Author Topic: Which DC-area schools do your kids attend and how has your experience been?  (Read 5941 times)

frugalfedmom

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 21
First off, I want to just say that this forum is awesome! I've been reading the MMM blog for awhile now, but I've only recently started following these forum postings, and I always feel like I'm learning something new and useful. Such a knowledgeable/honest bunch of folks here!

So here's the situation: sometime this year I may have the opportunity to move down to the DC metro area (currently in NJ). Even though there's nothing definite yet, being a planner, I've started doing some research on possible housing options, taking into account schools, commute (need easy metro access to orange/red lines), and of course prices (although anytime you put good schools + metro access, it doesn't seem to make a huge difference in prices). I'm looking to rent for the first year or two before buying.

My biggest concern (I'm such a worrier) is that my very introverted 4-year old son be able to get a good education while also being able to relatively painlessly make solid friends. With his personality, I'm not too worried about his ability to keep up academically...but more worried about him not feeling comfortable with privileged, cliquey kids in an overly cut-throat environment, which seem to comprise a lot of the good school district areas?

I know which areas (Fairfax, Arlington, Montgomery, etc) rank high in terms of academics, but I'm not sure I can trust just the rankings based on numbers alone. Also, there seem to be a zillion schools in these areas with such dense populations so it can get a bit overwhelming. I'd like to get some real-life experience stories on how specific schools are if possible. Falls Church is high on my list right now, based on some reviews I've read and the fact that the schools are relatively small compared to the other regional schools (Falls Church High is ranked lower but it seems to have good reviews). Also, although I lived in DC during grad school before I got married, obviously I wasn't looking at schools then, so while I'm generally familiar with locations, I have no clue which schools are good, especially since it seems there are lots of differences even within the same "region". It'd be nice to hear some of your experiences in specific schools (doesn't matter if it's elementary, middle or high) so I can try to narrow down my choices.

I know all schools can have cliques, but again, it'd be nice to just hear some stories about your own experiences (what you/your kids like/dislike and your perception of other parents/teachers, anti-bullying policies, or anything else you think of, etc). Or, am I just overthinking this, and as long as I choose a decently rated school district, they're all pretty similar and my son will just have to find kids he's comfortable around? Thanks in advance!

Earthling

  • Guest
There are many great public schools in the region. You probably cannot go wrong if you are looking at the published rankings for public schools.

The public schools in North Arlington (Jamestown Elementary, etc.) are superb. If your job is in Washington, D.C., you will also enjoy a shorter commute downtown from Arlington than other jurisdictions further west, including Falls Church and Fairfax, even when using Metro (Orange & Blue lines).

You might want to simplify your hunt by deciding among the three jurisdictions: DC, Maryland, and Virginia. If you intend to enroll your child in the public schools, I would eliminate DC.

That leaves Virginia and Maryland. Between the two, Maryland is more liberal and has higher taxes. Virginia is more conservative, has lower taxes, and is perceived to be more business friendly. So for tax reasons alone, you can't go wrong with Virginia.

Your choice of living location in Virginia thus has as much to do with lifestyle, income, your willingness to commute, and 10,000 other reasons. Specific schools vary, but if you confined your search to North Arlington and Fairfax County, you will do well school-wise.

Fairfax County has one of the best public high schools in the nation: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology. Lovingly known as "TJ," it was ranked #1 in the nation for much of the 2000's. I believe it is still in the top five.

Having lived here for 30 years, I'm not acquainted with the Falls Church schools. Falls Church is somewhat of its own enclave. My gut tells me to pick the Fairfax County Public Schools over Falls Church (if you wanted to live west of Arlington), but that is based on no hard data, merely anecdotal impressions collected over the years.

bo_knows

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 814
  • Age: 38
  • Location: Fairfax, VA, USA
    • The Crowdsourced FIRE simulator
Agree with Earthling.  You can't go wrong with North Arlington or Fairfax schools, so your choice should include your willingness to commute longer distances.

We ultimately chose to live in Fairfax because it seemed equidistant to commuting to DC, Springfield, or Reston, which are all possibilities in my line of work (my wife commutes to Arlington).  Our mini-mustache is only 2.5, so I only have experience with preschools, and from our experience and friends, it's been great.

