Washington D.C.: Tests show that in reading and math, the District's public school students score at the bottom among 11 major city school systems
Thirty-three percent of poor fourth-graders across the nation lacked basic skills in math, but in the District, the figure was 62 percent. It was 74 percent for D.C. eighth-graders, compared with 49 percent nationally.
The District spends $12,979 per pupil each year, ranking it third-highest among the 100 largest districts in the nation. But most of that money does not get to the classroom. D.C. schools rank first in the share of the budget spent on administration, last in spending on teachers and instruction.
Principals reporting dangerous conditions or urgently needed repairs in their buildings wait, on average, 379 days -- a year and two weeks -- for the problems to be fixed. Of 146 school buildings, 113 have a repair request pending for a leaking roof, a Washington Post analysis of school records shows.
The schools spent $25 million on a computer system to manage personnel that had to be discarded because there was no accurate list of employees to use as a starting point. The school system relies on paper records stacked in 200 cardboard boxes to keep track of its employees, and in some cases is five years behind in processing staff paperwork. It also lacks an accurate list of its 55,000-plus students, although it pays $900,000 to a consultant each year to keep count.
Many students and teachers spend their days in an environment hostile to learning. Just over half of teenage students attend schools that meet the District's definition of "persistently dangerous" because of the number of violent crimes, according to an analysis of school reports. Across the city, nine violent incidents are reported on a typical day, including fights and attacks with weapons. Fire officials receive about one complaint a week of locked fire doors, and health inspections show that more than a third of schools have been infested by mice.
For years, debates about the quality of city schools revolved around a central question: Does lagging academic achievement -- two out of three students are not proficient in reading and three out of four are not proficient in math -- merely reflect the high number of students who are poor and unprepared for learning? Or are other urban districts with similar student populations better at improving performance?
That question finally has an answer, thanks to an expansion of a federal program that tests student achievement across the country. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, had been reporting results by state since 1990, but in recent years began isolating test scores from selected urban school systems.
Eleven city school districts were tested in 2005, including New York, Boston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Miami and Chicago, as well as the District. The Washington Post's analysis of the data shows that D.C. students ranked last or were tied for last on every measure. That is true even when poor children in the District are compared only with poor children in, say, Atlanta.
Indeed, on almost every cut of the scores, District students finished at the bottom, including students who were not poor and whose parents were better educated.
The one group that scored well was white students, creating the widest gap between white and minority students among the cities tested. The District's white students, who make up 6 percent of the school population, tend to be affluent and are concentrated in a few schools.
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