Schools have been an important catalyst for urban development and a significant means of inter-jurisdictional competition for residents in the metropolitan area. After at least 25 years of declining child population, D.C. has experienced a turnaround in school enrollment. More families are choosing to stay in D.C. and its public schools. Between the 2008-09 and 2018-19 school years, enrollment in public schools increased by 26 percent. In addition to larger total enrollments, local families are choosing to enroll in public schools at higher rates: from 2008 to 2016, the number of students in kindergarten as a percent-age of births in D.C. five years earlier rose from 67 percent to 81 percent. However, the city struggles to retain middle-income families and those with older children, and some schools are overcrowded while others are under-enrolled.
Student achievement as measured by national assessment has also improved, outpacing gains expected from demographic changes. Despite gains in student outcomes on assessments, stark achievement gaps persist and have widened in some cases. Achievement gaps between African American and white students were greater than 55 percentage points in both subjects on the state assessment in 2017-18, and a lower proportion of African American students graduate from D.C.’s public high schools than white students: In 2017-18, 69 percent of the African American cohort graduated in four years compared to 91 percent of the white cohort.
While public schools have made important progress in increasing enrollment and test scores, large disparities in educational outcomes persist and many families exit D.C.’s public schools. The Education Policy Initiative’s upcoming studies will focus on inclusivity and equity in D.C.’s public schools in addition to how the District’s schools can attract, keep, and retain families of all types. Building on previous work that created a landscape of how D.C.’s schools are changing as the city is growing, the Initiative will examine how are schools creating opportunities for all students in the District of Columbia.
The D.C. Policy Center created the Education Policy Initiative in October of 2017 to focus on the intersection of education and demographics in D.C. The Education Policy Initiative is supported by generous grants from Education Forward DC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.