We’re nearing the end of PCS season, and many families are in a last-minute crunch to enroll children in school. Still more could be anticipating enrolling their kids in school weeks or months after the school year begins.
What’s the one question on these families’ minds?
Where can I find the best school for my kids?
Military families PCSing to Washington, D.C. might be concerned to read WalletHub’s recent study, which examined K-12 school systems in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. In the report, Washington, D.C.’s school system took a dismal 45th place.
Let’s take a look at how this was measured and what this could mean for military families living within the District’s school zone.
More Than Just Test Scores
WalletHub’s study aims to determine the best school systems in America by examining more than just standardized test scores. They arrived at school systems’ rankings by measuring 29 key metrics, taking into account performance, funding, safety, class size and instructor credentials.
This was a “comprehensive approach,” the report says, which compared school systems “across two key dimensions, including ‘Quality’ and ‘Safety.’”
Key metrics include items you might expect, like math and reading scores, SAT and ACT scores and Advanced Placement Exam scores. But, they also include school safety, high school dropout rates and Blue Ribbon Schools per capita.
D.C.’s Report Card
Suffice it to say, the District didn’t fare too well against the rest of the country. Only Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arizona, Louisiana and New Mexico ranked worse overall.
D.C. scored a 43 for Quality and a 48 for Safety.
In the following key metrics, D.C. ranked near the bottom:
- Highest Dropout Rate: 50th
- Lowest Math Test Score: 50th
- Lowest Reading Test Score: 51st
- Lowest Median SAT Score: 51st
- Highest Percentage of Threatened/Injured HS Students: 42nd
However, in these key metrics, D.C. showed some promise:
- Highest Median ACT Score: Tied for 4th
- Lowest Bullying Incidence Rate: Ranked 1st
D.C. also ranked 2nd highest in spending per student. With a “weak school system,” as the report notes, and high spending, parents might wonder how much per-pupil spending affects the quality and safety of the school. Experts weighed in on the topic.
What the Experts Say
WalletHub consulted some experts to add insight to the report’s overall findings.
Associate Chair of the Education Department at Eastern Connecticut State University, Mark Fabrizi, said that per-pupil spending doesn’t ensure school quality. There’s no perfect method, he says, but while a lot of success in education starts at home, he recommends that schools promote teacher preparedness and professional development, use test scores as tools not punishments and bolster supportive school-based extracurricular programs for students.
Dean Emeritus and professor at Howard University’s School of Education, Leslie T. Fenwick, said that per-pupil spending paints only part of the picture of school quality. She explained that quality schools are typically the schools in wealthier neighborhoods. Higher property values and more credentialed teachers impact the resources poured into the school system and, as a result, its performance. She recommends a six-part re-examination of the funding strategies, job preparedness for students, and teacher preparedness and diversity.
PCSing to D.C.? What Does this Mean for You?
If you’re PCSing to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Fort McNair, Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. or Washington Navy Yard and planning to live on your installation, you’ll be zoned for a District of Columbia Public School (DCPS).
However, to alleviate stresses of frequent change and obstacles associated with transitioning schools, DCPS allows students of military parents to apply to a school of their choice within the District. This means that, as long as you are stationed at and live “within the grounds of” one of the installations in the zone, you can choose which DCPS school to send your child to (admittance depends on space and resources).
Read the Chancellor’s directive here, or ask the School Liaison Officer at your installation for more guidance.
Just because D.C.’s school system got a bad report card doesn’t mean every school is “bad.” Consider some of the advice from WalletHub’s experts, and pool the resources that you, military spouse, are famous for. Try these steps to help you find the right D.C. school for your kids:
- Research school profiles at DCPS’s web site.
- Look closely at school-based programs, clubs, sports and extra-curriculars.
- Ask about teacher credentialing, professional development and turnover.
- Get in touch with spouses’ groups in the area to get “on the ground” input.
- Call the School Liaison Officer and ask about your enrollment options.
- Visit schools and meet faculty and staff in person, when possible.