The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
April 25, 2014

From ward to ward, where do DC kids go to school?

April 25, 2014

From charter schools to private academies, the District of Columbia offers parents a large degree of flexibility in terms of school choice. But despite the many options across the city, data from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education indicates that children attending school in DC prefer to attend District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and charter schools close to home.

In the map above, we see that there is a strong geographic component to where children attend schools. The closer a ward is to where a student lives, the higher the percentage of students who attend school in that ward. Not surprisingly, as the charts show, this is especially true of DCPS institutions which have stricter attendance requirements for students residing outside of the school boundary.

This trend has remained relatively consistent over time, but throwing charter schools into the mix has led to some observable changes.

Compared with nationwide averages, DC has a significantly higher percentage of children attending charter schools. But from ward to ward, as one charter school opens, another one (or two) may close its doors. For example, in 2006, there were only two charter school options for students in the upper Northwest’s Ward 3. Both were closed by 2012, hence the sharp decrease in Ward 3’s charter “in-ward capture rate”—the rate at which Ward 3 students attending charter schools attend charter schools in Ward 3.

In the 2012-13 school year, Ward 3’s DCPS capture rate was an astounding 97 percent, which is logical, given that the ward is among DC’s more affluent, and home to numerous high-quality public schools.

This difference in in-ward capture rates between DCPS and charter schools may indicate that, while DCPS schools are more often neighborhood-based, parents are willing to travel further to have their children attend a specific charter school. This appears to be the case in Ward 4, which straddles the city’s northwest and northeast quadrants. Despite increasing from 7 charter schools in 2006 to 18 charter schools in 2012, the charter in-ward capture rate decreased from 50 percent to 29 percent.

One notable exception to this trend is Southeast DC’s Ward 8, which saw its charter in-ward capture rate increase from 17 percent to 60 percent between 2006 and 2012. This was likely due to the addition of 17 charter schools during this time period and the improved quality of some of these schools—in 2012, four of them were ranked “Tier 1” by the DC Public Charter School Board.

The proximity of a school to a student’s home is a key factor in whether that child enrolls in that school. In DC, this is the case for most DCPS institutions. However, enrollment data indicates that students attending charter schools are willing to travel further from home to attend a specific charter school. Over time, these patterns have remained relatively constant for DCPS institutions, while there has been substantial variation in the charter school migration trends.

How else has the DC education system evolved over the years? Learn more on May 1 when we unveil the next chapter of Our Changing City, an interactive web feature that uses data to reveal how shifts in population are reshaping the nation’s capital.

Photo by  Karl DeBlaker/AP 

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