The Root’s Clinton Yates has a great piece up today about historical ignorance or revisionism that often comes into play in conversations about the evolving character (what some call gentrification) of Washington, D.C. The same phenomenon also comes up in discussions of the evolution of public education in Washington, D.C., whose own dramatic transformation over the past decade that rivals (and may in some respects contribute to) broader demographic and physical transformations in the city. When we talk about schools in D.C. we often take as our starting point the chronically low-performing schools and dysfunctional bureaucracy that served a 90+% African American student population from the mid-1960s until recently. We tend to ignore the more complicated history of education in Washington, D.C., including Thomas Jefferson’s role as the first chairman of the board of the D.C. school system, or that Dunbar High School was the first, and for much of its history, best, secondary school for black young people in the United States. As the growth of charter schools and improvements in DCPS have drawn more white, Asian, and Latino families into the DC schools, this development is often viewed as an aberration demanding suspicion--but in fact white students made up the majority of DCPS students up through the late 1940s. Many prominent Washingtonians are in fact products of D.C.'s pre-1960s education system (which was not without very serious faults, most significantly racial segregation), but the broader policy conversation about education in D.C. is often conducted as if the history of D.C. schools started sometime in the mid-1960s.
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.