Scratching the Surface Until We Bleed

Yesterday, the Washington Post published a poignant, ably-written piece on the plight of DC’s high school graduates. Even the city’s top students struggle with college-level work because they’re so ill prepared. The story is heavy on “heart interest” but bereft of “head interest.” It will sadden or even anger most readers, but won’t enlighten them as to potential solutions.

If the writer had dug deep into this story, instead of just scratching at its emotional surface, she would have discovered a wealth of relevant research. Private schools, it turns out, not only have higher graduation rates than public schools (controlling for student and family characteristics), but also higher college acceptance rates and much higher college completion rates. In other words, there is a proven solution to the outrageously poor education children are offered in DC and elsewhere. Derek Neal, Jay Greene (2004), and J.R. Warren (2011) all find that private schools significantly increase the graduation rates of urban (especially minority) children over the rates of similar students attending public schools. Those studies that looked at college completion rates find very strong effects there as well. A very recent journal paper on the subject confirms the earlier findings. And DC’s own private school choice program has a beneficial effect on educational attainment according to federal government research.

But instead of offering solutions, the story merely tugs at our heart strings. Journalism could be—should be—so much more than this.