Emma Brown and Peyton Craighill of the Washington Post report today that only 38 percent of D.C. residents believe the public schools are doing a good job. This number jumps to 47 percent when the parents of public school students are asked the same question. I would love to see how this second number has changed over time. For although the headline for the story is that most residents give public schools a low grade, if you go to the graphics accompanying the article you will find that since 2006 when only 15 percent of citizens thought the school were of good quality it is clear that the statistic has now more than doubled.
This would have to be the case. In 2006 public schools were dangerous places to be, filled with drugs, weapons, and gangs. The facilities were literally falling apart. I remember parent testimony before the D.C. Council in which witnesses described bathrooms without working toilets or sinks and whole parts of buildings placed off limits because the ceiling was falling down. The academic offering were perfectly aligned with conditions of the classrooms. The next year Michelle Rhee would arrive and, so fortunately, things have never been the same again.
One individual interviewed for the piece who does not have a child in DCPS believes the pace of improvement has slowed since Kaya Henderson has been Chancellor. I'm sure he has not seen the system's strategic plan:
1. Improve achievement rates: at least 70 percent of students will be proficient in math and reading,
2. Invest in struggling schools: the 40 lowest performing schools will increase proficiency rates by 40 percentage points,
3. Improve satisfaction: 90 percent of students will say they like their school,
4. The number of advanced students will double to more than 3,800 in reading and more than 4,700 in math, and
5. At least 75 percent of entering 9th graders will graduate high school in four years.
All of this to be obtained by the 2016 to 2017 term.
As for the charter schools, they did not make out much better. Only 41 percent in this poll say that they are of higher quality than the regular schools. This finding just demonstrates that people are being asked about something with which they have little direct knowledge. I have visited charters throughout this city and have been to dozens of D.C. Public Charter School Board Meetings in which parents have spoken. Honestly, I have yet to find a parent who does not have extremely fond feeling toward their school even if the Board was threatening to close it for poor performance. We would never have over 36,000 students in the system and thousands on waiting lists if public perception was so poor.
The reporters state that the low ratings for the public schools may provide an opening for challengers to Mayor Gray to take his job away. If I was a candidate, I would venture very carefully in this public policy area.