The District of Columbia’s rapid gentrification makes it possible to create “racially and socio-economically integrated public schools,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. But without some form of “controlled choice,” there will be no space in gentrified, high-performing schools for less affluent non-white students who live outside the boundaries.
Increasingly, well-off, white parents are sending their children to public schools, he writes. Perhaps they can’t afford private schools any more. Perhaps it’s the decrease in crime or confidence in Michelle Rhee’s reforms.
In some cases, middle-class parents in gentrifying neighborhoods are persuading others to give the local public school a try, starting with free full-day preschool.
Lots of evidence shows that poor kids learn more, on average, when they attend middle class schools. And many middle class families want their kids going to schools that reflect the diversity of the society they will inherit.
But here’s the rub: Rather than settling into a nice racial balance, several D.C. schools are on their way to flipping from all-black to all-white in just a few years. Go visit schools like Brent on Capitol Hill or Ross in Dupont Circle and you’ll notice that their fourth-graders are mostly African-American and their kindergarteners are mostly white. Follow that trend for a few more years and say goodbye to our once-in-a-lifetime shot at integrated schools.
It’s not just the district schools. Middle-class, mostly white students are entering the lottery for admission to the high-performing E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, reducing the odds for low-income students. (The pre-K-7 school is now 24 percent white and Asian and 40 percent non-poor.)
D.C. could eliminate school boundaries, then admit students “based on a mix of a lottery, geographic proximity, and the goal of socio-economic balance.” Or the boundaries could be redrawn to combine gentrified and poor neighborhoods. Finally, the District could “create magnet schools in strategic locations to draw middle class and poor students alike.”
For instance, DCPS officials could take an under-enrolled “poor” school on Capitol Hill and turn it into Montessori program, or an accelerated math and science academy—something attractive to affluent parents on the hill. Or they could put a bilingual Spanish-immersion magnet school in Columbia Heights (perhaps a replication of the Oyster School in Woodley Park).
Charter schools could play this “magnet” role, too — but they would need to be able to manage their lotteries to ensure a balance of middle class and low-income students — something not allowed today.
The magnet option is the most viable politically, but would affect only a few schools, Petrilli writes.