On the “Wrong” Side of the Anacostia River?


Education reform is failing traditional D.C. public middle schools located east of the Anacostia River. Although certain popular education debates, i.e. discussions centered on the merits of school choice, common core, teacher evaluations, etc., may dominate the education policy world, education reform shortcomings throughout D.C.’s high poverty neighborhood public middle schools, specifically in Wards 7 and 8, has gone largely unnoticed. Simply put, there’s a grave disparity between the traditional public middle schools located west of the Anacostia River versus those located to its east. My goal is not to use child poverty as an “excuse.” My aim is to shed light on how child poverty can, and does, affect student performance across traditional D.C. public middle schools.

A Brief Breakdown of D.C. Wards

Source: DC Action for Children (2011)


  • The average family income in Ward 3 in the Northwest is nearly six times higher than in Ward 8, east of the Anacostia River. Since the recession, we have also seen an increase in child poverty, driven almost exclusively by a rise in poverty among black children in the District. (Pg. 3)
  • Wards 7 and 8 hold the greatest share of the District’s total child population (39 percent, combined), and this holds true across all age ranges under 18. (Pg. 5)
  • Over the last 10 years, the percent of children in poverty decreased in Wards 1, 2, 4 and 6, while increasing slightly in Wards 5, 7 and 8. (Pg. 7)
  • Child poverty remains most heavily concentrated in Wards 7 and 8. Close to half (48 percent) of all Ward 8 children and 40 percent of all Ward 7 children live below the federal poverty threshold. Forty-three percent of all D.C. children living in poverty reside in these two wards. (Pg. 7)
  • Ward 8… has the highest number of children receiving SNAP over all other wards (13,800 children). (Pg.7)
  • Average family income for families in Wards 7 and 8 is actually declining, while it is rising in all other wards. (pg.9)
  • The average family income in Ward 3 is nearly six times (83 percent) higher thanthat in Ward 8 —a gap that has grown by two percentage points since 2000. (pg.9)
  • Wards 1, 4, 5 and 6 are more economically diverse than the wards considered affluent (2 and 3) and low-income (Wards 7 and 8). (pg.9)


Brief Profile of D.C. Public Middle Schools

Source: District of Columbia Public Schools http://profiles.dcps.dc.gov/

West of the Anacostia River

Hardy MS:

Hardy Middle School is a comprehensive sixth through eighth grade school offering students and their families a dynamic educational environment, to include strong core academic curriculum with a focus on differentiation and the School Enrichment Model. Offering students advanced study opportunities in the classroom, selected team-taught extension modules, and semester electives. Students and teachers benefit from Pre-AP (Advanced Placement Courses, College Board) support in connection with Wilson High School. Hardy Middle School shines its brightest however with a music and art program that is unparalleled at the middle school level throughout the Washington, DC metro region. Hardy Hawks show their spirit to fly above others with a focus on advancing their academic skills and their enthusiasm for music and the arts.

Deal MS:

Alice Deal Middle School combines a rigorous academic program with the nurturing environment of a neighborhood school. Located in the heart of northwest DC, Deal’s campus boasts a beautiful, historic building filled with dynamic spaces for instruction. At Deal, students receive an extremely challenging academic program, which encompasses participation in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program as well as music and visual arts. Deal also offers three world languages: Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese, as well as a variety of extracurricular activities.

Eliot Hines MS:

Eliot-Hine Middle School is an official candidate school for International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program. We offer a rigorous academic program supplemented by a variety of extracurricular activities like basketball, yearbook, a robotics team and the only radio broadcast program ran by middle school students in the city. At Eliot-Hine MS, we strive to provide a high-quality education in a nurturing environment where teachers and administrators care about their students and are committed to helping all students succeed at high levels.

Jefferson Academy MS:

Jefferson Academy is one of the most outstanding middle schools in Washington, DC. Recently boasting academic gains in both reading and math on the DC CAS, significant increases in partnerships, family engagement, extra-curricular options and a rigorous but supportive learning environment, Jefferson is designed to meet the needs of students at all ability and interest levels. Over the next two years, Jefferson will engage in a challenging academic plan to integrate the International Baccalaureate curriculum and an extensive building renovation, making it a school of choice for DC families.

Stuart Hobson MS:

We provide a wide range of enrichment and extracurricular activities for students, including beginning and intermediate band, chorus, clubs and sports, including cross-country, track and football. Included in our dedicated faculty are a number of teachers who have received or are working towards national board certification, as well as a past recipient of the DCPS Art Teacher of the Year Award. Our students consistently win high honors, including National History Day and Science Fair regional and national awards as well as Young Playwrights Theater recognition. Our graduates go on to attend the most competitive public and private high schools in DC and ultimately, the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation.

