Monday, July 11, 2005

DC third highest locality in education spending

Last year I posted a link showing where DC stacked up in public education spending (K-12) when compared to other states. In that survey DC came out at the top of the list. While that data tells a story, as some people have pointed out there are problems with comparing the spending in DC, which contains one urban school district, with a state whose data is comprised of the average of lots of school districts, some urban, some rural, many suburban. Today CNNMoney has released their Best Places to Live 2005 survey and one of the categories ranked is education spending. DC is ranked third in per-student spending at $11,090/student. The top spot goes to NY city at $11,952/student. Second place goes to DC suburb Arlington at $11,774/student. Basically all of the school districts in Maryland tie for the rest of the top ten, coming in at $9,339/student.

As with all surveys and studies the details of the data are important. The data for this survey was collected and published by OnBoard and came with this note:
On Board's Neighborhood Content is drawn from an extensive array of sources, including:

• US Census Bureau estimates and projections, including latest monthly estimates for population at the city level

• Bureau of Labor for employment data by industry and occupation

• Internal Revenue Service statistics on tax filers and year-to-year migration

• Experian's Performance Data System (PDS) for household level credit and demographics

• Experian MOSAIC for lifestyle segmentation

• Federal Bureau of Investigation and local sources for crime information

Recent Sales Transactions are compiled primarily from leading regional and national public records providers as well as individual municipalities around the country.

On Board works with several industry leaders and government agencies in the aggregation of School Information. All records are phone verified for accuracy at least once per year.
Also, it is unclear if these costs include capital spending (from the numbers I see floating around I would guess not, but that's just a guess) or how costs are normalized to make apples to apples comparisons. However, it is clear that DC does indeed spend near top on a per-student basis, yet continues to deliver near the bottom with respect to achievement.


Mark Lerner said...

So another year has gone by. D.C. still spends more than any jurisdiction on public education and soon test scores will be available which will show that our kids score lowest in the nation on standardized tests. And all the education bloggers keep adding their posts as another day begins. Where is the outrage?

MommyCool said...

How can New Jersey have the #1 spot on the Best Places To Live list? wants to know if congestion is a city benefit?

dcmama said...

I am so tired of seeing reports that claim that DC spends more than almost any other city in the country on schools. The misunderstanding when it comes to DC spending on education is where the amounts for special education factor in. In other cities, special ed is a STATE function, and therefore NOT included in the city's spending amount. In DC, our special ed dollars are all lumped in together with our LOCAL education costs and so it looks like we are spending an exorbitant amount. In reality, if you subtract OUT the amount DC spends on special ed we spend less than ANY other jurisdiction in the area except for PG County. While I agree that we need to get a handle on our special ed services, (mainly because we are sending a high number of special ed kids to private, even boarding schools, at a cost of $30k - $50 per kid) you just can't include it and say that you are comparing apples to apples. To those who want to know where the outrage is, I say, move into the city, put your kids in the public schools and start working to fix the problems, instead of complaining about a city of which you are not even a resident. Many of our DC public schools ARE doing a terrific job educating our kids, in spite of declining enrollments, and a dysfunctional bureaucracy, and I have the highest faith that with our new superintendent, we are on a path to FINALLY see some progress in DCPS. I just don't know what the heck Ackerman, Vance and Massey were doing for all those wasted years.

Nathan said...


I say, move into the city, put your kids in the public schools and start working to fix the problems, instead of complaining about a city of which you are not even a resident.

I don't know if you're aware but, while Mark may not be a resident, you will be hard pressed to find many individuals within the District who has done more to help improve DC's education landscape. He has volunteered a lot of his time and effort over the years helping various charter schools provide the type of quality education that the District is sorely lacking. He is the definition of someone who is "working to fix the problems." Frankly, this city could use a lot more Marks, regardless of where they live.

As for the idea that kids should be used to drive change (i.e. enroll them in DCPS in order to have a vested interest in the direction of the schools) it is an neat idea in theory, but I'd wager the vast majority of parents don't look at their children as data points in a social experiment. Enrollment is declining for a reason: parents want to do the best for their kids and more and more the perception is that DCPS doesn't provide anywhere near adequate service, let alone the best. Now, as you say that perception may be wrong, but if it is then its held by quite a few people in this city. How many DC Council members have kids in a public school? One: Vincent Orange, and its only one child (the other goes to private school). How many members of the DC Board of Education have children in a public school? To my knowledge its zero. And the percentage of DCPS teachers whose children go to private or charter schools is about twice as high as the national average (28%). If these individuals have no confidence in the District public schools, what confidence should the average citizen have? As Angela Jones of DC Action for Children states in Marc Fisher's column today:

"We've never said the problem is just money," Jones says. "It's incompetence in government agencies. You see the same people being recycled over and over. They're the placeholders, and they've been there forever."

Very few parents who care are willing to expose their kids to the types of problems that plague DCPS (in terms of facilities, quality of teachers, truancy problems, school violence, etc) simply to rail against a system that has a long history of never really changing. As a parent myself when my daughters are of school age, baring some miraculous turnaround in DCPS (that I would welcome with open arms, but – lets be frank – have very little hope in) I'll be looking at charters or private schools. I'm not going to leverage my children's education just to make a point. Neither would most.

