District Students Carry Some Heavy Loads into the New School Year

September 8, 2022
Blog Post

The start of the school year can bring a range of feelings into focus for District families. Many are relieved that summer is over, and they have increased support from “the village” of educators and out-of-school programs. They hope their children continue to grow into their potential this year but fear for their health and safety. The pandemic has been brutal on families. The recent revelation that math and reading test scores have plummeted to their lowest point in five years highlights the need for District policymakers and community leaders to take stock of child and youth well-being. To help them out, we have updated DC Kids Count.

In this data book, we look at how kids are doing by using demographic, economic justice, health and safety, and early childhood measures that are as current as possible. We also look at measures in each ward and have our eight ward snapshots.

In many cases, the most recent data primarily cover the years just before the pandemic. Many measures use 2016-2020 5-year-averages, the most recent available. However in some cases throughout the site, but particularly on our page about the Impacts of COVID-19, we were able to provide a sense of where children and youth have stood this past year.

There are some bright spots in the data. Still, the many data points showing racial disparities underscore the ongoing need to address structural barriers for children and youth of color. For example, when it comes to health and safety, Black youth under the age of eighteen were stopped at more than 10 times the rate of their white peers in 2021. Police were also far more likely to use force with Black children. Nearly all (115 out of 121) of the use-of-force incidents in 2020 with children younger than 18 were with Black children. The police pointed a firearm at the child in nearly half of these incidents. And in more than a quarter of them, the police performed a “tactical takedown” on a child.

Similarly, regarding economic justice, the data show that the District’s Black unemployment level was almost twice the District-wide rate last year. And youth unemployment was 11.7%, an improvement over the 2020 rate of 17.3% but still almost twice the overall DC unemployment rate.

Newly-released data suggest that over a quarter of District students (29%) don’t have their required vaccinations (excluding COVID) as the school year begins and that the problem spans all the wards. However, rates are expected to improve in the early days of the school year. While COVID likely exacerbated the problem, early childhood data show that vaccine coverage of kindergarten students has been declining for years. The percentage of public school kindergartners with key vaccines (DTaP/DT and MMR) declined from 92% in the 2012-13 school year to 79% in the 2020-21 school year.

We are not done yet. New data on education (covering the 2021-22 school year), mental health (covering fall 2021), and demographics and economic justice (covering the 2017-2021 5-year-averages) will be available in the coming months. We will continue to make updates, so stay tuned. We hope the updated version of DC Kids Count can be a helpful tool for policymakers and community leaders as we head into the fall. Our goal is to facilitate data-informed decision-making in addressing some of the challenges hindering the District’s children and youth from being safe, powerful, and heard.