'm certain you didn't mean offense, and honestly, I'm not offended, but the phrase gambling with my children's education bothered me. Semantics is the study of meaning, and that's important. I'm certain you didn't mean what came across.

by TimK on Oct 1, 2010 12:13 pm • linkreport

If anyone else wants to write more education posts we're still very interested in contributors!

by David Alpert on Oct 1, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

I can't help feeling that neighborhood schools are undervalued because there are relatively few good ones in DC. It seems that most parents attending charters or out-of-bounds schools are doing so primarily because their neighborhood school wasn't great. School choice is great for those that are fanatic about language immersion, or a smaller more intimate school atmosphere, or a larger school with more options. However, school choice seems detrimental to the children left behind in an underperforming neighborhood school. The parents in the neighborhood most likely to work for positively change choose a school elsewhere.

Not to mention that attending neighborhood schools out of bounds has gotten progressively more difficult on Capitol Hill at least. Going by the lottery results, the better schools seem to be filling primarily with in bounds students and maybe some out of bounds siblings.

by SE on Oct 1, 2010 12:40 pm • linkreport

@Kristen-off topic. Just something to think about. It bothers me when I see or hear adult human beings referred to as *male/female* rather than *man/woman*. "Female" can be anything- a donkey, a tree, a mechanical device. Thus I find the terms male/female dehumanizing.

"Woman" can only be an adult human being for which the gender is known by the term itself. So not only is "woman" both precise and accurate its economical. All one need say or write is Man or Woman instead of Adult Male Human.

I write human health research papers collaboratively for a living and I'm constantly changing text from "females" to "women". So far none of my co-authors has insisted on using the less precise, less economical (and dehumanizing) terminology. Many agree with me and make the same edits.

Okay back to the discussion about schools. Please don't get side-tracked by my off topic opining.

by Tina on Oct 1, 2010 12:40 pm • linkreport


You're right, of course. We're not involved in our neighborhood school, as we send our kids out of bounds. But without that choice, most likely we'd have ended up moving to the 'burbs or exploring private schools.

In the long term, as certain schools become more popular, the pressure to either expand them or improve neighboring schools will drive improvements. I think this is already happening on the Hill. The number of schools considered "in play" (a very subjective assessment, by the way) has grown considerably from when my first daughter entered school four years ago to when I have to contemplate my next one next year.

by TimK on Oct 1, 2010 12:46 pm • linkreport

Tina- I apologize, I use both intermittently and don't really think about the potential semantics or emotion that's behind it. I understand why you would be sensitive to the term though and do understand there's been some controversy even with the terms feminist/womanist in recent years.

Carry on folks ;)

by Kristen on Oct 1, 2010 1:02 pm • linkreport

My parents sent me to an area private school. I believe the things they were looking for were: the quality of the education, the quality of the teachers, how many students go on to college, what kinds of colleges, the diversity (it was a very diverse school for being private) and the overall atmosphere. This was when I was in like 4th grade, so it was really more their decision than mine, and while I certainly had my qualms later in high school, overall I enjoyed it and it definitely gave me a great education (as well as perspectives on life) that one would be hard pressed to find at any DCPS.

by Martin on Oct 1, 2010 2:23 pm • linkreport

Re: Wilson High
We shipped out +5 years ago when Wilson was still struggling. The arrow is definitely pointing up but we like where we are and can't afford to move back there anyway. If we were in the same situation today, we might stay.

by Joe on Oct 1, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport

I am a parent in a Northwest Washington public elementary school which is considered very good, but not among the top 2 or 3. It is in a neighborhood where in the last 20 years many parents sent their kids to private school, so that the proportion of "in-bounds" children and children who went through the lottery historically has been about 50-50.

