DC Residents Dislike Their School System

DC Residents Dislike Their School System

Washington D.C. residents are dissatisfied with their schools and their mayor, Vincent C. Gray. A new Washington Post poll of D.C. residents shows 51% of those polled rate the schools’ performance as “not good” or “fair,” while only 38% believe the schools’ work is “excellent” or “good.” 

Gray’s popularity is at risk, too; only 38% of those polled think he has done an “excellent” or “good” job improving schools.

Although Gray has boasted of D.C. students’ math and reading scores, which improved faster than in any other large American city in 2013, the students’ performances in general are still abysmal. Only half of D.C. public school students are considered proficient in math and reading, and only 60% graduate from high school on time.

The 38% of those rating the schools positively in the Washington Post poll is virtually the same as the 37% who felt that way four years ago, before Gray was selected over incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D) in the mayoral primary. This leaves him vulnerable to a challenge by D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), the chairman of the council’s Education Committee who has said he will make the schools a central electoral issue.

What has changed significantly is the way the schools’ performances are perceived by different races. Although 49% of blacks view the schools positively, as opposed to 24% of whites, their reaction to the new chancellor, Kaya Henderson, who replaced Michelle Rhee, is roughly the same. Rhee, who was tough, closing dozens of schools and firing underperforming teachers and principals, was much more disliked by blacks than whites. Interestingly, Rhee’s approval rating even when she left the job was 55%, higher than Henderson’s current 46%, but Rhee’s disapproval rating was twice as high. The Post writes,

Rhee drew overwhelming support from white residents as well as residents who, like Andrews, thought the school system was broken and perhaps saw Rhee as a force for needed change. But she was generally disliked by African Americans, including both those who rated the current schools positively or negatively. But now the dynamic appears to have shifted: People who think the school system is doing well tend to approve of Henderson’s performance, regardless of race… Similarly, those who think the school system is on the wrong track tend to disapprove of Henderson, regardless of race.

44% of the Districts’ students attend the city’s public charter schools, which are supported by Gray, but residents are divided over their usefulness; 41% of those polled say charters schools are better than traditional schools but 41% believe that they are equivalent.

For those who assert that schools are a key factor in their vote for mayor, including 80% of Democrats, Gray leads with 25%, followed by council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) at 17% and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) with 10%.