Catherine's link to Washingtonian's profile of DC's new and much-hyped schools chancellor Michelle Rhee reminded me that I only recently learned about one of the odder issues with the DC school system -- what you could only call undercrowding of the schools.
Catty-corner from our house, for example, is Cardozo High School (home, hilariously, of the Clerks) and it's extremely imposing multi-story building. The school grounds as a whole are enormous, and the building itself is several standard city blocks. I'd lived in its shadow for years, but only last week learned that the school only has 749 students. And that's very typical. The student population served by DC public schools is way down from its peak, so the system's oldish buildings are too big for their current populations. This, in turn, makes the system's facilities inefficient to maintain and adds another problem onto an already very troubled system.
Indeed, despite Rhee's popularity and good press coverage, one has to wonder on some level if DCPS isn't in a death spiral. The basic demographic trends in the city point in the direction of declining public school enrollment, and the system is legendarily crappy which has led to burgeoning interest in charter schools and very rapid declines in enrollment which, as it leads to school closures, can open up more facilities to be used for charters. You could easily imagine the city transitioning to an Andrei Cherny-style model where all the schools are charter schools.
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