It’s high school graduation season here in the nation’s capital which means two things: ridiculous crowds outside Constitution Hall all day, every day; and the publication of Education Week‘s graduation issue. It’s the latter that is causing greater concern because contained in the June 11 edition are the results of the magazine’s ten-year analysis of public high school graduation rates across the country. And unfortunately, D.C. Public Schools ranked 50th out of 51 states and territories. According to the poll, 48.8 percent of public school students in the city graduated in 2006. So what do we do now?
While this information is certainly cause for alarm, it does not accurately reflect the District’s school system because the data specifically ignores the graduation rates of public charter schools, which, according to Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, is 24 percent higher than other public schools in D.C. The data was also derived between 1996 and 2006, before Michelle Rhee came in to revamp the school system. Since then, graduation rates have risen but not drastically enough to signify a complete turnaround. After all, the Obamas and other important figures in this city have rarely considered sending their children to public schools, favoring expensive private schools with plenty of resources or more stable public schools in the suburbs.
Speaking of suburbs, the discrepancy between the District’s graduation rates and the graduation rates of neighboring school districts in Maryland and Virginia is truly astounding. A chart published on Education Week‘s Web site lists the graduation rates of the 50 largest school districts in the nation, and Montgomery County, Maryland, leads the country with a graduation rate of 80.7 percent. Fairfax County Public Schools posts a graduation rate of 78.8 percent. Location is by no means the only determinant in school success but access to resources and attention certainly make a difference. D.C. is trying to keep up by developing more charter schools and closing underenrolled schools in order to save money, but something needs to be done in order to drag the city schools out of the depths.