SIMMONS: Return on investment in D.C. schools: D-

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In case you missed the really big news about per-pupil funding and the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), allow me to announce that the Obama administration has let the proverbial fat cat out of the bag: The U.S. Census Bureau reported June 21 that DCPS leads the nation in per-pupil spending, to the tune of $18,667 per student, per year.

Astonishing, isn’t it? The city spends such an incredible amount of money for such a lousy return on its investment.

Consider this, too: 17,000 children are on a waiting list to get into a public charter school and Superman is nowhere in sight.

What’s more is that salaries (sans benefits and bonuses) for D.C. teachers can be considered ridiculously high when the return on investment is factored in. For example, the starting salary for a first-year D.C. teacher with a bachelor’s degree is an estimated $51,500, and a teacher with a master’s degree and 21 years of experience can earn $100,839.

And what’s the return on the return on investment for the $18,667, or ROI as every major industry except education calls it?

1) White children and youths identified as Asian/Pacific Islanders leaving black and Hispanic children in the dust.

Here’s one snapshot: In 2011, 91 percent of white fourth-graders were proficient in reading on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System standardized exam, but only 38 percent of their black counterparts and 45 percent of their Hispanic peers were proficient.

Here’s another: On the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nationwide measuring stick, 74 percent of white fourth-graders were proficient in reading, compared to 12 percent of blacks and 19 percent of Hispanics.

And if the race and ethnicity cards aren’t enough to make you want to hide your wallet, consider this.

If you take the spending by DCPS and divide it by the number of students enrolled in DCPS, you will surely be shocked into reality: $1.196 billion 43,866 students = $27,265.

That figure doesn’t scratch at in-state ($8,150) or out-of-state ($22,500) tuition at Old Dominion University or Howard University ($10,725), to name two schools.

Now, you might want to argue, “Oh, Deborah, why not just dumb down the curriculum, push D.C. children through high school whether they are academically ready or not, and go the cheaper route by enrolling them in post-secondary schools?” Would the lower tuition costs be more cost- effective?

In a word, no.

It seems the federal government is paying a costly game of paint-by-numbers, as well.

Less than a quarter of students who receive high school diplomas (or only 23 percent) end up graduating from a post-secondary institution within six years, according to the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent for Education, which used tax money to give us that bit of sad news.

So now, DCPS officials plan to use more public funds - in this case, federal grant dollars - to track D.C. grads to determine whether students tended to their post-secondary educations, what career choices they made and whether they took remedial courses.

What a waste.

If there were a tracking system worth funding, it’s a system that would track DCPS students from teacher to teacher and school to school.

That would truly be an eye-opener, wouldn’t it?

The results over, say, three to five years, would be enough to inform parents, unions, policymakers and the lawmakers about who really is on the teaching-and-learning path and who is not, and which schools are the best at achieving both.

In fact, where a child’s school is located is an important determinant on the path to successfully teaching and learning, according to a D.C. Kids Count study that looked at a neighborhood’s economic status.

“When DC CAS proficiency is stratified by ward, students attending schools in [wealthier] Wards 2 and 3 have much higher scores than peers in [the poorer] Wards 7 and 8,” the study said. “Research suggests that student mobility is high and that D.C. students who attend out-of-boundary public schools outperform similar students who attend in-boundary public schools in both reading and math. Students from lower-income families seem more likely to attend out-of-boundary schools: only 33 percent of students residing in census tracts with median household income lower than $40,000 attend their assigned traditional public school, while that number is 73 percent for those with census tract median incomes higher than $60,000.”

Indeed, more and more parents are finally realizing there is more than one way to skin a cat.

That is why the charter-school waiting list is 17,000 strong and why DCPS keeps losing students to its primary competitor.

Even the poorest of the poor are realizing there is more than one way to skin that cat - even when the Obama administration is holding the bag.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmonsatwashingtontimes.com.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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