Dear PoPville – Thoughts about the proposed DC schools boundary changes?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

“Dear PoPville,

I would welcome a civilized discussion of the proposed DC schools boundary changes. All the parents I have talked to are overwhelmingly against it. But perhaps I live in a west-of-the-park bubble, and I would be curious to know what others in the city think. It seems to me that, setting aside that some will be winners and some losers, the proposals cause unnecessary uncertainty and potential upheaval in settled expectations that could derail the momentum our city, and our schools, have seen recently. I would be very curious to see a real defense of these proposals, because so far I haven’t heard any good ones.”

From CM Bowser’s office:

“Washington, D.C. – Today, Councilmember Bowser issued the following statement with respect to the Deputy Mayor for Education’s preliminary proposals to realign school boundaries.

“As Ward 4 Councilmember and Democratic nominee for Mayor of the District of Columbia, I recognize that the outcome of the boundary realignment process will be of great consequence for the education of our students and, ultimately, for the growth of our City.

The scenarios put forth by the Deputy Mayor for Education and the Advisory Committee on Student Assignment propose some very good ideas, including, choice sets, the creation of four new middle schools, a new high school west of the park, the establishment of an application STEM-middle school, as well as a dual language middle school. But the proposals fail significantly in two notable ways: first, they limit cross-boundary feeders, and second, they severely decrease predictability for parents of students at the middle and high school levels.

From the outset, I’ve approached this discussion guided by the following principles: A new school assignment plan must maintain diversity with current, cross-park boundary and feeder patterns; establish predictable, by-right school choices at every level; and accelerate citywide middle school improvements. To gain my support, a student assignment plan must align with these principles.

The hard work of the Deputy Mayor for Education and the Student Assignment committee should be praised, but we must also commit to a process that is open, participatory, and that ultimately reflects the desires of parents and the best interests of their children. Only then will I be willing to support the final decision with the authority and financial commitment of my current, and possible, office.”

From CM Catania’s Office:

“Today, Councilmember David A. Catania (At-Large), chair of the Council’s Committee on Education, released the following statement regarding the Deputy Mayor for Education’s school attendance boundary revision proposals:

I would like to thank the Deputy Mayor for Education, her staff, and all those in the community who contributed their time and hard work to the school boundary revision process. I appreciate all of their efforts.

Over the last seven years, we have asked parents to take a leap of faith, to reinvest in public schools. Anything we do to shock that fragile confidence will undermine our work to create a comprehensive system of high quality schools across the District. It is for that reason that I cannot and will not support any of the three policy options as proposed. Options “A” and “C” are wholly unacceptable. These two options would undermine our matter of right system, which provides parents with desperately needed predictability and academic continuity for their children’s education. Any proposal that would remove by-right neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools from our public education system is a nonstarter for me.

With respect to Policy Option “B”, I will not support it as proposed. As I have said all along, I will stand against any plan that removes students from a higher performing school and forces them into a lower performing one. Further, I have serious concerns with the elements of Option “B” that would carve out significant populations of African American and Hispanic students from the Deal Middle School and Wilson High School feeder pattern. I believe this option would on its face have a disparate impact on these communities and as a result the District could face valid inquiry from the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights division should it move forward.”

In order to truly address the issue at hand, overcrowding at some schools and massive under enrollment at others, our energies would be better spent directed and devoted to improving schools across the District. Rather than simply redrawing lines on a map and cutting children out of high quality schools, the real solution is to double down on efforts to raise the academic quality of schools in every neighborhood. Yesterday, the Council passed legislation that I authored that would for the first time create real cross-sector school facilities planning that takes into account enrollment projections and school growth for both DCPS and public charter schools. This planning in concert with the additional financial resources for schools afforded by the Fair Funding and School-Based Budgeting Act, which I also authored, will set the District on an improved trajectory. I intend to take this same approach toward the fiscal year 2015 budget process, by ensuring that we are maximizing this new investment in order to achieve our shared goal of providing a high quality school for every student, in every neighborhood, with no exceptions.”

And some upcoming meetings:

“Upper NW & NE Community Meetings Working Group Meeting #2:
Description- The DME is hosting Community Working Group Meetings throughout the city on the Student Assignment and School Boundaries Review process.
Location- Coolidge High School-Armory (6315 5th St. NW)
Date & Time- Thursday, April 24th from 5:30pm-8:30pm.

