the Washington Post‘s Bill Turque wrote a piece yesterday highlighting the stark funding disparity between two DCPS schools spaced a mere 2.5 miles apart (the title to this post is a play on Jim Ryan’s Five Miles Away, A World Apart, which I suggested as winter break reading).
- School Without Walls is a pristine school, ensconced in a beautiful building on George Washington University’s campus. I’ve been there on multiple occasions and, each time, I honestly forget that I’m still in a DCPS high school.
- Cardozo is a not-so-pristine school, atop one of DC’s most scenic hills, but certainly not housed in a building worth remembering. Built in 1916, it still looks like it hasn’t been renovated since then (compare the pool: Cardozo circa 1923 to Cardozo circa 2009).
How much does the district give each each school per student? $10,257 for SWW and $7,453 for the ‘Doze (which, frankly, ought to be bulldozed and rebuilt).
I enjoyed seeing this funding gap explicitly brought to light. It helps show that, even within an already low-performing school district, the quality of education that a student potentially receives varies greatly.
Of course, it was already clear that such disparities existed. In the several interactions I’ve had with teachers at some of the city’s better-run schools, I’ve come away feeling a tad bitter at the school environment in which they teach. Book requests filled? Ceiling pipes that don’t leak? Easy access to computer labs? Funded afterschool programs? Many of these things are hard to come by in some of the neighborhood schools.
It is truly unfortunate that students at comprehensive, neighborhood schools like mine maintain an attitude that they are getting shafted. Not a day goes by without at least one student mentioning how students at application school X, magnet school Y, arts school Z have it better. Some even think longingly about some of the other not-so-great neighborhood schools. Of course, with the constant intra-DCPS migration patterns, I get students from some of these “great” schools. They quickly become dejected, sometimes regretting the decisions that led them to transfer or be “put out.”
I’m not convinced that the problems we face in DCPS are directly related to per-pupil funding levels. As the article rightly mentions, equity does not require “dollar-for-dollar equality.” Depending on the size of the school, we should expect different per-pupil spending, given that there is a high fixed cost to running a school–whether in terms of physical plant or human capital.
Yet, I do think that this study reflects some of the problems that we still face if we are ever to “fix” the system. At the moment, a model exists in which the “lucky” students get into the “good” schools in DCPS. The “unlucky” ones are relegated to schools that are falling apart, literally and figuratively.
How can we make the system fairer? Money is not everything, but it certainly reflects priorities. And I question whether we have our priorities straight right now.