As education is correlated with crime rates and incarceration, addressing shortcomings in the D.C. education system should be part of a comprehensive public safety strategy. Higher levels of education increase access to well paying jobs, build stronger community ties and positive social skills and decrease risk-taking behavior, all of which decrease the chances that a person will be involved in criminal activity. People who experience barriers to educational achievement are also disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Sixty-eight percent of people in U.S. state prisons have not received a high school diploma. The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that a five percent increase in graduation rates for young men would produce an annual savings of $66.5 million in crime-related expenses for Washington, D.C.
Although the city has made strides in improving its public education system, youth in D.C. continue to face significant challenges. Fourth and eighth grade students in D.C. public schools were ranked the lowest in the nation in math and reading proficiency, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s “National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2011.” This report also showed a significant performance gap between black and white students. For example, the fourth grade reading gap between white and black students in 2011 was 62 percentage points: 92 and 37 percent of white and African American students, respectively, read at or above basic 4th grade level. This value remains unchanged from 1992.
The Education of D.C. is the first in a series of research briefs that will be released by JPI in 2012 to show how the District could improve public safety and outcomes for youth through positive social investments. The rest of the briefs in this series can be found below: