Enrollment in Washington, D.C. public schools and charter schools increased 2.3 percent in the past academic year to a total of 87,344 students, according to figures released February by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education
The increase is part of a seven-year consecutive trend of growing enrollment. 48,439 students are now registered in public schools and 38,905 are enrolled in charter schools.
State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang attributed the increase in enrollment to the accomplishments of DCPS.
“Year after year, more families choose public schools in the District of Columbia, which is a testament to the amazing work of our teachers, school leaders and staff,” Kang said to The Washington Post. “I look forward to seeing this trend continue as we dig deeper into the important work of improving the quality of public education in the District.”
McCourt School of Public Policy Research Fellow Thomas Toch, who specializes in education, explained his theories on what could be driving the trend.
“It is a reflection of the growing population in the District,” Toch said. “There is a immigration of mostly younger, affluent people. A lot of millennials are moving to D.C. and they tend to have young children and they are tending to live in areas that they would not have been in in the past.”
Toch said another important aspect of the recent developments is demographic, highlighting the fact that many of the millennials migrating into the city are white.
“There is a chance with this influx of new students to create a more integrated school system,” Toch said. “It’s unclear whether that will happen, but this could be the start of a very interesting evolution of racial dynamics in the city, moving away from what has been a largely segregated landscape in the past, and that could be very encouraging.”
Toch highlighted increased parental interest in their children’s education as a potential consequence of the rise in enrollment and demographic shifts in the school system,
“Many of these new parents with kids in the DCPS are younger, well-educated and are people for whom a good education is particularly important,” Toch said. “One consequence is likely to be that there will be a good deal of parental engagement in schools and the pressure will be on schools to perform in the same way that more affluent families who tend to send their kids to private school bring a great pressure to bear on independent schools.”
However, Georgetown government associate professor Douglas Reed predicts D.C.public schools will face hardships if the increased enrollment patterns continue.
“I think that one of the things going forward that is going to be interesting is if this growth continues and if the D.C. real estate market continues to be as dynamic as it is, finding sites for schools if they’re going to build new ones could in the foreseeable future be a challenge,” Reed said.
Reed said that a possible solution to this would be increased collaboration between the different types of schools that fall under the DCPS umbrella.
“You have traditional neighborhood schools, the charter schools and then you also maybe have some themes from magnet schools that blend in too,” Reed said. “I think that they should make a greater push for collaboration between charter and public schools and this is hard to do because charter schools are very much operating with their own objective and mission.”
Reed added that one of the biggest problems DCPS faces is the achievement gap.
“To the extent that poor kids are not achieving at the same rate as middle class or upper middle class kids, this is a hard problem to solve nationally, not just in the District,” Reed said. “They have done somewhat better in terms of test score outcomes, but this may just be a function of how they are getting a more middle class and affluent student body.”
McCourt School of Public Policy Research professor Jeff Strohl discussed the growing appeal of living in the District.
“People have found that the resurgence of the inner city of D.C. is attractive. The city has definitely become more attractive over time,” Stohl said. “You have to keep in mind that Washington D.C., at one point in the nineties, was the murder capital of the country.”
According to Strohl, current demographic structures put underprivileged populations at a disadvantage in the school system.
“The critical demand is on improved schooling and on improved inclusion,” Stohl said. “There is always a problem in Washington of demographic segregation and it’s going to be a continual problem to ensure that the affluent voices on school issues still lead to inclusive and positive impacts for the disadvantaged portions of the population.”
Strohl added there are still many issues in the District’s public schools, despite the increased enrollment.
“The school system is in a very weird place because it is being yanked into the present by these demographic changes that are led by a very vocal affluent population that is demanding that the public school system deliver a high quality education, and the school system is going to take awhile to catch up,” Stohl said.
However, Reed highlighted the improvements that have been made in the school system.
“The schools have done better in terms of organization and school facilities,” Reed said. “They have done a really great job improving the central administration and the physical climate of schools and so they look great and those are some really compelling reasons to be in D.C. schools.”
Strohl also emphasized the achievements indicated by the increased enrollment for DCPS.
“Overall it is a sign of strength and it’s a sign of growth,” Strohl said. “I think that growing enrollments show that maybe D.C. public schools have really turned a corner over the last 10 years.”
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