Who benefits from neighborhood schools in Washington D.C.?

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Thomas Toch (a City Fund grantee) has a great piece on Washington D.C.’s public education system in the Washington Post Magazine.

The article tracks a few families through their process of finding public schools for their children.

A lot of progress has been made in D.C., and it was wonderful to read about this progress through lens of families trying to find a great public school. Much of our work is strategically abstract, but there’s nothing abstract about a family trying to find a school.

I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing. It will likely be one of the best pieces you read this year about what public education could be.

I’ll just highlight one important point from the article:

A so-called in-boundary preference makes it particularly tough to get into the city’s best traditional neighborhood schools. Carving the city into attendance zones and guaranteeing students a spot in the traditional public school in their zone is a way of reconciling school choice with the right of every student to a free public education.

But not surprisingly, families living within the boundaries of top schools exercise their in-boundary advantage more often than families with weak neighborhood options. And because many of the highest-performing neighborhood schools are in predominantly white and more-affluent sections of the city, the My School DC preferences weaken the system’s ability to reduce long-standing racial and economic segregation in Washington’s public schools, despite citywide school choice. For the same reason, undoing the preferences would be politically impossible.

Overall, only 27% of families choose to attend their neighborhood school. Those that do tend to be white and living in wealthy neighborhoods.

Additionally, approximately 50% of DC’s white families send their children to private schools.

So wealthy, white families use exclusive neighborhood schools and private schools to educate their children, but somehow it’s charter schools that serve low-income families that are the problem?

This makes no sense. At some point, people will realize this. I just worry about how long it might take.

 

1 thought on “Who benefits from neighborhood schools in Washington D.C.?

  1. Ciro Curbelo

    Love the insight. Not sure about the theory of change. The problem isn’t that people don’t realize this. Wealthy parents and teacher’s union members *do* realize this. And they prefer it this way. I think the problem boils down to poor families not having enough local political power to offset teachers unions and wealthy parents. Whats the solution? Can the feds intervene (ala Little Rock 9) but with better policy solutions – e.g., just giving vouchers to those who don’t get their first choice? Why can’t a philanthropic group fund this?

    Reply

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