Mark Lerner said...


Thanks for the kind words.


dcmama said...

No one is saying make your kids a test case. What goes unnoticed in a lot of discussions about the "quality" of an elementary education is that a child from an enriched, supportive home environment is going to do well no matter where they go to school. Now, of course, in DC we have a lot of children who do not come from an enriched, supportive home environment, BUT by combining the two differing groups of children in ANY school, research has proven time and time again, that the children from the less advantaged homes are going to benefit from being in a classroom with the kids from enriched homes and vice versa. If you do not have enough faith in your ability to provide that enriching, supportive home (because both parents work or have health problems or are just plain distracted, or for whatever other reason) then that's fine-just don't make the excuse that you're not going to use your child as a "data point in a social experiment" because that is NOT what you're doing when you put your child in a DC public school. As for whatever Mr. Lerner has done to help charter schools get going, remember that charter schools require you to apply, they can expel kids for whatever reason they want AND they do not have "boundaries" so they do not have any guaranteed population that they HAVE to serve, unlike DC public schools. Some charters are doing a great job of really targeting those kids at the most risk, while others are just creaming the crop, taking the most involved, active families (those that would have done fine anywhere, as noted above) and leaving our true, neighborhood public schools only for the poorest of the poor, those whose parents are unable or unwilling to investigate what has become a dizzying array of "choices." And in my humble opinion, those kids who have to rely on that school at the end of their block, the school that has to take them in (because they fall within the boundary) are those most deserving of a decent, quality education and a clean, renovated school building; this quality education is being severely compromised by the efforts and resources that are now pouring into the charters and vouchers.

Nathan said...

DC Mama

No one is saying make your kids a test case. What goes unnoticed in a lot of discussions about the "quality" of an elementary education is that a child from an enriched, supportive home environment is going to do well no matter where they go to school.

While I agree that the link between a child’s home environment and her educational success does not get the credit it deserves (something I’ve actually argued about quite a bit) a supportive home environment is not sufficient in and of itself; if it were, as you seem to be implying, then the argument over school funding, teacher quality and safe facilities becomes moot. Why should taxpayers pay one thin dime more than they already do if a student’s success is determined solely by her home environment? As you can imagine, there aren’t going to be many people who subscribe to that idea.

Now, the argument can be made that a child from an enriched, supportive home environment is going to do well (relative to his environment) no matter where he goes to school. But this goes back to the point I made in my earlier post. Give the aforementioned enriching, supportive parent the choice:

Send your child to a school which has terrible facilities, a disruptive learning atmosphere, a lack of qualified staff, and institutionalized low expectations…where your child will be top of the class!


Send your child to a school which has good facilities, an atmosphere conducive to learning, competent staff, and high expectations of general performance…where your child will be average for the school.

What choice would our hypothetical parent-who-gives-a-damn make? I’d wager a week’s wages that 99 times out of 100, the involved parent will choose the latter.

This is exactly why I say the vast majority of parents don't look at their children as data points in a social experiment. You are specifically saying that parents should not do what they feel is in the best interest of their child’s education, but should instead enroll them in a school they may not feel comfortable with, in order to try to make up for the kids whose parents just don’t care. As I said before, it’s a lovely ideal, but woefully ignorant about the realities of life.

Now, as you mentioned, kids from a less than healthy home life do better in schools where their peers come from stable homes. And, in an imaginary world where DCPS wasn’t the utter dysfunctional mess that it is, life would be grand. In fact, life would be so grand that we wouldn’t be having this debate as no one would want to remove their kids from a DCPS school. Unfortunately, this scenario is utterly fantastic and in no way describes the reality of the District’s public schools. DCPS is a dysfunctional, unaccountable mess, and it has been for many years. Dear Lord(!), there is nothing I would love more than for Janey to fix it. Considering we hear over and over how the system will be fixed and are disappointed each and every time, I will wait until I start seeing concrete, lasting results before I start trusting DCPS schools with my children. Judging from the public school system’s ever-declining enrollment in contrast to the healthy growth of both charter and private schools in the District, many other parents feel the same way.

Finally, charter schools cannot cherry pick the best academic students. Charter schools must accept any student who applies, and if the school becomes over-subscribed then students are chosen via lottery. I have yet to hear of any student who was expelled from a charter school simply on academic grounds. And the "dizzying array of choices" faced by the poorest of the poor – what with vouchers and charter schools, etc.? Frankly, that is mighty condescending, madam! Poor does not equal stupid or feeble. Poor parents can just as easily be involved, and informed, as middle class and wealthy parents. Where the poor differ from the rich and middle class is not necessarily in their inherent abilities to make choices, but rather in their access to those important choices in the first place. THIS is why I support school choice. The rich (and to an extent the middle class) can afford to send their children to the school they feel best educates their children. The poor don’t have such a luxury. Charter schools and vouchers help level the playing field, allowing the poor more options, and the control over their children’s education that the better-off have.