Exciting news for District of Columbia residents: Enrollment in D.C. public schools (both public and charter) rose 5% for 2012-13, the fourth consecutive year of enrollment gains following a long period of declining enrollments. D.C. school enrollment is now at the highest level in 20 years. Both DCPS and charter schools experienced increased enrollment.
Increasing public school enrollment in D.C. is good news for several reasons: First, it suggests that efforts to improve the quality of education in D.C.--through both DCPS reforms and the growth of quality charter options--are making the District’s public schools more attractive to families. For many years, D.C.'s public schools were so bad that any parents that could moved their kids to the suburbs or private schools. The fact that more families are choosing to stay suggests that recent efforts to improve DC school options are paying off. Second, and more fundamentally, the last few years of enrollment results show that education in D.C. doesn’t have to be seen as a zero-sum game in which charter school enrollment gains are DCPS’ loss. If the District’s public schools as a whole are becoming more attractive to families, both DCPS and charters can grow at the same time. That’s the best possible outcome for D.C. families, and that’s what appears to be happening.
Finally, increasing the number of kids enrolled in all of the District’s public schools is critical because a sustainable future for the District requires that D.C. be not just a city that appeals to single and childless professionals. A thriving D.C. must also be a place that attracts and retains those folks after they marry and have kids, and, equally important, offers quality schools that enable kids from low-income and working-class families in the District to grow up into successful and productive adults. Over the past decade, rising gas prices, falling crime rates, and changes in social norms have made urban areas much more attractive places for Americans across the demographic and economic spectrum, but the poor quality of schools in many urban cities remains a major obstacle to the long-term urban renaissance. D.C.'s future as a world class city depends on continuing to improve the quality of our public schools for all kids.
The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.