In the past 5 years, the percentage of in-bounds kids has increased above 50-50 because (i) private schools are expensive; (ii) there has been turnover in the neighborhood and there are more young school age children and (iii) the reputation of the elementary school has steadily improved. The reaction of some parents, however, is "we want a good school, but not a great one." Their concern is that if more neighborhood kids attend, there will be fewer lottery spots. I kind of understand their perspective, but don't share it.

The other point is a noticable number of lottery spots seem to have been filled by kids who routinely show up to school in cars with Maryland license plates. Although DC has a provision for non-DC residents to pay tuition to attend DC schools, DCPS says there are no tuition students there. Even accounting for divorce situations, where one parent may live in Maryland, the number of MD plates is still pretty high. The word is that historically there was a "don't ask, don't tell" policy whereby DC government employees who live in Maryland have been able to get their kids into the school, because it is good and has a very reasonable before- and after-school care program. If these are Maryland residents, then the DC taxpayers are being cheated and they are taking spots that might otherwise be available for lottery students who really live in DC.

by Anna on Oct 1, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport


The MD plates problem happens at the schools downtown too. Is your situation Oyster?

by Alex on Oct 1, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport


About the time you bailed on Wilson, I sent my oldest son there. He had a great experience and is now attending an Ivy League college for which he is extremely well prepared. His fellow graduates are at a wide range of excellent schools: indeed, Wilson sends (and has traditionally sent) graduates to the same great schools that nearby private schools send their graduates to. Last year, Wilson sent something like 92% of its graduates on to college.

Alex, Anna, the MD plates problem has been going on for the last 13 years at least at many, many schools. Violators need to be reported (by license number and student's last name if possible) to downtown administration. They will track down violators and either collect tuition or get them out of the school. This is theft of services and worse, the use of a spot that could go to a DC resident.

by hag of beare on Oct 1, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport


Attending a US college after graduating from an IB high school was like being a foreign-exchange student in my own country.

Although I normally have no problem tossing aside cultural norms and established paradigms, the IB system often provides very little basis for its quirks and eccentricities, other than its compatibility with traditional European teaching methods. (Worse still, back when I did it, texts and standardized exams were written in UK English, which occasionally made the exams confusing as bollocks). Any school capable of implementing a successful IB program should be perfectly capable of running equally-successful "traditional" classrooms.

I'd send my kids across town so that they could avoid IB, and I don't think you'll find many adult graduates of the program in the US who have kind things to say about it.

I am a graduate of an IB high school program, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. The IB tests got me two years worth of college course credits (they didn't really apply to my degree, but I did get to register for classes earlier than anyone else in my class).

I might see your case for IB curriculum at younger ages (elementary and middle school), but I think it's a perfectly fine high school curriculum. Better than AP courses and far more integrative, at least in my experience many years ago.

For what it's worth, that was in a public high school IB program from a urban school district in Minneapolis, MN. It wasn't as diverse as DC, but Minneapolis' Public Schools were far more diverse than any of the other public or private options where I grew up.

by Alex B. on Oct 1, 2010 4:52 pm • linkreport

I've known people who've raised kids in public schools here, in NYC, and in Chicago. The systems all have terrible reps, but many good schools and with some consumer shrewdness and a lot of involvement in their kids' schools, everyone has been happy. Charters are not demonstrable any better than regular schools and often are driven by very naive ideas about what makes for a good education. Many are basically "McSchools" which has always been the intent of charters and vouchers. In fact, despite enormous amounts of research on what works, parents, teachers, and administrators fall back on faddish, often ineffective models. I would guess that parental choices are often driven by such things as the emphasis on drill, the use of faddish methods like phonics (or at the other end) whole language. I've taught grads of the MoCo schools for the last couple years and they seem horribly prepared in terms of how to prepare for exams or do anything that doesn't have an obvious outcome. I've had interns who came from Fairfax (and attended "good colleges") who seemed equally clueless, although they probably learned to be proficient on standardized exams.

