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Public education in the District of Columbia

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K-12 Education in Washington, D.C.
Education facts
State Superintendent: Jesus Aguirre
Number of students: 73,911[1]
Number of teachers: 6,278
Teacher/pupil ratio: 1:11.8
Number of school districts: 56
Number of schools: 228
Graduation rate: 59%[2]
Per-pupil spending: $18,475[3]
See also
District of Columbia Public Schools, D.C.List of school districts in Washington, D.C.Washington, D.C.School boards portal
Education policy logo.jpg
Education policy project
Public education in the United States
Public education in Washington, D.C.
Glossary of education terms
The Washington, D.C. public school system (prekindergarten-grade 12) operates within districts governed by locally elected school boards and superintendents. In 2012 Washington, D.C. had 73,911 students enrolled in a total of 228 schools in 56 school districts. While the national ratio of teachers to students was 1:16, in Washington, D.C. there were 6,278 teachers in the public schools, or roughly one teacher for every 12 students. There was roughly one administrator for every 127 students, compared to the national average of one administrator for every 295 students.[4] On average Washington, D.C. spent $18,475 per pupil in 2011, which ranked it second highest in the nation. The district's graduation rate was 59 percent in 2012. This was the Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate reported to the United States Department of Education for all students in 2011-2012.[5]

State agencies

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is tasked with the goal of raising the quality of education for all Washington, D.C. residents.[6] To accomplish this goal, the OSSE sets district-wide policies, provides resources and support and is accountable for all public education in the district.[7]

The mission statement of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education reads:[7]

The mission of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is to remove barriers and create pathways for District residents to receive a great education and prepare them for success in college, careers, and life.[8]

The Washington, D.C. State Board of Education has nine elected members, one for each ward of the district and one at-large member.[9]

Regional comparison

See also: General comparison table for education statistics in the 50 states and Education spending per pupil in all 50 states

The following chart shows how Washington, D.C. compares to the United States with respect to number of students, schools, the number of teachers per pupil, and the number of administrators per pupil. Further comparisons to the U.S. total or the national average with respect to performance and financial information are given in other sections of this page.

Regional Comparison
State Schools Districts Students Teachers Teacher/pupil ratio Administrator/pupil ratio Per pupil spending
Washington, D.C. 228 56 73,911 6,278 1:11.8 1:126.5 $18,475
United States 98,328 17,992 49,521,669 3,103,263 1:16 1:295.2 $10,994
Sources: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey", 2011-12 v.1a.

National Center for Education Statistics, Table 2. Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011–12
U.S. Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011,Governments Division Reports," issued May 2013


See also: Demographic information for all students in all 50 states

The following table displays the ethnic distribution of students in Washington D.C. as reported in the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data for 2011-2012.[10]

Demographic Information for Washington, D.C.'s K-12 Public School System
Ethnicity Students State Percentage United States Percentage**
American Indian 64 0.09% 1.10%
Asian 1,035 1.40% 4.68%
African American 56,480 76.42% 15.68%
Hawaiian Nat./Pacific Isl. Students 88 0.12% 0.42%
Hispanic 9,711 13.14% 24.37%
White 5,690 7.70% 51.21%
Two or More 843 1.14% 2.54%
**Note: This is the percentage of all students in the United States that are reported to be of this ethnicity.

Academic performance

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Education policy terms
Academic bankruptcyAcademic EarthAcademic performanceAdaptive softwareBlended learningCarnegie unitCharter schoolsCommon CoreDropout rateDual enrollmentEnglish Language LearnersFree or reduced-price lunchGlobal competence learningHomeschoolingImmersion learningKhan AcademyLocal education agencyMagnet schoolsNAEPOnline learningParent trigger lawsProgressive educationRegulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation RateSchool choiceSchool vouchersTeacher merit payVirtual charter schools
See also

NAEP scores

See also: NAEP scores by state

The National Center for Education Statistics provides state-by-state data on student achievement levels in mathematics and reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Washington, D.C.'s scores fell below the national average in each category.[11]

Percent of students scoring at or above proficient, 2012-2013
Math - Grade 4 Math - Grade 8 Reading - Grade 4 Reading - Grade 8
Washington, D.C. 28 19 23 17
U.S. average 41 34 34 34
NAEP assessment data for all students 2012-2013


Graduation, ACT and SAT scores

See also: Graduation rates by groups in state and ACT and SAT scores in the U.S.

