Ten Charts That Explain D.C.’s School Problems
This week's cover story looks at the challenges facing Roosevelt High School, a school that by some measures is among the lowest performing in the District, yet whose surrounding neighborhood is by some measures the fastest gentrifying. The question is whether Roosevelt can ride Petworth's rising fortunes and attract its young families to a school that's dangerously underenrolled. The answer could well lie in two processes that are set to wrap up next year: the $127 million modernization of the Roosevelt building, and the first comprehensive redrawing of the District's school boundaries and feeder patterns since the 1970s.
The school's problems and solutions lie in a complex history and a host of personal efforts by principals, teachers, parents, and city leaders. Numbers don't tell nearly the whole story. But they do tell much of it. And so here are 10 charts that help explain why Roosevelt and other D.C. Public Schools are in a tough spot—and what they might need to do to get out of it.
1. D.C.'s child population has declined significantly.
2. But it's on the rebound, with tremendous growth forecast over the next decade.
3. Most D.C. students don't attend their neighborhood school. In fact, Wilson High School is the only neighborhood high school attended by more than two in five of the public-school, high school-age students living within its boundary. There's sometimes a perception that charter schools are drawing away most of a neighborhood school's potential students. In fact, the top five schools enrolling Roosevelt-boundary students are all traditional public high schools or application-based public high schools. Here are the top schools attended by the 1,906 high schoolers living within the Roosevelt boundary:
Columbia Heights Education Campus: 202
McKinley Tech: 124
Perry Street Prep Public Charter School: 81
E.L. Haynes Public Charter School: 79
Ellington School of the Arts: 69
Capital City Public Charter School: 65
School Without Walls: 63
4. D.C.'s elementary schools are diverse. Its middle schools and high schools aren't. In kindergarten, DCPS schools are a reasonably balanced 61 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic, and 17 percent white. By 6th grade, the balance has shifted to 72 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent white. In 12 grade, it's 75 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, and 6 percent white.
5. DCPS elementary schools outnumber charter elementary schools, but that flips for middle and high schools.
6. Roosevelt has a feeder problem. In my story, I highlight the success of Powell Elementary School, and how it no longer feeds into Roosevelt. Barnard, arguably the other best-regarded Ward 4 elementary school, still does officially feed into Roosevelt. Except that very few Barnard students actually go to the two middle schools—West and Truesdell, the only remaining middle schools that route students to Roosevelt—that Barnard technically feeds into.
Percentage of graduating Barnard students who attend:
West: 2 percent
Truesdell: 10 percent
7. DCPS students travel a long way to get to school, particularly in wards 7 and 8 and particularly in later grades. (Distances in miles.)
8. Charter students travel even farther. But here, Ward 3 students travel the farthest, because there are no Ward 3 charter schools.
9. DCPS elementary and high schools are under capacity, but it's the middle schools that are truly half empty.
10. For all these reasons and more, Roosevelt's enrollment has tanked.
Roosevelt enrollment by year:
2001 – 729
2003 – 762
2004 – 777
2006 – 672
2007 – 812
2009 – 684
2010 – 625
2011 – 497
2012 – 473
Charts and data from the 21st Century School Fund and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education