Center City Community Working Group Meeting #2:
Description- The DME is hosting Community Working Group Meetings throughout the city on the Student Assignment and School Boundaries Review process. Location- Dunbar High School-Cafeteria (101 N. St. NW)
Date & Time- Saturday, April 26th from 9:00am-12:00pm.

East End Community Working Group Meetings #2:
Description- The DME is hosting Community Working Group Meetings throughout the city on the Student Assignment and School Boundaries Review process.
Location- Anacostia High School-Cafeteria (1601 16th St. SE)
Date & Time- Saturday, April 26th from 3:00pm-6:00pm.”

53 Comment

  • its wrong on one level and one level alone-race.

  • I’d be REAL interested to hear the reasoning behind how this could “derail the momentum of the city.” I think I have an idea, and it’s not pretty.

    • I’ll take the bait.

      Basically, families that live in-boundaries for good schools might not be able to attend those schools anymore. The fear is that many of these families would seek alternatives–one of which would be moving to areas with high performing schools (e.g., Bethesda, Alrington, etc.). Thus, you would “detail” the momentum of DC maintaining families and instead send families to private schools or the suburbs.

      In the 1970’s, Buffalo, NY implemented system that is similar to the proposals. For example, students were no longer guaranteed a spot at their often-good neighborhood schools. Instead, many students were bussed across the city to poorly performing schools because of a school lottery. The result was a massive flight of wealthy families from the city, which left the city extremely poor.

      No one wants for that to happen in DC.

      • Bingo.

        If this happens, wealthy families (i.e. the very people DC wants to keep in the district) will just move to MD or VA. The influx of young people will be reversed because anyone with means will leave as soon as their kids start approach school age.

    • I am the one who wrote to PoPville, so I will take you up on your offer to elaborate. DC seems to be rapidly moving from a city of middle-class transients (who live here as young people and then go to the suburbs to raise children) and long-time poor people into a healthier city where a variety of people are starting to put down roots in many areas, send their children to local schools, and otherwise form lasting communities. This is happening in a lot of places, not just in upper NW (where many of these characteristics already existed) but on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Neighborhood schools are a big part of building that sense of permanence — where you are literally invested in the school even before your child attends, and after your child leaves. I think this proposal takes us in the wrong direction — back to a city of anonymous free agents.

      • By the way, JS, I am sincerely interested to know whether you think these views are mistaken, and why. I would like to know how you think the proposals will create more educational winners in the city. As I said originally, I still haven’t seen an answer to that question. I can certainly understand why those currently shut out of the best schools would like a chance, even a remote one, of getting their children in. But that’s no more high-minded a sentiment than those of whose who already have such good fortune and would like to keep it. Setting aside selfish impulses on both sides, I have to think neighborhood schools are better public policy for the city as a whole.

        • I think the current system works for well enough for a small subset of people rich enough to afford million-dollar homes in nice areas and lucky lottery winners. I don’t know what the right solution is, but when I see the beneficiaries of those good schools try to pull up the ladders behind them or shut the gates to any new arrivals, it rubs me the wrong way. People hoping for a shot at a better school are not equivalent to those trying to keep them out, as you tried to claim.

          • I don’t want to pull up any ladders or shut any gates. I would be open to, for example, expanding my child’s school and welcoming more from the outside. That doesn’t seem to be on the table. Instead the only proposal is to throw into some question who gets to be on the right side of the gate. If one child attends good school A and one attends lousy school B, why is the parent who wants their child to continue attending school A morally inferior to the one whose child is not yet at school A? Right now it is being presented as a zero-sum game. It’s not the WOTP folks who are making it that, that’s the proposal the city is putting forward. They must know how divisive this will be.

        • Fairness. There’s a public policy interest in making sure all kids in the district have access to quality schools and not just those that can afford to live in certain neighborhoods. You’re probably right that there is a risk that you will drive out wealthier families with too radical a change but it’s hard to tell where the line is. My understanding is that there are cities, like Boston, with lottery systems that have not driven wealthier families to the suburbs.

          • gotryit

            How does a city-wide lottery achieve fairness? There’s nothing intrinsic about the schools that makes them special.

          • What do you think makes these top-performing schools good? It’s the families and kids that populate them. Completely change those demographics and we go from a city with a handful of good schools to zero good schools. How is that a fair trade-off? Keep the WOTP families in their schools and create better educational opportunities for the rest of us that will have a much better chance of getting in if we don’t also have to compete with them for the spots. Test-in, magnet, application schools housed in low-performing/under-enrolled schools would be a far more sensible approach.

