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Education


No more teaching to the test: Some DC teachers adopt a technique that gets students to think deeply

Has education become too focused on test scores? Do we need an approach aimed at getting students to think analytically rather than memorize facts? A growing number of educators from a variety of DC schools think so, and they're changing the way they teach.


Photo of DCPS students commenting on each other's work from Amanda Siepiola.

For the past two years, a group of DC teachers has been meeting regularly to learn about something called Project Zero, an educational approach research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The group has grown rapidly, and now includes over 500 teachers from independent, parochial, charter, and traditional public schools.

This summer, over 100 175 DC-area teachers gathered for a Project Zero institute sponsored by the independent Washington International School, which uses the Project Zero approaches school-wide. The teachers learned how to use classroom techniques called thinking routines: sets of questions teachers can pose to get students to think deeply about an image or a text.

The objective of the Project Zero routines is to "make thinking visible." One basic routine, called See-Think-Wonder, has students looking together at an image of a text or work of art. First they spend several minutes simply discussing what they observe. Then the teacher asks what they think is going on in the image.

After that, students talk about what the image makes them wonder about, based on their observations and interpretations. Along the way or at the end, the teacher or students "document" the discussion, writing down ideas. Teachers say routines like this get students to slow down, pay attention to details, and engage in analysis.

Critiques of test-focused teaching

Although Project Zero has been around since the 1960s, its approach fits in with recent critiques of test-based instruction for focusing too much on basic skills and not enough on analytical thinking. Even Arne Duncan, who many see as the architect of a test-focused approach, recently called for de-emphasizing test results. Locally, the Fairfax County school system is formulating a plan that its superintendent says "will lessen the focus on standardized, high-stakes testing."

A new best-selling book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that treating students as passive receptacles for knowledge only gets you so far: for true learning to take place, it argues, students have to take a more active role.

The Common Core standards, adopted by DC and 45 states, also aim to get students thinking analytically, and their emphasis on "close reading" of a text resembles the Project Zero approach.

Some of the thinking routines, like See-Think-Wonder, seem particularly well suited to studying works of art. In fact, the National Gallery of Art has used the routines in many of its education programs for over 10 years, according to Lynn Russell, head of its division of education. But teachers say the techniques can be applied to almost any subject.

Tondra Odom-Owens, a teacher at Savoy Elementary, a DC Public School with a low-income student body, says that when her students "wonder" about a work of art, they ask questions that go beyond the surface: "I wonder why he used that color, I wonder what if this was a portrait of a man." It hasn't been difficult for them to translate those strategies into thinking deeply and analytically about texts, she says.

And Karen Lee, who teaches government at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, recently used a thinking routine to get her high school students to make connections between the Langston Hughes poem "I Too" and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The routine, she says, "provided a framework for deep thinking."

Effects on comprehension and test scores

I saw some thinking routines in action recently at Sacred Heart, a bilingual Catholic school in Mt. Pleasant that has a largely low-income, Hispanic student body, and where most teachers have had Project Zero training. The 7th- and 8th-grade classes I observed included sophisticated and thoughtful discussions of concepts like empathy and ambiguity.

"I think kids' comprehension has sky-rocketed," said the Sacred Heart teacher I observed, Kristen Kullberg. "They begin to understand that ambiguity and unanswered questions don't need to be sources of frustration. The reality is a lot of things are ambiguous."

While teachers say it's too soon to know whether the approach has an effect on test scores, Kullberg says her students have developed a "culture of perseverance" that could help on tests. And Odom-Owens said she feels thinking routines will help her students understand test questions and come up with strategies to answer them. Lee says the routines also help her figure out what her students haven't understood, so she knows where to focus.

All the teachers I spoke with say the thinking routines level the playing field, bringing lower-performing students into the discussion. Because there are no wrong answers, kids are more willing to take risks. And the lower-performing students sometimes have the most perceptive observations, winning the respect of their peers.

