The findings are consistent with other signs of slow but discernible progress in the 45,600-student system, which was placed under mayoral control in 2007 after years of abysmal academic performance. Those signs include the first enrollment growth in more than 40 years and impressive gains in math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“We are very positive about our schools,” said Eric Anderson, 43, who has a daughter heading into the school system’s Montessori at Logan program in August. Another daughter is in the Washington Latin Public Charter School.
“For the longest time, once your kid got into first or second grade, you would move to Arlington or Bethesda,” he said. But Anderson added that he seldom hears about such moves anymore.
Despite the rising approval ratings among public school parents, the survey found views of the general public are still downright negative in some areas. About 60 percent of D.C. residents rate the public schools as “not so good” or “poor.” More than six in 10 see the system as doing a bad job in preparing students for college or the workplace. Those opinions are held most strongly by white residents and blacks with college degrees, and even by a large share of school system parents.
Many parents still view enrolling in the public schools as risky.
“People don’t want to take a chance. That’s the problem D.C. schools face. You don’t want to experiment on your own children,” said Bruce Lehman, 65, a lawyer whose daughter graduated from Sidwell Friends private school eight years ago. He cited the decision of the Clintons and the Obamas to send their daughters to Sidwell.
“Nothing says it more than that,” Lehman said.
This year, Congress approved an extension of a federal program that provides vouchers to help students from some low-income D.C. families attend private or parochial schools. The survey found that nearly 70 percent of parents with children in the system support such tuition aid. Overall, nearly two-thirds of residents back vouchers, with positive sentiment higher among African Americans.
Residents remain ambivalent about the rapidly growing public charter sector, which serves 28,000 students. Forty-one percent consider the independently operated charters better than regular public schools; 42 percent say they are about the same. The favorable rating rises to a slight majority, however, among residents younger than 30.