Housing Complex

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:

Roosevelt: 301
Wilson: 209
Columbia Heights Education Campus: 202
McKinley Tech: 124
Coolidge: 110
Banneker: 85
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.

race grade

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
2002 -764
2003 – 762
2004 – 777
2005 -662
2006 – 672
2007 – 812
2008 -750
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

  • Wrack

    The data in chart #2 doesn't seem that credible in light of the known data in chart #1. That's 5% growth in the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, but then we're expecting 22% (!) growth over the next 12 years? Weird. Especially weird given that the demographic profile is shifting toward more affluence, and affluent families tend to have fewer kids.

  • E. Masquinongy

    Gut check.

    The Office of Planning is predicting a 58% increase in the 17 and under population, in 8 years.

    Let me repeat: a 58% INCREASE!!! That is huge, immense, mind-boggling.

    How do they justify this? And if it true, why aren't they banging the drum loudly and repeatedly, to warn of the impending crisis?

    Since they are not, and since this has been OP's prediction for some time now, I must wonder how seriously they are taking their prediction. Certainly nobody else is.

  • Wrack

    Wait, why did my comment about the questionable credibility of chart #2 get moderated out? I didn't say anything trollish or rude or even controversial...! :(

  • erik

    In 3. "There's sometimes a perception that charter schools are drawing away most of a neighborhood school's potential students. "

    this is contradicted by number 5 showing that charter middle and high schools outnumber dcps schools.

    Since there's more of them and they are smaller, the charters take away more students, but it's not as obvious if you look at per school enrollment.

  • E wood

    Re the population forecasts: 0-18 population decreasing, but the 0-5 population growing a lot. See all the "baby boom" articles in WaPo. More of these families with young children are opting to stay in DC even though they may have the means to move to the suburbs. Also - rapidly growing Hispanic population in DC - growing faster than the white pop - traditionally has larger families.

  • math check

    From 2010 to 2022 is 12 years, not 8.

  • E. Masquinongy

    erik: Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. And a 58% population increase is extraordinary. Nothing from the DC Office of supports this.

    Frankly, I don't believe it.

  • Julius Albert Clark, Roosevelt PTSA

    I find it interesting that this article was released the same week the Deputy Mayor of Education and the Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools sidestepped a question from Councilman David Catania and Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, who asked if Roosevelt should become an application only school.

    Also, I find it more interesting that you mentioned nothing of the efforts of the Roosevelt faculity, staff and student body reaching out to the Petworth Community two years ago, or the fact you visited Roosevelt before you submitted this story and said nothing of the students current successes (Not to mention the 21st Century School fund has been contracted by the Deputy
    Mayor of Education to perform the city wide boundry study).

    If it was your goal to paint an accurate picture of Roosevelt Senior High School, maybe it would have been better to use current data from D.C.PS., and the City Council Education Committee. This article seems skewed to me, especially when all schools in D.C. has a feeder problem.

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