D.C. students have few good choices

In 2009-10, 12,000 Washington, D.C. students transferred from a school that failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress. But only 29 percent found an opening at a “higher-proficiency” charter or district-run school, concludes Choice Without Options, an American Enterprise Institute study. Almost three-fourths of transfers “made a school choice that can be described as choosing the bad over the worse or the unknown over the known.”

Washington, D.C., has an environment that, on the surface, is ripe with school choice. Last year, 70 percent of all public school students attended a school other than their zoned neighborhood school; nearly 40 percent attended public charter schools and another 30 percent attended selective magnet schools or traditional public schools using the out-of-boundary application process. Residents of D.C. can apply to more than ninety public charter schools and more than one hundred DCPS. All public charter schools must accept applications from any D.C. resident, and DCPS must accept applications from out-of-boundary students for excess seats not filled by neighborhood children. If the number of students applying in either case exceeds the number of available seats, a lottery is held to determine which students may enroll.

Despite this environment of school choice, parents in D.C. face fierce competition to enroll their children in one of the city’s few “higher proficiency” public schools . . .

Twenty percent of charter schools and 29 percent of district-run schools are higher-proficiency schools with above-average test scores and improvement rates, the study found. Another 22 percent of charters and 47 percent of district-run schools were classified as lower-proficiency.  Fifty-two percent of charters were too new to have a track record.

Many of the higher-proficiency charters admit most students in preschool or kindergarten; others have openings in sixth or ninth grade but few slots in other grades. Parents who miss out on the best schools typically take a chance on new and unproven charters; some choose a low-proficiency charter over the low-proficiency neighborhood school.

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  1. D.C. students have many excellent choices among the many private schools there. D.C. has the highest National Merit Scholarship cut-off scores in the nation precisely because so many D.C. residents elect the private option.

  2. That statement, presented so firmly, is not actually inherently valid. I would disagree that it’s DUE TO the high private school attendance that D.C. has the highest National Merit cut scores (or shares them with Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, rather).

    In fact, the high National Merit cut scores correlate with the high number of high-wealth, highly educated families living in D.C.

    Here are the top-secret National Merit cut scores, state by state:


    (As an aside: It’s shameful that many (most?) of those families shun the public school system to cloister their precious snowflakes with the other scions of privilege — especially in the world hypocrisy capital, pseudo-conscious and mindful Sidwell Friends, a glittering island of privilege in a sea of need.)

  3. Well, thank you Michelle Rhea. No wonder the voters ran her out of town.

  4. Caroline SF’s ugly racism aside, DC’s private schools serve both rich and poor families of all races. All offer financial assistance to needy families. There is nothing shameful in the least about any given family’s decision to relieve the public system of demand it cannot handle. DC schools are funded amply but poorly managed. The expectation that anyone should sacrifice their child on the altar of collectivist piety reveals more about the Stalinist mind set that pervades the public school industry than it does about parents who choose to go private.