By Margie Yeager
Margie Yeager is a Partner with our Advocacy grant making team
At Education Forward DC we understand that high-quality, equitable public schools can only thrive when policies are in place that support the conditions for their success. To this end, we were one of the initial funders of the Education Policy Initiative at the DC Policy Center, a non-partisan think tank committed to advancing policies for a strong and vibrant economy in Washington, DC. The DC Policy Center’s Education Policy Initiative conducts studies that focus on inclusivity and equity in public schools in DC and how schools can attract and retain families.
Along with our general support of their Education Policy Initiative, Education Forward DC funded the creation and recent release of the DC Policy Center’s State of DC Schools report, a first-of-its-kind effort to comprehensively examine and understand DC schools in a way that families, policy makers, and advocates can use to make decisions that impact students, and drive forward the conversation on equitable, quality education in DC. The State of DC Schools report provides a snapshot of DC’s public schools and examines student demographics, academic performance, and the environment in both district and public charter schools in DC.
The report highlights numerous bright spots of improvement in public schools in DC:
- DC’s public schools are now outpacing other cities in improving school performance. From 2003 to 2019, DC’s results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a national assessment on student achievement, showed the largest gains in fourth grade reading and eighth grade math.
- LatinX and Black students in DC are closing achievement gaps at higher rates than the national average. Between 2003 and 2019, the overall math score for Black students in DC in fourth grade grew by 24 points compared to an eight point increase nationally. The overall score for LatinX students in DC grew by 28 points compared to a 10 point increase nationally.
- Between school years 2014-15 and 2018-19, enrollment in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 increased by 2% per year, faster than the increase in the city’s school-age population.
While the data demonstrates many reasons to be optimistic about DC’s public schools, it also spotlights significant areas of needed growth:
- Racial and ethnic diversity remains low in schools across the city. In nearly half of DC’s public schools, at least 90% of the student body is Black. While White students make up 12% of enrollment, 13 schools have a majority-White student body.
- The schools with the highest overall rating of four or five stars on the DC School Report Card are not equally distributed across the city. Wards 7 and 8 have lower shares of these high-performing schools than other wards.
- Levels of chronic absenteeism remain high. Students who were chronically absent, or students who missed 10% or more of the school year, remains around 27%, with 35% of students classified as at-risk missing more than 10 days in school year 2018-19.
- Suspensions remain higher among at-risk students, students with disabilities, and Black students. At-risk and Black students are nine times likelier than their White peers to be suspended.
The takeaways listed above are meant to serve as a glimpse of some of the key findings of the report. You can find the full report on the DC Policy Center’s website as well as a one-page summary of the report. For the Education Forward DC team, we plan to use these findings to inform thinking across our grant making strategies, including public engagement efforts that support deepening families’ relationships with schools, and advocacy work that ensures that data-informed policies are in place to create and sustain high-quality, equitable public schools.