Why are DC Schools So Bad?

June 10, 2007

Today’s Washington Post begins a multi-part series examining the state of DC schools. Today’s story makes the point that even after controlling for the race and class background of the students, students in DC schools do worse than their counterparts in other similar big city districts.

According to the Post, DC spends more per pupil than most districts, but has the smallest percentage going to the classroom, as compared to the central office.

All of this raises the basic question, which I have been trying to figure out for years, still unsuccessfully: why are DC schools so much worse than similar districts?

It seems a straightforward question, but most of the typical answers (kids from backgrounds of concentrated poverty, schools segregated by race and class, difficult to compete with suburban districts for the best teachers, etc.) don’t explain why DC does worse than other similar cities.

Most stories about the DC schools don’t address this critical question, and the first story in this latest Post series doesn’t either. Maybe future stories in the series will. I hope so. Until we figure out the answer to this basic question, we’ll never see improvement.

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