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June 11, 2007

is the problem with Washington's schools that we lack a state?

I'm fascinated by the Washington, DC public school system, which is educating my younger child, employing my wife, and serving the city in which I live. As reported in yesterday's Washington Post, DC ranks first among the nation's 100 largest school districts in the percentage of its funds devoted to administration (56%), and last in the percentage of funds devoted to instruction (41%). Just short of $13,000 is appropriated per child in the system--an amount that has risen rapidly as enrollments have dropped--but only $5,355 is spent on teachers, classroom equipment, and other forms of "instruction."

The educational results are equally dismaying. Of 11 major cities that collected comparable data on reading and math in 2005 (from the NAEP), DC ranked last in proficiency. We remained in last place even when comparisons were made only among poor students in those 11 cities. We were thus surpassed by several cities with bad reputations for public education, including Cleveland, Atlanta, and Chicago.

I do not understand how to tackle these problems. I think all the major ideas on the table are inadequate. (For instance, our experience with charters shows that we cannot achieve very much by enhancing competition, decentralizing control, or avoiding unions.) For today, I'll just contribute to the debate in a very modest way. Some defenders of our system argue that DC suffers from not having a state. Whatever services are provided by state agencies in other jurisdictions must be covered by the city's budget in Washington. But Maryland spends $112 million of its own funds (not federal aid) on its state education agency (source). There are about 852,920 enrolled students in Maryland schools. That means that the state spends $131 per kid per year on statewide education services. If Washington got that much help from a state education agency, it would be like increasing our schools' funding by 1.011% .

In other words, the lack of a state education agency is no excuse.

June 11, 2007 7:40 AM | category: education policy | Comments


It seems funding is less important than accountability. In a state, there are multiple avenues of influence for concerned and engaged citizens. Here, the ascendancy of the Democratic party and the presence of the federal government forces all local politics into the very small funnel of intraparty wrangling and the ward system. Bottlenecks abound, and most residents are stymied and lose energy.

The transient population and their penchant for private schools doesn't help, either.

June 11, 2007 9:08 AM | Comments (1) | posted by anotherpanacea

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