The following table shows the graduation rates, average composite ACT and SAT scores, and rankings for Washington, D.C.[12][13][14]

Comparison table for graduation rates and test scores*
State Graduation rate, 2012 Average ACT Composite, 2012 Average SAT Composite, 2013
Percent Quintile ranking** Score Participation rate Score Participation rate
Washington, D.C. 59% Fifth 19.7 32% 1400 91%
U.S. average 80% 21.1 1498
*Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Rate (except for Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma, which did not report “Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate,” but instead used their own method of calculation).
**Graduation rates for states in the first quintile ranked in the top 20 percent nationally. Similarly, graduation rates for states in the fifth quintile ranked in the bottom 20 percent nationally.
Source: United States Department of Education, ED Data Express

Dropout rate

See also: Public high school dropout rates by state for a full comparison of dropout rates by group in all states

The high school event dropout rate indicates the proportion of students who were enrolled at some time during the school year and were expected to be enrolled in grades 9–12 in the following school year but were not enrolled by October 1 of the following school year. Students who have graduated, transferred to another school, died, moved to another country, or who are out of school due to illness are not considered dropouts. The average public high school event dropout rate for the United States remained constant at 3.3 percent for both SY 2010–11 and SY 2011–12. The event dropout rate for Washington, D.C. was higher than the national average at 6.1 percent in the 2010-2011 school year, and 5.8 percent in the 2011-2012 school year.[15]

Educational choice options

See also: School choice in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. had the highest private school attendance in the country with over 21 percent of school age children in the district attending private schools during the 2011-2012 school year. Other school choice options in the district include charter schools, online learning, public school open enrollment and homeschooling.

Education funding and expenditures

Revenue breakdowns

See also: Public school system revenues in the U.S.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public school system revenues in Washington, D.C. totaled approximately $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2011. The table and chart below present further detail, including revenue sources, for Washington, D.C.[16]

Revenues by source, FY 2011 (amounts in thousands)
Federal revenue State revenue Local revenue Total revenue
Washington, D.C. $227,234 N/A $1,609,988 $1,837,222
U.S. total $74,943,767 $267,762,416 $264,550,594 $607,256,777
Public school revenues by source, FY 2011 (as percents)


Expenditure breakdowns

See also: Public school system expenditures in the U.S.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public school system expenditures in Washington, D.C. totaled approximately $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2011. The table and chart below present further detail, including expenditure types, for Washington, D.C.[16]

Expenditures by type, FY 2011 (amounts in thousands)
Current expenditures** Capital outlay Other*** Total expenditures
Washington, D.C. $1,326,489 $391,623 $190,576 $1,908,688
U.S. total $520,577,893 $52,984,139 $29,581,293 $603,143,325
**Funds spent operating local public schools and local education agencies, including such expenses as salaries for school personnel, student transportation, school books and materials, and energy costs, but excluding capital outlay, interest on school debt, payments to private schools, and payments to public charter schools.
***Includes payments to state and local governments, payments to private schools, interest on school system indebtedness, and nonelementary-secondary expenditures, such as adult education and community services expenditures.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Public school expenditures, FY 2011 (as percents)


Personnel salaries

See also: Public school teacher salaries in the U.S.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average national salary for classroom teachers in public elementary and secondary schools has declined by 1.3 percent from the 1999-2000 school year to the 2012-2013 school year. During the same period in Washington, D.C., the average salary increased by 10.2 percent.[17]

Estimated average salaries for teachers (in constant dollars**)
1999-2000 2009-2010 2011-2012 2012-2013 Percent difference
Washington, D.C. $64,334 $68,901 $69,864 $70,906 10.2%
U.S. average $57,133 $58,925 $56,340 $56,383 -1.3%
**"Constant dollars based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, adjusted to a school-year basis. The CPI does not account for differences in inflation rates from state to state."


After being appointed Chancellor of Education by Mayor Adrian Fenty, Michelle Rhee proposed a two-track system of pay for teachers. Under one track, teachers would relinquish tenure and, following a trial period of a year, make up to $130,000 in merit pay based on their effectiveness. All teachers new to the district would enter employment on this track. The second track would allow teachers to keep tenure and accept a smaller raise.[18] The Washington Teacher's Union opposed the plan. Union President George Parker said on PBS that, after 17 months of negotiations with Rhee and no agreement, teacher morale was the lowest it had been in his 25 years in Washington, D.C. public schools.[19]



In 2012, the Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now assessed the power and influence of state teacher unions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Their rankings were based on 37 different variables in five broad areas, including: resources and membership, involvement in politics, scope of bargaining, state policies and perceived influence. Washington, D.C. ranked 33rd overall, or weak, which was in the fourth tier of five.[20]

The Washington Teachers' Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, represents the district's teachers.[21]

List of local District of Columbia school unions:[22]


In October 2009, Chancellor of Education Michelle Rhee fired 400 school personnel, including 266 educators, in order to close a budget shortfall. Union members claimed the budget shortfall was a manufactured excuse to clear teachers out of Washington, D.C. public schools.[23]

The union sought to compel the public school system to reinstate the 266 teachers pending arbitration of a grievance the union filed under its contract.[24] In November 2009, the D.C. Superior Court denied the union's request for a preliminary injunction.[25]

Studies and reports

ABCs of School Choice

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice publishes a comprehensive guide to private school choice programs across the U.S. In its 2014 edition, the Foundation reviewed Washington, D.C.'s Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program gives vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools within the district. The Foundation found that the $20 million funding for the program was not sufficient to allow all students who qualify to use the program and suggested that funding be expanded to allow more families to participate.[26] The full Friedman Foundation report can be found here.