Reformers have only added to the emphasis on faddish distractions. School choice, whether or not it is based on charters or vouchers doesn't necessarily translate into making individual classrooms or schools more competitive. The competitor often is amorphous and far away and many competitors are no better or worse than what's available within walking distance.

DC schools would be doing better if people didn't bail after preschool or elementary school. People who send their kids to private school inevitably get suckered into volunteering, fund raising, etc. We also would be better off if they put that energy into the public schools. By the time, I picked up my PhD, I discovered that having gone through a typically mediocre suburban school district placed me at no great disadvantage. People who had attended better equipped schools had some advantages, but over time and in different places, I found myself with roommates from very affluent, highly regarded districts who couldn't spell or write a coherent paragraph (they were good on standardized tests, tho!). A place where instruction is no where near grade level and classroom management is deficient won't work for anyone, but much of what passes for judgment about schools has no relationship with results.

by Rich on Oct 1, 2010 5:46 pm • linkreport

On Wilson; oh, I never doubted the academic outcomes of the Wilson graduates, it was all the non-academic stuff going on that sent me north. I'm glad so many students are excelling and that the Post is publishing titles like "Urban school sheds crime scene label" (Class Struggle, May 2010). My punch line is that this year: we're homeschooling! LOL!
Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?

by Joe on Oct 2, 2010 1:37 am • linkreport

One major part of this issue which is a bit under-discussed in this post is not whether people should move when they have kids, but what factors attract people who are moving to the area. My family moved to the area and was renting in the Silver Spring area because we liked the community and it is good for our commutes. When we were considering home ownership a year or two after coming to this region, we were looking at both sides of the DC/MD border. We heard about Rhee and some of the good things happening in D.C. schools. We were seriously considering buying in D.C., but the core question was whether we trusted the central administration was competent. If they weren't then there's no guarantee a school that is good one year will be good the next. Several events including, the firing of a new principal after 2 months on the job made us doubt whether the administration was as competent as claimed. In the end, we decided we could afford a house for $X in MD, but only $X-$A in DC because we would want to have that extra $A around if we needed it to support our childrens' education. We bought in MD.

by Dan on Oct 2, 2010 8:16 pm • linkreport

Dan -- we're at that school. And while it is put down by some west of the a park because its test scores aren't in the stratusfere, for us, what has happened in the classroom between my children and the teachers is exceptional (that and the music program there).

I think people need to look beyond the lump of the test scores to the scores of kids that are like your kids. Are the scores for kids in your race/ethnic/income/
gender/language proficiency (ESL) group increasing year to year, or year to year for that grade cohort. Do a lot of kids transfer out after 2nd grade? Is the percentage moving up from testing level? My perception is that income level is more a determinate indicator than anything else and one of the other key factors in home location selection.

by ShepDC on Oct 4, 2010 8:54 am • linkreport

I really wasn't focusing on test scores. I was focusing on whether the upper level administration was competent enough to follow through on it's own initiatives. Barring carefully concealed job applicant fraud (which wasn't the case there), there is absolutely no reason a school district should have to fire a principal a few months into the year. That is educational malpractice that falls right to the district administration. If I can't trust they can get this type of hiring decision right, I can't assume that the school will be good 3 years from now, even if it is good now. In the end, we still considered the neighborhood, but the houses that interested us were the same price or insignificantly cheaper than those across the MD border. For those costs, we didn't have enough money to keep a private school fund in case our kid at problems in the assigned public school and I didn't want to spend my life identifying the perfect charter schools and shuttling my kid to schools around the city.

As for the race/score relationship, I like to think I'm beyond focusing on this, but, when my race is only 5% of the school, the sample size is too small to have a meaningful relationship to scores.

by Dan on Oct 4, 2010 11:00 am • linkreport

@ Dan What exactly is your basis for claiming that principal shouldn't have been fired? Do you actually know why she was fired? You can argue that she should never have been hired, but I don't know of any organization that has a 100% success rate in hiring. Should they have kept an employee they considered ineffective just for appearance's sake?

by jcm on Oct 4, 2010 11:24 am • linkreport

I agree that no one has a 100% success rate, but the question is whether they did was is necessary to make that rate as high as possible.

