DC: Achievement Gap Capital of the United States

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So when you have this go on for years (huge gains for the well to do, not so much for low-income kids):

Ladner DC 7

You wind up with this:

DC achievement gap

It is only with some reluctance that I raise this topic. In one of the editions of the Report Card on American Education we spent an entire chapter on achievement gaps and just how tricky they can be. West Virginia for instance, down at the bottom of the chart, had a low achievement gap a few years ago because both White and Black scores were declining, but White scores were falling faster than Black scores…but the achievement gap was closing….Huzzah?

Um, no.

In the end though the situation in DC is much more straightforward: White scores are really, really high while Black scores are really low. In the end there really isn’t much lipstick to put on an almost sixty point achievement gap pig. DC has the highest scores for White kids in the country by a 12 point margin but scores for Black students towards the bottom of the barrel.

In 2015 DC’s White 4th graders had a substantially higher score on the 4th grade math exam (274) than Black students attending DCPS had on the 8th grade exam (248). I’m no social justice warrior, but that should sicken anyone’s soul.

This is again a partially a reflection of the gentrification trend. The fact that more well to do families are staying in the District is very good for the financial health of the city. Most of DC’s school budget is locally generated and the rising affluence of the District has in fact generated an embarrassment of riches on the revenue per pupil statistics ($29k+ per year per kid).

Would that the District of Columbia Public Schools had made better use of it. The charter sector, with approximately half of the resources per pupil, Black students scored 18 points higher on the above exam. This cuts the achievement gap between Black students attending charter schools and White students in their enclaves of excellence in DCPS by approximately a third. Miles and miles to go to be sure, but at least the journey is underway.

Meanwhile back at DCPS…it can be very hard to focus.

4 Responses to DC: Achievement Gap Capital of the United States

  1. Tunya Audain says:

    Man-Made Disasters Can Be Tackled

    A few decades ago, when Finland attained the dubious distinction of being the world’s suicide capital of the world, Finns did something about this international shame. A headline on the Internet now reads: Finland no longer suicide capital of the world.

    Finland adopted a number of successful strategies, one being a major improvement of its education system. Finland has improved so greatly in this regard that “education tourism” and high international achievement scores are legendary!

    Perhaps there is no shame for Washington DC to attain the dubious distinction of — Achievement Gap Capital of the United States. The money, methods and models are certainly there to help address this man-made tragedy. What’s the holdup ?

  2. pdexiii says:

    As a native Washingtonian, the son of DCPS teachers (late 60’s through 80’s), these articles have been painful yet predictable.
    The dinner conversations often revolved around my parents’ colleagues more concerned about their cars, clothes, and cushy gigs vs. teaching anything of substance to children. The progeny of those who suffered that malfeasance are showing up in these frightful charts.
    The only people who can fix this are parents who have better options, and as one of those options I must impart or encourage my students to acquire a body of knowledge and skills that allows them to participate and prosper as they deserve.

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