State Budget Solutions education study

See also: State spending on education v. academic performance (2012)

State Budget Solutions examined national trends in education from 2009 to 2011, including state-by-state analysis of education spending, graduation rates, and average ACT scores. The study showed that the states which spent the most did not have the highest average ACT test scores, nor did they have the highest average graduation rates. A summary of the study is available here. The full report can be accessed here.

Quality Counts 2014

See also: Quality Counts 2014 Report

Education Week, an organization that reports on many education issues throughout the country, began using an evaluation system in 1997 to grade each state on various elements of education performance. This system, called Quality Counts, uses official data on performance from each state to generate a report card for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report card in 2014 uses six different categories:

  1. Chance for success
  2. K-12 achievement
  3. Standards, assessments and accountability
  4. The teaching profession
  5. School finance
  6. Transitions and Alignment

Each of these six categories had a number of other elements that received individual scores. Those scores were then averaged and used to determine the final score in each category. Every state received two types of scores for each of the six major categories: A numerical score out of 100 and a letter grade based on that score. Education Week used the score for the first category, "chance for success," as the value for ranking each state and the District of Columbia. The average grade received in the entire country was 77.3, or a C+ average. The country's highest average score was in the category of "standards, assessments and accountability" at 85.3, or a B average. The lowest average score was in "K-12 achievement", at 70.2, or a C- average.

Washington, D.C. received a score of 81.5, or a B- average in the "chance for success" category. This was above the national average. The state's highest score was in standards, assessments and accountability at 82.7, or a B average. The lowest score was in K-12 achievement at 59.2, or an F average. Washington, D.C. had the second lowest K-12 achievement score in the country, after Mississippi. The chart below displays the scores of Washington, D.C. and the United States.[27]

Note: Click on a column heading to sort the data.

Public education report cards, 2014
State Chance for success K-12 achievement Standards, assessments and accountability The teaching profession School finance Transitions and Alignment
Washington, D.C. 81.5 (B-) 59.2 (F) 82.7 (B) 60.9 (D-) N/A 78.6 (C+)
United States Average 77.3 (C+) 70.2 (C-) 85.3 (B) 72.5 (C) 75.5 (C) 81.1 (B-)
Source: Education Week, "Quality Counts 2014 report cards," accessed February 18, 2015

A full discussion of how these numbers were generated can be found here.

Recent news

This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the term "Washington, D.C. + Education "

All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.

Washington, D.C. Education News Feed

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See also

External links


  1. National Center for Education Statistics, "Table 2. Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011–12," accessed March 18, 2014
  2. ED Data Express, "State Tables Report," accessed March 17, 2014 The site includes this disclaimer: "States converted to an adjusted cohort graduation rate [starting in the 2010-2011 school year], which may or may not be the same as the calculation they used in prior years. Due to the potential differences, caution should be used when comparing graduation rates across states."
  3. United States Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011," accessed March 18, 2014
  4. United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Common Core of Data (CCD); Table 2.—Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011-12," accessed May 12, 2014
  5. United States Department of Education, "ED Data Express," accessed May 12, 2014
  6. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, "About OSSE," accessed May 14, 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 Office of the State Superintendent of Education, "What does OSSE do?" accessed May 14, 2014
  8. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  9. State Board of Education, "SBOE FAQs," accessed May 14, 2014
  10. United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Common Core of Data (CCD), State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey, 2011-2012," accessed May 7, 2014
  11. National Center for Education Statistics, "State Profiles," accessed May 14, 2014
  12. United States Department of Education, ED Data Express, "State Tables," accessed May 13, 2014
  13. ACT, "2012 ACT National and State Scores," accessed May 13, 2014
  14. Commonwealth Foundation, "SAT Scores by State 2013," October 10, 2013
  15. United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Common Core of Data (CCD), State Dropout and Graduation Rate Data File, School Year 2010-11, Provision Version 1a and School Year 2011-12, Preliminary Version 1a," accessed May 13, 2014
  16. 16.0 16.1 United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2010–11," accessed May 13, 2014 (timed out)
  17. United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, "Table 211.60. Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2012-13," accessed May 13, 2014
  18. New York Times, "A School Chief Takes on Tenure, Stirring a Fight," November 13, 2008
  19. PBS Newshour, "Media Attention Hinders Rhee's Efforts to Reach Out to D.C. Teachers," May 5, 2009
  20. Thomas E Fordham Institute, "How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison," October 29, 2012
  21. Washington Teacher's Union, "Main page," accessed May 30, 2010
  22. Center for Union Facts, "District of Columbia teachers unions," accessed May 30, 2010
  23. U.S. News and World Reports, "D.C. Schools Chief Michelle Rhee Fights Union Over Teacher Pay," December 21, 2009
  24. District of Columbia Public Schools, "Reduction in Force," November 24, 2009
  25. Washington Post, "Court defends Rhee's layoffs," November 24, 2009
  26. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named friedmanreport
  27. Education Week "Quality Counts 2014 report cards," accessed February 19, 2015