            I don’t get all of the WOTP family bashing either. So they make more money than you. Does that make them evil and their children deserving of a bad education? And many families have majorly sacrificed to be able to afford a small condo or rental in those neighbors, its not all partners at law firms if that is what ruffles your feathers. I’m an EOTP family who I suppose could get pleasure out of seeing WOTP families suffer with me, but how does that improve my situation?

    • gotryit

      As a parent of a school that’s picking up momentum in the right direction, there’s a lot of work (principal, teachers, parents, and students) that goes into improving the school. If you tell me that my next kid may not go there, then that takes a lot of the steam out of my efforts.

  • A i think a friend of mine said it best:

    “Neighborhood schools and certainty for parents about which schools their children will attend is how you rebuild schools and neighborhoods. When a group of parents can work together to make an elementary school better then set their sites on the middle school and finally a high school they can do more to fix the system then the District will ever be able to do by itself”

  • Personally I feel like this is a WOTP vs. all others. WOTP purchased homes thinking they were safe through high school by boundaries. EOTPers have been on the outside looking in at those schools and only have hope of a decent high school education if they get in via out of bounds lottery, which is next to impossible (or get into a feeder school via lottery, also impossible). By opening it up, it will actually make hopefully more than 1 high school a viable option (or send parents of high schools running towards the hills). Something has to be done. I think if DCPS focused on a application only STEM school (copying something like Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria) EOTP it might help ease some of the anxiety. I think the real problem isn’t quite being addressed an that is there is no other real options EOTP. If they focused on building and developing something world class (even to the detriment of Wilson) they might resolve some of these issues right away. Just my 2 cents. By the way, I’m an EOTP and I am slightly happy that they are looking for fixes because its really a issue that needs fixing.

    • Agreed. EoTP needs some sort of magnet, application-only option at the high school level.

    • I agree with this. The problem in DC is that there are not enough spots in good schools. The proposal on the table wouldn’t increase the number of desirable spots, it would just create uncertainty about who would fill them. We should all be in this together to increase the size of the pie, not fight with each other about who gets the scraps. The current system, problematic as it is may be in some ways, has increased the size of the pie the last few years as more schools become worth investing in and more parents are willing to do the investing. I don’t know why some are seeing it as a good thing to undo that progress. It will only create more losers without creating more winners.

    • Banneker, Ellington, and the School Without Walls aren’t widely viewed as good HS options along with Wilson?

  • Catania is pushing hard for votes. That was a meaningful, nuanced, and logically consistent statement on the issue. Let’s see if Bowser even takes a stand on the issue.

    • The next time Bowser takes a clear stand on an issue not involving business development would be the first.

      • Well, it seems that she’s against revenge porn, and in favor of nice golf courses. Does that help at all?

  • gotryit

    +1 for Catania: clear and logical
    -1 for Bowser: I still don’t know what you stand for. You praise “choice sets” but say you’re for stability – that doesn’t make sense.
    I think the east vs. west of the park is a red herring. The key is creating strong neighborhood schools in our own neighborhood – not shuttling everyone to west of the park schools.
    If it matters, I live east of the park, and am heavily invested in improving my neighborhood school that my kids attend.

    • Bowser is working to get all EOTP into WOTP schools instead of making EOTP schools just as good, if not better then WOTP Schools. It’s a short term strategy that doesn’t address the root of the problem, it kicks the can down the road and lets someone else do the real work to solve the problem… Much like everything Bowser claims she has done.

      This issue has just given me another reason to vote for Catania.

  • If a reboundary proposal forces parents to send their child to a worse performing school than their currently assigned school, then that plan is flawed.

    And since all of DME’s proposals affect many, many families across the city in this manner, they are all flawed and thus unacceptable.

  • I’m west of the park and, for me, it comes down to being able to send my kid to one of the three elementary schools within a 1/2 mile of my house – and then to Deal and Wilson which are 5 blocks from my house. If I can’t do that, then I’m outta here.

    • +1 Catania gets my vote right now. Under-performing schools need to be improved instead of shuffling kids out of their own neighborhoods.

