NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 5, 2010

Washington, D.C. is a divided town.  In the heart of the capital, the federal government hums along, but the rest of the city is in miserable shape.  Yet as unlikely as it seems, D.C. may prove to be the last best hope for school reform in the United States, says Reason Magazine. 


  • The District of Columbia Public Schools rank below all 50 states in national math and reading tests, squatting at the bottom of the list for years at time.
  • More than 40 percent of D.C. students drop out all together.
  • Only 9 percent of the District's high schoolers will finish college within five years of graduation.
  • The city spends $14,699 per pupil, more than all but two states and about $5,000 more than the national average. 

The District's school system is sitting at the center of a remarkable convergence, with a driven, reformed-minded chancellor endowed with extraordinary powers by the city council and mayor, and a new presidential administration with an education secretary with respectable reform credentials.   A further advantage is the city's utter hopelessness.  If D.C. cannot fix its schools in this context, no one can, says Reason: 

  • The first indications from the Obama administration have been ominous:  As part of an omnibus spending bill in March 2009, union-backed Democratic legislators killed a promising pilot program for school vouchers in the District.
  • In addition, the fate of reform hangs in the balance of a long, increasingly tense standoff between Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the all-powerful teachers unions over the fundamental question of hiring and firing instructors. 

Depending on which side blinks first, education reform in America could be a long-lost dream come true, or simply a lost cause, says Reason. 

Source:  Katherine Mangu-Ward, "Last Chance for School Reform," Reason Magazine, May, 2010. 


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