- - Monday, August 25, 2014

School buses are clogging the roads once more as students return for another round of reading, writing and arithmetic. In the District of Columbia, sad but true, they’re not learning much.

Measured head-to-head against every state’s school system, the D.C. Public Schools rank dead last. The survey by WalletHub, a personal-finance social network, crunched data from the Census Bureau, the National Center for Educational Statistics, the National Education Association and other sources to conclude that Washington’s parents are paying a lot and getting very small bangs for their bucks.

D.C. Public Schools schools rank 48th in the dropout rate, 51st in math-test scores, 51st in reading-test scores, 49th in children who repeat one or more grades, and tie for 34th (with Louisiana) for least-safe schools.

Performance is dismal across a dozen measures, ranging from dropout rates to math and reading test scores and rates of bullying. The only category in which the D.C. schools finished in the top five (in a positive way) was the student-to-teacher ratio.

The teachers unions and liberal politicians agree that all that’s needed to correct the nation’s educational ills is hiring more dues-paying teachers. It’s no surprise that this is the only category in which the District excels. There are 46 states with proportionally fewer teachers, and in every one of those states the teachers do a better job than in Washington.

Having more teachers for the classroom to provide more one-on-one instruction might well help, but it’s not the most needed improvement. Nor is having more money to spend. The most recent Census Bureau figures show that the District spends $18,475 to educate each pupil, second only to New York’s $19,076 outlay.

Schools in neighboring Virginia and Maryland spend $10,364 per student and $13,871 per student, respectively.

A broader WalletHub study released in April applied similar factors to evaluate the return on investment in terms of the quality of government services, based on how much residents pay the tax collector. The District placed near the bottom, in 48th place.

The race for D.C. mayor quickens after Labor Day, and the state of public education will be at the top of parents’ interest, as it always is. The candidates — Muriel Bowser, David A. Catania and Carol Schwartz — will all say that “something” must be done to improve the schools, but they’ll avoid saying what “something” is. The first thing the city council should do to improve the schools is to eliminate the focus on the demands of the teachers unions. That’s where the problem begins, and that’s where a cure, if there ever is one, will begin.