  • The proposed boundary changes are terrifying for me. I bought my house with the expectation to send my child to our current In-Boundary school. If that changes (as is currently proposed), my child will not attend DCPS. Period. There is no other DCPS school within safe walking distance of my house. Making changes to boundaries is wrong. People bought houses, invested huge amounts of money, to live in-boundary of their preferred schools. To take that away from people who are have carefully and deliberately chosen their neighborhoods is simply awful.

    • ‘Making changes to boundaries is wrong’

      Changing boundaries is essential when there are changes in the population.

      “Banneker, Ellington, and the School Without Walls aren’t widely viewed as good HS options along with Wilson?”
      @Anonymous 4:22

      My (very candid) opinion

      Banneker – Good school, needs renovating, probably too black / Latino for white families. It also on GA Ave in Park View. Millenials may now hang out on GA Ave but white parents are not quite ready to send their kids to Banneker
      Ellington -Arts focused so not for everybody, needs renovating (see link), not as strong academically. After proposed renovation it may be seen as viable option to more white parents considering its Georgetown location.

      School Without Walls – Renovated, good location, pretty diverse, cool program for taking classes @ GW
      Wilson – Renovated, diverse, solid academically but overcrowded. Even if right-sized 1,000+ student high school is not the right fit for all students.

      Wilson, SWoW and Banneker all seem to have good leaders who care about school / students. I don’t know anything about Ellington staff

      I live EOTP and my neighborhood schools are not very good but I still favor neighborhood school Idea though I doubt there would be a mass exodus out of Ward 3 if some other plan is adopted. I definitely will be attending one the meetings.

      I actually have high hopes for the new middle school in Brookland. If Brookland families really commit it could be and EOTP alternative to Deal. Maybe we can find Dr. Kim, Deals former principal, and put her in charge.

      • Making changes to boundaries is wrong. There are policy decisions unrelated to changing current boundaries that could address enrollment issues. Policies should be changed before messing with the investment that people have made buying properties in their desired boundaries.

        • It’s not wrong, it may result in a change that YOU don’t like but its not wrong. I think it is a given that there are going to be some boundary changes. Some current feeder patterns don’t make geographical sense, expect those to change. Elementary schools should feed to closest middle school, middle schools should feed to closest (non-application) high schools any slots left over should be done by lottery. Charters should give neighborhood preference. Changes should be phased in over the next 2 – 3 years

        • Boundary changes are not wrong, they are a fact of life. School boundaries are redrawn in all cities as they change.

          • Unless it is done as a course of last resort, boundary changes are wrong. That’s it. Boundary changes are wrong.

        • Boundaries have always changed as the population has changed. Buying property under the assumption that boundaries wouldn’t change (especially since the school system has been bracing the public for boundary changes for several years) is just naive.

        • Then how do you deal with overcrowding? Those lines need to be redrawn to more evenly distribute students.

          • The over-crowding isn’t caused by in-boundary students. There are policy changes that should take place to reduce overcrowding before boundaries are redrawn.

          • Overcrowding is not the only issue. There is under enrollment at some schools. Schools have already been closed (in 2012?) Those students have been assigned to other schools so there have already been some ‘boundary’ changes. People knew this was coming. I suppose some people will feel like ‘winners’ other ‘losers’ but DCPS’s duty is to make sound plans that serve the greater good.

          • Under-enrolled schools are not under-enrolled due to boundaries. They’re under-enrolled because they’re under-performing schools.

            Improve them and maybe people will go there. I can tell you, changing the boundaries will not cause people to attend under-enrolled schools. It will cause us to either A) leave DCPS (in favor of Charters or Private schools) or B) leave DC.

            Changing boundaries is wrong.

    • Changing the boundaries is not “wrong” — it’s just inconvenient for you. You apparently made some real estate decisions based on the faulty premise that nothing about your neighborhood would change, or that if it DID change, those changes would likely be to your benefit. I’m sure you realize that most people make the best decisions that they can to “carefully and deliberately” choose their neighborhoods, and to obtain the best education for their children that they can. “Simply awful” to my mind, is the reality that “public schools” vary widely in quality and that decades, if not centuries of policies including racial and economic segregation have resulted in patterns that reinforce and reflect the status quo. I don’t know if the proposed boundary changes “make sense”. I do believe that the proposals were made with the goal of ensuring that every student in the DPSC has access to the quality of educational opportunities that you want for your child.

  • But neighborhood schools don’t work for the vast majority of the city now. Only about a quarter of students go to their neighborhood schools. Many are low-performing. My in-bounds elementary is a Spanish-immersion school and if I don’t think that is a good fit for my kid I’m stuck. The proposed choice sets give families some options that they don’t have now.