I found the article that had a bit more details on the firing:

This is the part that stuck with me:
BenZion's two years at the Hill Preschool ended in turmoil, parents and board members said. Chander Jayaraman, who served as board president until August, said he was not contacted by D.C. schools when BenZion applied for a principal's job.

"I did not get a call," he said. "I would think I would have. I kind of expected something like that." School officials declined to discuss who was contacted to vet BenZion.

The article has more details. An organization is not functioning if it hires a top level manager (a principal) without speaking to the person who didn't renew the contract from her previous job.

by Dan on Oct 4, 2010 11:38 am • linkreport

@ Dan Well, that story doesn't make the hiring process sound great, but I don't think we have enough information to understand exactly what went wrong with this hire. The only thing we know is that one specific person wasn't contacted.

To be clear, I'm not criticizing or second guessing your decision. I think you have the right and responsibility to choose what's best for your family. I just think this was an odd incident to use to determine the competency of the DCPS administration. They made a bad hire, realized it quickly, and quickly replaced the person. That seems functional to me.

by jcm on Oct 4, 2010 1:35 pm • linkreport


My intent wasn't to focus as much on the race/score relationship as on the more important issue of progression of scores within any one particular classfication... improving/regressing across all categories or some improving/some regressing.

[Side note: We didn't have any issue with the principal in question, we thought she advocated the school's needs to the central office quite well. But she really didn't (or want to)represent the central office's intents/dictates back to the school community. That in the end is what we think ultimately caused her removal, but that is well and past. Bottom line - the new principal has done an excellent job with the program and again we find what is happening IN the classroom, at least for our child, to be excellent.]

On a wider scale the neighborhood is a community and the school is strongly viewed as the community's school. That is another important factor in the overall subject of the article...does the community identify the local school as a core element of itself.

by ShepDC on Oct 4, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport


Parents can't get involved and improve their local DCPS schools? That's not my experience. Your comments make parents sound like inefficacious passive objects, instead of effective agents in delivering good education options for their kids.

Of course, you're right. But you need a critical mass. I know several black upper-middle class couples who live in S.E., and are every bit as agonized over how to school their kids as any white yuppie couple in Brookland. Middle-class parents (black or white) aren't going to send their kids to a marginal elementary school that's 95% poor kids.

This is especially true if their kids is going to be the lone racial minority. Doesn't matter if the parents are black upper-middle class, and the school is 99% poor white kids, or if the parents are white and the school is 99% poor black kids.

Just ain't gonna happen.

by oboe on Oct 4, 2010 2:35 pm • linkreport

I guess I found the article a bit disappointing, because the author started off by emphasizing his social science credentials (by making reference to his dissertation), but ultimately concluded with little more than anecdotes about more parents sending their kids to DCPS/DCPCS. Such anecdotes have been around for decades, and serious statistics, not cheerleading, are needed to entice more folks into believing that DC schools are a serious option.

by Ex-MP on Oct 5, 2010 2:39 pm • linkreport


"DCPS Enrollment Goes Up: Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty are expected to announce today that the number of students enrolled in D.C. Public Schools went up, the first time enrollment has increased in some time. Bill Turque and Daniel de Vise report in the Post that school officials have confirmed that 73 of the District's 123 public schools saw an increase in students this year. Now D.C. just has to keep them there." (

More here:

by oboe on Oct 5, 2010 3:21 pm • linkreport

Careful with graphs like that "enrollment trends" on that you have up. Preference shifts may be well hidden in other demographic changes, like the amazing headlines about birthrates being at their "lowest level in a century" in 2010 right after a 2007 "surge in childbearing":

by Joshua Daniel Franklin on Oct 7, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport

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