The Project Zero approach could help move teaching beyond the rote drilling that too often characterizes education today. But there are some caveats:

It takes training. The teachers I spoke with all said the approach fit in with their natural teaching styles. While most said they thought any teacher could use the thinking routines, it's not just a matter of following a script. Teachers not only have to ask the right questions, they also need to be responsive to students' answers. It helps to observe teachers who are experienced in the approach.

Schools need to be flexible about teaching methods: The routines can be adapted to work with any curriculum, but classrooms can get noisy as students move around or call out their thoughts. Odom-Owens said some DCPS teachers, especially new ones, might shy away from the approach for fear of getting a low score on the system's teacher evaluation system.

It won't provide everything lower-performing students need: Students deficient in vocabulary and background knowledge, as many low-income students are, will need more direct instruction to construct coherent sentences and organize their thoughts logically in writing.

But in the hands of a skilled teacher, the Project Zero thinking routines can play an important role in engaging students in learning, spurring analytical thinking, and giving them the motivation to put their insights into persuasive written form.

Education


Carol Schwartz bids to become the education mayor

Carol Schwartz has produced a detailed, thoughtful platform on a key issue in the DC mayoral race, education. It's unlikely to be enough to propel her long-shot campaign to victory, but right now her position is the one most likely to ensure stability in DC Public Schools.


Photo by David on Flickr.

Schwartz, a former at-large DC Councilmember, has some good ideas about things like lessening the focus on standardized tests and retaining veteran teachers. Her 15-page white paper is a far more comprehensive document than anything produced by either of the other candidates, and her positions align better with those of DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Schwartz also has more education experience than her rivals, Councilmembers Muriel Bowser and David Catania. She first came to DC to teach special education, inspired by the experience of caring for her intellectually disabled brother. She went on to serve two terms on the now-defunct Board of Education, which governed DC's public schools (not to be confused with the current State Board of Education, which does not). And her three children all attended DCPS.

Schwartz's stances on hot-button issues like school boundaries and charter school growth suggest that a Mayor Schwartz would have a better chance of retaining the current DCPS Chancellor than either a Mayor Catania or a Mayor Bowser.

How important is that? It's true that the pace of progress under Henderson has been slow. And some DCPS policies, like the system for evaluating teachers, could certainly be improved. But it will be unfortunate if the mayoral election results in Henderson's departure.

Henderson is a smart and competent administrator who has demonstrated an admirable willingness to try new initiatives, some of which may be on the verge of bearing fruit. It would be a shame if those processes were disrupted and the pace of change slowed further, or possibly even reversed.

With those considerations in mind, some DC education activists have thrown their support to Bowser rather than Catania, despite Catania's greater expertise on education. As chair of the DC Council's education committee, Catania has acquired a detailed knowledge of the public school landscape, and he's brimming with ideas about how to improve it. Bowser's strategy on education, on the other hand, has basically been to say as little about it as possible.

But Catania and Henderson have had a testy relationship, and he hasn't said whether he would keep her on. It's not clear she would stay under a Mayor Catania even if he wanted her to.

Bowser, on the other hand, has said she'd like Henderson to stay, and she's been generally complimentary about the Chancellor's performance.

Bowser's opposition to new boundaries

But Bowser's recent statements on the controversial boundary plan adopted by Mayor Vincent Gray may have soured that cordial relationship. Henderson supports the plan, and Bowser, like Catania, recently came out in opposition to it.

What's more, for some reason Bowser added that she didn't anticipate involving the DCPS chancellor in formulating a substitute proposal.

As Gray observed, that doesn't seem like a wise move. Henderson wasn't in charge of the recent boundary process, but she was certainly involved. And that seems only appropriate for a process involving the boundaries and feeder patterns of the system she heads.

Not only is the move unwise substantively, but Bowser's remark seems bound to alienate Henderson. While the Chancellor hasn't said anything publicly about these developments, it's possible she'll decide that Bowser isn't someone she actually wants to work under.

Schwartz, for her part, seems to have struck all the right notes for retaining Henderson. Schwartz commits to allowing her to stay on for "the time she has stated she wants, which is one or so more years." (Henderson has said she'd like to stay until 2017.) And in one of a series of veiled digs at Catania, Schwartz says she would not "micromanage" a chancellor but rather would "partner with" her "in setting policy and goals."

