For the past couple of weeks I’ve been fooling around with DC Public School (DCPS) and DC Charter School data. Now for my childless friends there are reasons to be nominally aware of what’s going on with DC schools. If you’re in a sought after boundary you could sell your house for more than a similar house just on the other side of the boundary (ex. Deal Middle School). If you have friends or neighbors you like (or don’t like) with kids, schools can mean they stay or go. Your neighborhood can get clogged with SUV driving parents dropping kids off or swarms of teens converging on your neighborhood metro station. For neighborhood policy wonks schools can mean keeping a middle-class tax base from automatically heading to the burbs.
So let me start with some definitions and categories. In-boundary– aka school catchment area, school attendance boundary or zone is a geographic area determining which school kids are assigned. What I’d call magnet schools, DCPS calls city-wide schools. Then there are the selective high schools like Duke Ellington and McKinley Tech. Outside DCPS there are charter schools, a bunch of independent schools, of varying quality, that are free for District of Columbia students.
Anyway, the DC Policy Center has a really cool graphic regarding in-boundary schools on one of their blog posts about in-boundary and charter schools. I have strong negative feelings about their real estate related papers, but regardless, they have very nice graphics.
I was having fun but noticed the data was from 2016-2017, so I went hunting for newer data and found a bunch of ‘fun’ Excel files.
If you really want to know peoples’ values, look at what they do, and that’s been fascinating.
For school year 2017-2018 there were only 4 schools (all elementary) where over 90% of the students attended their in-boundary school. Deal Middle School, the school Mayor Bowser referred to when promising Deal for All, only had 78.9% of the students in the boundary. Deal is also the largest middle school in the city. It is more than three times as big as the next biggest middle school and twice as big as most education campuses, which mix middle and high schools. But abut 20% of students who could go to Deal, the best DCPS middle school, their parents decided, “nah, we’ll pass.”
What’s up with that?
I was having fun looking at the percentages of different schools from the DC Policy Center data and then looking at the 2017-18 Public School Enrollments per DCPS excel sheet. The weirdest thing, I thought, was with schools where a majority of the students came from the boundary but most of the kids in the boundary went to other schools. And those other schools weren’t necessarily charters. It’s like parents saying, “we believe in public schools, just not the one we’re assigned.” And when some lose the school lottery, they move.
Neighborhood schools v unneighborhood schools
The neighborhood school would be the in-boundary school, not necessarily the nearest school. Looking at the excel sheet I mentioned above, if 10 or more students attended a public (DCPS/charter) school other their in-boundary school it was listed. There are some kids in the Seaton boundary going to Cleveland and Garrison elementary. But those are only about a dozen or so kids per school. In the Dunbar boundary, a chunk (total Dunbar enrollment 617) of 128 attended McKinley Tech and 109 attend Wilson. McKinley isn’t that far (by bike) from Dunbar and from what I can tell a huge chunk of kids in the Dunbar boundary make up the student body (128 out of 620). Considering the huge portion of Ward 5 Dunbar’s boundary consists of, McKinley might be closer, since it is further east. Also considering Ward 5 is served more by the red line, you may as well stay on the train for a Wilson, in the middle of the Van Ness and Friendship Heights stations at Tenleytown.
I’ve mentioned that I’m agnostic when it comes to DCPS, but I get the idea of the neighborhood school. I get the idea of kids from the neighborhood going to school with other kids from the neighborhood. But only Mann, Janney, Key and Lafayette have a 90% plus neighborhood participation rate. When I look at where the kids in the Seaton boundary go, majority go to neighborhood charters or nearby DCPS schools. So they are sorta kinda still in the neighborhood.