Look No Further Than DC for School Choice Need

Just 42% of high school seniors will graduate in '18. School choice naysayers ignore the evidence at their feet.

Jordan Candler · Mar. 2, 2018

Our nation’s capital is home to many rich and affluent lawmakers and lobbyists. Which means most of them have the resources to send their children to the most prestigious private schools inside the Beltway. That’s understandable, but their school selection also adds to the enormous disconnect they have with lower-income groups.

School choice is vehemently opposed by Democrats, but the fact is that Washington, DC, is Exhibit A in the need for a wider range of options for ill-prepared students. Last year, 73% of high school seniors in DC graduated, The Washington Post reports, but that figure is estimated to plummet to just 42% this year.

Interestingly, there’s a nefarious reason for the considerable decrease. The Post writes that DC “had celebrated a 20-point increase in its graduation rate since 2011.” However, “The likely drop in the graduation rate is the latest fallout from an investigation that cast doubt on the validity of diplomas awarded last year. The graduation rate in 2017 was 73 percent, but the probe revealed that one in three graduates received their diplomas in violation of city policy. Those students had walked across graduation stages despite missing too many classes or improperly taking makeup classes.”

In other words, DC schools were inflating the graduation number. The Post points out that “teachers felt pressured to award diplomas even if teens failed to meet requirements, all in the name of improving graduation rates.” This is a nationwide problem, but it’s evidently a monolithic one in the nation’s capital. In December, The Washington Post published another report on overall U.S. graduation rates. As of 2016, cumulative data showed that 84% of students graduate.

That Post report also noted: “There are … reasons to be skeptical. Some districts have used questionable methods to get students to the finish line, including softening grading scales and using credit recovery programs, which allow students to take abbreviated versions of courses to make up for failing grades.”

The fact of the matter is that, as John Sexton points out, a participation trophy is the entirely wrong way to approach education, especially when “many of the kids receiving them weren’t even participating.” A 42% graduation rate is simply unacceptable. As it turns out, the best evidence for school choice — translation: accountability and better performance — is sitting right outside lawmakers’ and lobbyists’ homes.

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