Schwartz on school boundaries and charters

On the crucial issue of school boundaries, Schwartz suggests a few tweaks, such as increasing the percentage of set-asides for out-of-boundary students to maintain diversity. But she says she accepts the need for change.

She also sides with Henderson on some issues that have emerged recently in the relationship between DCPS and the charter sector, such as joint planning between the sectors. While charter advocates are amenable to joint planning that is voluntary on their part, it's clear that Schwartz believes it would make sense to impose limits on such things as where new charter schools can open.

Charter advocates have resisted that as an infringement on their autonomy. But Henderson and others have argued, with some justification, that without those kinds of limits, charter expansion could easily undermine plans to improve DCPS schools.

Will any of this convince DC education reformers who want Henderson to stay on to switch their support from Bowser to Schwartz? Probably not, given the overwhelming odds against Schwartz. But perhaps they can urge Bowser to do whatever she can to mend the damage she may have done to her relationship with Henderson.

Beyond that, Bowser might want to flesh out her own skimpy education platform with some of the ideas that abound in Schwartz's white paper. Schwartz may never get a chance to implement those ideas herself, but it would be nice if someone did.

Education


Five lessons one woman's story teaches us about poverty and education in DC

Over two decades ago, Tenille Warren was a student at a high-poverty junior high school in Southeast DC. Last week, at the age of 37, she started college. What happened in between holds lessons for anyone trying to improve educational outcomes for low-income students.


Photo of graduation caps from Shutterstock.

According to a story in Sunday's New York Times, when Warren was a student at Kramer Junior Highnow Kramer Middle Schoola local philanthropist "adopted" her and many of her classmates through the I Have a Dream Foundation. At the time, Kramer was DC's second-lowest-performing junior high.

At the beginning of 7th grade, half of Warren's class was randomly selected to participate in the I Have a Dream program. These "Dreamers" got a heavy dose of extra support through high school, including tutoring, summer school, and help with basic necessities like food. They also got a promise of free college tuition if they graduated.

Warren, one of those selected, seemed to be on track. After Kramer, she got into the selective Duke Ellington School of the Arts and graduated on time. She dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. But instead of taking up the offer of free college tuition, she took a job at Safeway, cleaning bathrooms and stocking shelves.

Eventually, Warren worked her way up to a better job. But she never entirely forgot her dream. 6 years ago, she returned to it in earnest, eventually moving to New York for an unpaid internship in the fashion industry and taking night school classes in the basics of fashion design.

This fall, 14 years after the offer of free tuition expired, Warren enrolled as a full-time student at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan. While she's gotten some scholarship money, she's also taken out $57,000 in student loans.

While Warren's story is in many ways an inspirational tale with an apparently happy ending, it also points up the difficulty of engineering a successful trajectory for students living in multi-generational poverty.

Free college tuition isn't enough, and extra help in school may not be enough either.

Despite the tutoring and mentoring, many of the students in the I Have a Dream program were far from prepared to do college-level work after graduation.

"We realized pretty quickly that we were never going to be able to catch our kids up academically," the Kramer Dream Class co-director and mentor, Steve Bumbaugh, told the Times. "This was triage. We were trying to keep these kids alive. We were trying to keep them in school."

And even Warren, who did well at Ellington, found the prospect of college daunting. She had grown up with a single mother who had trouble holding on to a job, and at one point they were evicted. She told the Times she couldn't imagine leaving DC for college because she was worried about what might happen to her mom, and about her own basic survival.

Aiming high might not always be the best advice.

Bumbaugh said he now regrets urging Warren to head to Parsons School of Design or Pratt Institute, both top fashion design schools in New York, when she was in high school. Perhaps, he says, if he had suggested small steps instead, she would have her BFA by now.

Grit actually is important.

For a while, it was fashionable to talk about the importance of grit, meaning qualities like perseverance and resilience. Now it's fashionable to dismiss grit as overrated. But Warren's story is a testament to the power of grit.

