(Woodrow Wilson High School, Washington DC. Photo courtesy of Metro Montage)
After our class discussion tonight about the public school system, I decided to push this topic a bit further. I thought about how different schools in the Washington, DC area are from where I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. I thought back to my freshman year where I attended a basketball game for my newspaper internship that Woodrow Wilson was hosting in Tenleytown right up the block of American University. It was an eye opening experience as I walked in the front doors and was subject to a security checkpoint. This was not a simple metal detector but there was a bag screening and wand test at the level of a local airport. After the shock of having to be screened to enter the building, I realized that I was one of very few white people to be in the building. The lady taking tickets at the door of the game even told me I must be lost because most white people come to Woodrow games. I had students ask me if I was a reporter since they couldn’t think of any other reason I would be there. I remained glued to the side of the athletic director the entire duration of the game. The students resisted anything that teachers and administrators told them to do, they wandered the halls, and even got in a brawl with students from the opposing school after the game ended. This was my first taste of any school, public or private, in Washington, DC.
This past year, I got to experience the complete opposite of Woodrow as I volunteered to help run a day-long lesson to a group of 6th graders at Holton Arms School for Girls. This is a very wealthy private school less than 10 miles from Woodrow. The differences between the private and public schools in the Washington, DC area just blew me away. Holton was well run, with teachers that focus on academics and girls who attend their classes on time without any disruptions. The school was beautiful inside and the girls were served healthy, individually prepared lunches. The idea of ever attending a public school is not even thought of by these girls. They begin in the kindergarden version of Holton nearby. This is the kind of school parents want their child to attend, but the price tag is just too steep. (Sidenote: Holton Arms is just outside the DC border in Maryland.) There are private schools all over DC, including Sidwell & Friends (President Obama’s oldest attends school there as has past presidents children including Chelsea Clinton), Georgetown Prep, etc. These are where those who can afford it focus on sending their children, leaving public schools in the dust.
Here is a good video about DC Public & Private Schools via Reason TV and the voucher program:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7FS5B-CynM]
After doing a bit of research, I came across a great article from the Washington Post in April 2008. It looks at the real price tag of public schools. “In the District, the spending figure cited most commonly is $8,322 per child, but total spending is close to $25,000 per child — on par with tuition at Sidwell Friends, the private school Chelsea Clinton attended in the 1990s….To calculate total spending, we have to add up all sources of funding for education from kindergarten through 12th grade, excluding spending on charter schools and higher education. For the current school year, the local operating budget is $831 million, including relevant expenses such as the teacher retirement fund. The capital budget is $218 million. The District receives about $85.5 million in federal funding. And the D.C. Council contributes an extra $81 million. Divide all that by the 49,422 students enrolled (for the 2007-08 year) and you end up with about $24,600 per child.”
So what is the DC public school system to do? That seems to be a question that has yet to be answered.