I’ve written before about the unequal geographical distribution of D.C. Public Schools’ planned school closures, with wards 5 and 7 bearing the brunt. But here’s a map that puts the closures in a new light:
The map was created by University of the District of Columbia social sciences professor Amanda Huron, who shared a digital version with Washington City Paper. It shows that all but two of the schools slated for closure are in census tracts that are more than 50 percent black and Hispanic. And Huron points out that even the two exceptions aren’t really exceptions: Although Shaw Middle School is in a census tract that’s only 22 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic, she says, the school itself is 82 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic. Likewise, the Prospect Learning Center’s census tract is just 40 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic, but the student body is 95 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic.
What’s the reason for this? It probably has more to do with geography than with race per se: Parents in the poorer, eastern neighborhoods of the city—which tend to be overwhelmingly black—are more likely to want to send their kids to charter or out-of-boundary schools, to get them away from rougher schools or rougher streets on the way to school or both. This doesn’t happen as much at schools in richer parts of town, like Tenleytown’s Woodrow Wilson High School. So schools in poorer (and, yes, blacker and more Hispanic) neighborhoods get depopulated and close down.
School choice can be a blessing for kids in difficult neighborhoods—but it can be a curse for the schools in those neighborhoods. The best solution, of course, would be to make those schools competitive with the best ones in the western part of the city. But absent that, a thinning out of the schools in poorer neighborhoods is almost inevitable.