Her efforts to get herself on track for a career in fashion have been heroic. Setting her sights on a job with the clothing company founded by the rapper Jay Z, she did everything but stand on her head to get his attention. After FIT rejected her for the second time, she called the admissions office to ask, "What exactly do I need to do to make no a yes?" When she finally got in, she was living in a homeless shelter while working multiple jobs and taking sewing classes.

It's clear that Warren has grit, but what's less clear is how she got it and how to instill it in others. It's possible that the years of mentoring and support she got in her teens helped develop her remarkable resilience. But then again, that didn't necessarily happen for the other Dreamers in her cohort.

Don't judge the success or failure of a program too soon, or by only one measure.

By the standards of the I Have a Dream program, Warren would probably be considered a failure, since she didn't graduate from college within the time allotted by the program. But that would be a vast oversimplification.

The story is also complicated, to some extent, for her Dreamer cohort as a whole: Only 6 of the 67 students in the group earned a bachelor's degree on time. Even now, only 9 have their degrees. But 4 students from her class are now in college. And 72% graduated from high school or earned a GED, compared to only 27% of the non-Dreamers in their class at Kramer.

The program also may be having positive effects on the next generation. Currently, 18 children of the Dreamers are in college, 3 hold bachelor's degrees, and two are in graduate school.

Try not to leave a whole school behind.

While Warren's fortunes have risen recently, the same is not true for Kramer. It's still one of the lowest-performing middle schools in DC, with proficiency rates of 24% for math and 22% for reading.

To the extent that the I Have a Dream program was able to help Warren and some of her fellow Dreamers, that's terrific. But if we're going to change outcomes for students like them on a broader scale, we need a strategy that transforms entire schoolsand, as much as possible, their surrounding communitiesrather than the lives of a few members of a subgroup.

The story of Kramer's Dreamers may hold more lessons for those interested in poverty and education: the author of the Times article, Diana Kapp, is working on a book that will trace the lives of several students from the group. I, for one, am eager to read it.

Education


Test scores are not improving for at-risk student groups

DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the system's 2014 test scores yesterday, saying "we're continuing on an upward trajectory." However, a closer look at the scores reveals a stagnant or downward trajectory for black, Hispanic, low-income, English language learner, and special education students in the last five years.


Reading scores have declined among at-risk groups since 2009. Graph from DCPS with emphasis by the author.

It's true that reading test scores overall have increased since 2009, and slightly overall since last year. However, it's a different story for many demographic subgroups, including every at-risk subgroup: students receiving free or reduced price lunch (FARMS), black students, Latino students, special education students, and students whose first language is not English (called "English Language Learners"). For those students, scores have declined since 2009 and further since last year.

Math scores are mixed among at-risk subgroups since 2009

While reading scores have declined since 2009 among all at-risk subgroups, math scores look better.

Black and Hispanic students have gained on average since 2009, though white students have gained even more. Lower-income (FARMS) students and special education students gained slightly, while English language learners lost considerable ground.

The achievement gap is widening

The decline among at-risk subgroups, along with gains among white and Asian students, has widened the achievement gap in DC. The every-other-year federal test, NAEP, reports the gap between students eligible and not eligible for free and reduced price lunch.


2013 Department of Education report of 8th grade NAEP test scores with emphasis by the author.

However, this gap is nowhere in the 2014 CAS score reports by the Office for the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) or by DCPS. The Department said the following about this achievement gap in its most recent report on DC NAEP scores.

In 2013, students who were eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch, an indicator of low family income, had an average score that was 31 points lower than students who were not eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch. This performance gap was not significantly different from that in 1998 (25 points).
What does this mean for reform policies?

Can we draw any conclusions about DCPS's reform efforts from this data?

Scores did increase substantially in reading as well as math from 2007 to 2009, and are still above 2007 levels in all categories. DC Public Schools (DCPS) officials argue that 2007 should be the baseline (and therefore we should consider their reforms a success) because mayoral control of DCPS began in 2007.

However, the IMPACT teacher evaluation system went into effect in 2009. The first round of DCPS school closures was announced in the spring of 2008, and implemented over the next two years, well after students had taken the 2008 CAS test.

