The XX Factor

What’s the Matter With Washington

The Daily Beast thinks it’s figured out where kids are the brightest. The Beast used data from last year’s National Assessment of Education Progress, a nationwide standardized test, to rank states on educational achievement and put together a feature on “States with the Smartest Kids.” The title’s annoying (these kids aren’t the smartest; they’re the best at taking standardized tests), but it’s an interesting read.

The results are mostly unsurprising. Educational outcomes and income tend to track pretty closely, so we expect to see Massachusetts at the top of the list and Mississippi at the bottom, and we do. But there’s one place that completely, unfortunately, flips that script. Start from the bottom and work your way up, and you’ve got Mississippi, which checks out, and then Washington, D.C., which, what? “The wealthiest and most educated region in the country” is producing students who test worse than impoverished kids in West Virginia, immigrant-heavy classrooms in New Mexico, and still-chaotic post-Katrina school districts in Louisiana? Yup.

Washington is brimming with young, well-educated, well-off people starting families. But obviously their kids aren’t going to public school in D.C. They’re moving to suburbs in Maryland or Virginia ( some of the richest in the country ) or sending them to pricey private schools in the District. And who can blame them? If I had kids, I don’t think I would want them in schools that have even Teach for America true believers fleeing , either. But the unfortunate result of this voluntary economic segregation is a failing school system and thousands of kids who will be raised in the nation’s capital but can’t fully participate in the opportunities it offers.