    It is a nice convenience to walk to your neighborhood school. But we go to a charter school that has moved three times and followed it everywhere, so I don’t buy the argument that you have to live in the neighborhood to be committed to helping a school succeed.

    • gotryit

      Which school is that? I agree that something like required spanish immersion sounds like a better fit for a charter school than a neighborhood school.

  • I”m on the Hill and feel that any option that removes neighborhood schools ESP for the elementary level is a mistake. A local (most times walkable) commute and invested parents/neighbors/local communities are what can make an elementary school successful. To go to school with your neighbors fosters an additional sense of community which can only help to build up your neighborhood.

    I know many parents that start volunteering at their in-bounds school even before their kids are old enough to attend, just to ensure that the school is successful. To then take away their right to attend would be a shame. Just look at what the parents have been doing for Garrison. What if they could no longer have any rights to the school?

  • I’ve got no kid in this fight – but I think this mix-mash-up plan is ridiculous. ALL schools should be good schools. We have one of the the highest per-student expenditures in the nation. Yes, there are serious extenuating issues – i.e. bad parents, generally clustered in certain areas – that have to be solved, but if a tenth of the energy that went into this convoluted proposal was devoted to real ways to make all the schools better, our city could turn around in 5 years.

    Neighborhood schools make neighborhoods stronger.

    • houseintherear

      I agree, as most people would. DCPS has done a good job increasing teacher salaries and boosting benefits in recent years (salaries are now above MCPS pay grade… that says A LOT). They are recruiting actively in surrounding districts. I’m a highly qualified, veteran MCPS teacher, and I’m very close to moving into teaching in DCPS… as soon as they can get their ducks in a row for a pension that is similar to MCPS’s pension, I’m there. And *that* is the precise way to improve schools- get the good teachers into DC! And not just into the charter schools (don’t get me started on those…).This will take time, but they DCPS as a whole is trying to start the process. IMO, redistricting will not solve any problems and will create a commuting nightmare.

  • Ask San Francisco how the city-wide lottery process is working for them. Anyone who can afford it goes private or fled the city. Now, if DC doesn’t want families here and would instead be a SF like city with young professionals, childless couples and retirees with and lots of disposable income, fine. But at least be open and transparent about it so I can know I’m not wanted and leave. And then I guess the people left are really screwed?

  • There are middle ground options between city-wide and mini (“choice sets”)- lotteries, on one extreme and “leave West-of-the-Park (WOTP) alone, and the failing schools” on the other extreme. They have hinted at those middle ground options in some of their examples: set-asides spots in higher performing schools for out-of-boundaries (OOB) kids from low-performing schools.

    I think there should be a quota of a minimum of 25-30% FARM (Free and Reduced Meals) students in every DCPS schools. Studies show that that level of diversity gives the best benefit to both high and low-income kids at a school. For example If Key (a West-of-the-Park public elementary school, about which a future parent there told me recently “We need more diversity here, not less!”) only has 3% of disadvantaged FARM students, the school would need to welcome, via lottery I guess, as many OOB kids as needed to fullfill that requirement. Meanwhile, an-up-and-coming East of The Park (EOTP) school that is already 70-80% FARM would have no “OOB set-aside”, because they already meet/exceed their FARM quota. Yes, this makes the low SES (Socio Economic Status) kids travel, and the high SES kids walk to their neighborhood schools. BUT it keeps the high SES families from walking away altogether (assign a kid from WOTP to a school in Anacostia, or even allow that scenario to be a possibility, and see how quickly higher SES families lose interest altogether in Public Schools), creates diversity, increases fairness.

    • Second line should have read “Fix up the failing schools””

    • gotryit

      +1 very good point – I hope this idea doesn’t get thrown out with the less useful ideas in their proposals

    • But wouldn’t this make the overcrowding at WOTP schools worse? How would you offset the added numbers of OOB kids without forcing kids who would otherwise be in-bounds to go elsewhere?

      • gotryit

        Not necessarily. It could be done in a way that the number of OOB slots doesn’t change, but that preference for those slots is given to children from seriously failing schools. Rather than filled randomly by lottery that includes kids from moderately scoring schools.

        • Are there OOB slots at WOTP schools? I thought that was the whole problem–the OOB slots are disappearing, because in-bounds students can more than fill the seats.

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