Most students taking the CAS tests in the spring of 2007, 2008 or 2009 were still unaffected by the IMPACT system or by school closures.

On the other hand, it may still be too early to judge the effects of any particular reform. Still, we must ask, how long will it take to know for sure?

Is DCPS really "on an upward trajectory"? If DC's education system is slowly growing but not for those groups where public education is most likely to make or break success in life, it is not doing its job.

Education


We're moving to California because DC schools can't or won't serve our son's special needs

This summer my family is moving to San Francisco so that my disabled son can attend kindergarten. While we are excited about the next chapter of our lives in the Bay Area, we expected until recently to live in DC, and in Georgetown, the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, that plan changed when we ran into obstruction and hostility from DC Public Schools and local private schools regarding our son's special needs.


Photo by Christopher Chan on Flickr.

My 5-year-old son, Martin, is the joy of our lives. He is the sweetest little boy you will ever meet, with a passion for life that inspires me every day. Martin also has epilepsy.

In the past year, Martin has had over 2,500 seizures. Most of them are drop seizures, in which he drops to the ground like a puppet whose strings are cut. After every drop seizure, he gets right back up and resiliently soldiers oncoloring, playing with toys, eating his food, undeterred.

When the seizures began breaking through his medication last year, my wife and I spent every evening on our laptops, immersing ourselves in pediatric neurology. Helping our boy fight seizures was our primary activity, at least it was until we discovered how much we would have to fight DC Public Schools to secure his rights to an equal education.

Coping with epilepsy

Martin has miraculously not regressed cognitively despite his seizures, but must be kept safe. He has had drop seizures in which his face collides into his cereal bowl during breakfast, into the toilet bowl while going to the bathroom, into the sand table while playing at his preschool.

After several bloody and bruised faces, we made the difficult decision to put a helmet with face guard on our boy. Even with his helmet, he is still not safe on stairs, which pose a real risk to his life and limb.

Martin attends an amazing preschool, St, Columba's Nursery School in Tenleytown, whose teachers unflinchingly provide him any accommodation needed to keep him safe and help him learn with the other children. They go far beyond what the law requires.

This past year, we asked DC Public Schools (DCPS) for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) ahead of his entrance into kindergarten this fall.

An IEP is a list of the accommodations that a public school provides to ensure a child's civil right to equal access to the curriculum. A federal law, the 1975 Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), protects the civil right of children with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).

DCPS, through its Early Stages division, initially committed to including a dedicated aide in Martin's IEP to keep him safe. They were unable to put him in a building without stairs. Instead, an aide would hold his hand on the stairs or take him to elevators, as well as logging his seizure count and caring for him when he injures himself.

"Martin will obviously get an aide; he's dropping 10 times per day," was the assessment of our IEP team lead. "Just give us a letter from his neurologist, and we'll include an aide in his IEP." We provided letters from two neurologists, and expected to send Martin to DCPS kindergarten this fall.

DCPS throws up a wall

Two weeks after our IEP meeting at DCPS Early Stages, I received a startling call from our IEP team lead that would signal the beginning of the end of our time as DC residents. "I'm so sorry to have to tell you, apparently we were not authorized to put an aide in Martin's IEP. So we've taken it out."

She was unable to explain why Martin's IEP team couldn't give him an aide. She said to me, "I wish I had answers to your questions. I'm so sorry." When I pointed out that, by law, only members of an IEP team can determine what accommodations go into an IEP, she agreed, and repeated, "I'm so, so sorry."

A week later I received a call from Amanda Parks-Bianco, a DCPS special education administrator who manages all dedicated aides, asking me what my questions were. Parks-Bianco said, "Dedicated aides and nurses are never needed to provide FAPE. If you accept our offer of FAPE, then aides and nurses are additional services that your child may qualify for."

When I cited several court decisions stating that IDEA does sometimes require dedicated aides, she insisted that "IDEA is vague." Several times Parks-Bianco told me, "I know I must sound like a horrible person."