East of the Anacostia River

Kelly Miller MS:

The vision of Kelly Miller Middle School is to be the “Flagship School” in the city with a strong focus on academics, art, music and Technology. Kelly Miller MS shall be a community that nurtures academic excellence for all students and an environment that develops strong leaderships and character skills. Kelly Miller MS shall be an academic learning center that provides student with a wide-array of academic and extra-curricular offerings that cater to diverse student interests and that cultivate the whole child. The mission of Kelly Miller Middle School is to provide students with an education that supports innovation, creative thinking and character development. The Kelly Miller family will participate in ongoing professional development that supports and enhances collaboration, lesson planning, creative instructional delivery and technology integration. We will seek and maintain community partnerships that support the Kelly Miller MS Vision. The Kelly Miller family will offer support services that aid students in acquiring emotional, psychological and mental stability. Our support services will also encourage, motivate and model positive well-being. We will provide a safe and nurturing learning environment so that our students will be able to reap the benefits of becoming future leaders of America. The goals of Kelly Miller are to equip every student with the skills he or she needs to function as productive members of our society. To achieve that goal, we at Kelly Miller expect all our students to: demonstrate a high level of proficiency as measured by DC-CAS; demonstrate significant growth based on standards and learning outcomes identified by DCPS; understand the importance of individual worth by embracing a positive self-image and contribute to a positive school culture by displaying our core values of respect, responsibility and readiness.

Sousa MS:

John Philip Sousa Middle School is housed in a newly modernized building that highlights the school’s proud history while simultaneously providing our students with a state-of-the-art facility. Our goal is to help our students become change agents in their communities and the world at-large. We set extremely high expectations for our students and utilize technology to enrich our strong academic programs. We offer a variety of classes that push students to become productive citizens. Additionally, we provide resources that promote social growth and character development.

Hart MS:

At Hart, we value education above all else and uphold a culture of transparency, open communication and collaboration among all of our partners. We welcome our students into a positive culture where administrators, teachers and staff are committed to academic excellence and we aim to empower students with the skills they need to become lifelong learners.

Johnson MS:

J.H. Johnson provides a safe environment that promotes high academic achievement, instills character, and empowers students to be productive citizens. Students are engaged in interdisciplinary activities through the integration of media and technology. They are encouraged to contribute positively to their communities and move towards college and career readiness. All stakeholders are expected to demonstrate pride and leadership skills in order to promote a legacy of achievement.

Kramer MS:

Located in the historic Anacostia neighborhood of DC, Kramer Middle School is dedicated to serving students in grades 6 through 8. Our faculty and staff work extremely hard to ensure that our students are successful, both inside and outside the classroom. We are committed to providing a high-quality education for all of our students and we constantly seek to help our students develop academically, socially and emotionally.

Chart: Numbers Don’t Lie!


1. Neighborhood Info DC http://www.neighborhoodinfodc.org/profiles.html

2. District of Columbia Public Schools http://profiles.dcps.dc.gov/

3. Office of the State Superintendent of Education http://osse.dc.gov/publication/dc-cas-results-sy-2012-2013


2013 DC CAS Unofficial Scores: Free/Reduced Lunch & Proficiency Rates

There’s an interesting correlation between the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch and student performance. In seven of the ten D.C. traditional public middle schools, 99% of the students receive free or reduced lunch. Of the seven, only two have achieved greater than 40% proficiency on the 2013 DC CAS, in math and reading. Conversely, the three traditional public middle schools on the west side of the Anacostia River have a lower percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch; all of them achieved a proficiency rate greater than 40% in math, and greater than 60% in reading.

Alternatively, except for Kelly Miller Middle School’s performance in reading, not a single traditional public middle school east of the Anacostia River scored over 40% in reading comprehension. Furthermore, of the five schools, not a single school scored greater than 40% proficiency in math.  In contrast, four of five schools located west of the Anacostia River achieved greater than 40% proficiency in both math and reading comprehension.

2013 DC CAS Unofficial Scores: Percentage of Children Living in Poverty & Proficiency Rates

A more striking observation relates to the percentage of children living in poverty. East of the Anacostia River, all five middle schools have a child poverty rate greater than 40%. Again, not a single middle school achieved greater than 40% on the mathematics part of the 2013 DC CAS. In contrast, every single traditional public middle school on the west side, has a child poverty rate lower than 40%, with two schools well below the 20% threshold. Interestingly enough, the highest performing traditional public middle school has the lowest percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch, as well as the lowest child poverty rate. Is this a mere coincidence?


Surely, no one will suggest that lower performing schools are a direct result of inexperienced or incompetent teachers. If so, I’ll be most willing to open my classroom door for a week, and even forego a week’s pay, to anyone who’s willing to walk in my shoes. If not, please do us – teachers in Wards 7 and 8 – a huge favor: use your time and energy to understand our struggle, and not cast dispersion or value judgments. Teaching in low-income neighborhood public middle schools is tough enough. If you truly want to put students first, or care about closing the “achievement gap,” then sign up to teach. Like Motel 6, we’ll leave the light on for you.


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