Private schools give the cold shoulder too

My wife and I retained an attorney, who advised us to find a private school that would keep Martin safe. We would then sue DCPS to pay the tuition. However, we were unable to find a general education private school in DC that would accept a child with uncontrolled seizures.

For example, we visited Lowell, known as one of the most inclusive private schools in town. When we mentioned to the Head of School that our son has 10 drop seizures per day, her response was, "You would need to purchase tuition insurance." She then explained that "a school with a smaller student-teacher ratio might be better, with more eyes on your son to keep him safe."

The Lowell Head of School never technically violated the federal law against discrimination towards those with disabilities, but made it clear that my child was not welcome at her school.

We visited Sheridan, also known as an inclusive private school. While they said they embraced children with disabilities, their building is still not ADA-compliant, requiring children of all ages to walk up and down a long staircase with no elevator. When we noticed the facilities they had invested in, such as a campus in the Shenandoah Valley, their true priorities seemed clear.

We considered suing DCPS to accommodate my child with an aide to keep him safe at school, a suit that our attorney said we had a 95% chance of winning. But he also said we would likely have to retain counsel multiple times over the years, as DCPS would try to remove the aide from Martin's IEP.

My wife and I were considering moving to California last fall in order to try a strain of medical marijuana that had helped other children control their seizures. A friend from San Francisco had been urging me to consider schools there that were inclusive of children with disabilities.

In March, I flew to San Francisco, and within a month enrolled Martin in a private school that embraces children with disabilities and was committed to keeping our son safe. Even our special education attorney recommended that we accept the offer of the school in San Francisco.

My family is privileged to have the means to move when our son's civil rights are denied and physical safety threatened by DC Public Schools. DC is full of thousands of special education students who face the obstacles our son faced and have far fewer options.

How can DC be a truly inclusive city?

While we are sad to leave our adopted hometown of 16 years, we are excited to embark on a new journey. We feel deep gratitude to the Bay Area for its inclusive culture, and hope to give back in spades.

One of the hardest parts of leaving DC, besides the friends we leave behind, is walking away from the fight to make DC a just city whose success is shared broadly. As DC's amenities have grown over the past decade, so have the growing gaps in wealth and educational outcomes in our city. This creates a moral imperative to advocate that we can either hide from or accept.

It's easy for elected officials in DC and other east cost cities to promote the influx of new residents, then take credit for the improved joblessness numbers and school test scores that inevitably follow.

My deepest fear for DC has been that in 30 years, all 8 wards will have stellar economic and education numbers, but those numbers will be the result of turning over half the population in the city.

There are few battles more critical to creating an inclusive DC than the fight for the 13,000 students, predominantly poor, who receive public special education.

DC can move forward in one of two waysby displacing DC's recipients of special education, or including them.

Development


As DC grows, Anacostia gets left behind

After decades of decline, DC's population is growing again. But parts of the city like Anacostia are still losing people, showing that revitalization has yet to take hold everywhere.


The population of Anacostia between 1990 and 2012. All data from the Census Bureau, graphs by the author.

While many neighborhoods across the city have grown in population and prosperity, Anacostia has lost nearly five hundred people and more than 140 housing units since 1990, according to newly released Census data. Meanwhile, the median household income has declined by $3,000, from $35,545 in 1990 (in 2012 dollars) to $32,262 today. There are fewer homeowners as well. In 1990, 32.8% of Historic Anacostia's 986 housing units were owner-occupied, whereas today just 29.9% of the 854 units are.


There are fewer housing units in Historic Anacostia now than in 1990.

These raw numbers reflect the abundance of abandominiums within the neighborhood, including both single-family homes and apartments. More than a hundred units have been vacant for more than two decades, while others have been razed.

The drastic contraction in the available housing stock over the last two decades has led to the subsequent flight of nearly 15% of the neighborhood. In 1990 Anacostia counted 3,018 people, 437 more than in 2012, when 2,545 lived in the Historic District.

Although social media campaigns and advocates of the creative class have increasingly touted the neighborhood over the past half-decade, economic opportunities remain a dream for many residents. Of 1,799 people over 16, just 54.9% are in the labor force, compared to 58.4% of 2,130 people in 1990.


The percentage of people in Anacostia's labor force.

With the growth of white-collar information services in DC, blue-collar independent tradesmen living in Anacostia say they are at a double disadvantage. They don't have the education the information economy demands, and they are often shut out from joining existing contracting teams on local multi-million dollar public works projects. The neighborhood has its own day-laborer class of junkmen and uncredentialed tradesmen who may not fit into the formal economy.


The percentage of Anacostia adults with high school diplomas.

Even though the neighborhood economy has remained stagnant over the past 20 years, and private capital is hesitant to invest and develop, Anacostia's human capital has slowly increased. Today, 79.1% of Anacostians 25 years old and over have their high school diploma, a dramatic increase over 49.7% in 1990. More than two decades ago less than five percent of Anacostia residents 25 years and older had a college degree; today it is 8.2%.

These numbers do not paint a complete picture, but they show Historic Anacostia to be a neighborhood dominated by low-earning renters, the same as it was in 1990.

In commemorating the March on Washington last summer, President Obama invoked "the corners of Anacostia" as an example of persistent inequities. While the areas and environs of 14th Street NW, 7th Street NW, H Street NE, and 8th Street SE have exponentially grown over the past two decades, Anacostia remains largely stuck in time, slowly fading away before the eyes of anyone watching.

Pedestrians


What if we ranked schools based on their walkability?

Parents often choose schools for their kids based on test scores. But as more families seek out an urban lifestyle, what if we ranked schools on a kid's ability to walk there as well?


Locations of the region's most walkable high schools. Blue are schools in a "Walker's Paradise," red are "Very Walkable" schools, and green are "Somewhat Walkable." Click for an interactive map.

Studies show that kids who live in walkable neighborhoods get more exercise and are at reduced risk for obesity. Being able to walk to school teaches kids independence and a stronger sense of community as well.

So where are students most likely to be able to walk to and from school? One indicator is a school's Walk Score, a measure of its walkability. To find the region's most walkable schools, I looked at the Walk Score of 95 public high schools (both neighborhood and magnet) in the District, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland, and the city of Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia. Here's a spreadsheet of all of the schools.

There were 22 schools in the "top 20," which I've mapped above. (Three schools tied for 20th place.) Not surprisingly, nine of them are in the District. But there are also six in Montgomery County, two each in Prince George's and Arlington, and one each in Alexandria and Fairfax. Seven of them are outside the Beltway.

Four schools were in the "Walker's Paradise" category, Walk Score's highest ranking. School Without Walls in downtown DC, came in first with a Walkscore of 97, followed by Columbia Heights Education Campus (94), and Woodrow Wilson High School in Tenleytown (92). Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Montgomery County made fourth place, with a score of 91.

Of course, Walk Score isn't a perfect measure of walkability. It only measures an address's proximity to commercial and institutional destinations, not the homes where students might be walking from. And it doesn't consider the actual pedestrian experience. Seneca Valley High in Germantown, where a student died crossing the highway outside the school last year, placed 13th on the list with a score of 72.


Rockville Town Square is the de facto cafeteria of Richard Montgomery High School (Walk Score 65), located a few blocks away. All images by the author.

Some of these schools also have high academic ratings, like Richard Montgomery and B-CC in Montgomery, McLean in Fairfax, and Banneker in DC, all of which top the regional rankings in the Washington Post's Challenge Index. But there aren't a lot of them, and they're in expensive neighborhoods. Many of the schools on this list are low performers; forced to choose, parents will usually always pick high test scores over a kid's ability to walk to school.

My parents were no different. As a student at Wilson in the 1970s, my mother walked to lunch at Steak 'N Egg Kitchen or to catch the 30 bus to her job at a clothing store in Georgetown. But I went to James Hubert Blake High School near Olney (Walk Score 11, or "car-dependent"), where nearly everyone drove, and gruesome car accidents were a fact of life. I once begged my principal for open lunch, but it wouldn't ever happen: the nearest place to eat was over a mile away on a 40mph road with no sidewalks.

What else do you see in these rankings? And did you walk to school?

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