Letj

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 381
I never quite understood why people ask if a school is good. If you look at the soci economic demographics feeding into the school, that should answer the questions. People falsely assume that good scores and how many kids go to college is a reflection of the quality of the school. It is most certainly not. It's a reflection of the resources of the home that feeds into the school and the absence of major behavioral issues. It's pretty obvious that as you self select out of schools and neighborhoods and leave only the poor kids and their parents behind that the opportunity for success of those left behind is not very good.  Studies after studies have found that poor children thrive best in a mixed socioeconomic environment. Incidentally, America is the only society in the world whose school system functions like this. Education is the greatest leveler and it is the reason why all major economies outpace America in terms of social mobility. This does not answer your question but it does bring this major problem with American society to mind. What is worse than this?  The fact that the average American is very content to live in their bubble and don't give a damn.

Earthling

  • Guest
I never quite understood why people ask if a school is good. If you look at the soci economic demographics feeding into the school, that should answer the questions. People falsely assume that good scores and how many kids go to college is a reflection of the quality of the school. It is most certainly not. It's a reflection of the resources of the home that feeds into the school and the absence of major behavioral issues. It's pretty obvious that as you self select out of schools and neighborhoods and leave only the poor kids and their parents behind that the opportunity for success of those left behind is not very good.  Studies after studies have found that poor children thrive best in a mixed socioeconomic environment. Incidentally, America is the only society in the world whose school system functions like this. Education is the greatest leveler and it is the reason why all major economies outpace America in terms of social mobility. This does not answer your question but it does bring this major problem with American society to mind. What is worse than this?  The fact that the average American is very content to live in their bubble and don't give a damn.

Concerned parents always ask about the quality of schools.

Indeed, studies indicate that parental concern, care and engagement with their local school, not economics, positively correlate with student performance. Still yet other studies suggest that dollars-spent-per-child is not an indicator of student performance. I suspect that many parents here know of relatively poor performing schools in wealthy areas, with over-privileged children with drug problems and you name it. I know many schools like that here.

So you paint an anti-Mustachian view of education, with each person doomed to their own educational fate based on socioeconomic status. A concerned parent, no matter income level, will do what he/she can to improve the lot of his/her child. Failing schools cluster where parents do not care. So, with all due respect, your cause-and-effect is backwards.

As to your "bubble" comment, I interpret that to be criticism of acting in one's self interest (and indeed, also somewhat anti-Mustachian). The world runs on self interest. Milton Friedman said it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A. I'd posit that even you are operating on self-interest.

And call me a homer, but I'm not one to condemn America's educational system. Millions of people are voting with their feet -- many of them poor -- to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities created by a free society.

frugalfedmom

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 21
Thanks, yes, I'm also looking at Fairfax/Arlington (and overall VA over MD just based on personal preference..I've ruled out DC proper). Arlington definitely would improve the commute, but is it more crowded/less green space there than Fairfax? Anyone know the area near the Vienna metro? I'd like some walkability (within 10-20 min) to the metro/grocery if possible but also close to parks or kid-friendly green space, especially since we'll be renting the first couple years.

And to Letj's post, I also agree that test scores alone don't make a school "good", but as a parent (as Earthling also mentioned), I do care where I send my kid for the first 12 very impressionable years of his life. That's also why I posted this question in the first place, because I didn't want to rely on "rankings" and "test scores" alone. I also would love my son to get exposure to a diverse group of students/friends if possible, but not at the expense of a solid education and good peers. I'm sure any school, regardless of wealth, has its share of drugs, bullying and the like...it's not that I want to shelter my son in a bubble to avoid all that - he has to learn that life is not always picture perfect, but I also hope to do enough as a parent where I can guide him in the right direction and provide him with a caring, nurturing environment, including sending him to a "good" school.

Earthling

  • Guest
You are going to find superb parks, bike trails and the like in both Fairfax and Arlington Counties. You are going to love it here; I'm happy for you.

i don't know the specific area around the Vienna metro stop. This is stating the obvious, but rental rates and congestion are going to be generally higher around any metro stop.

Again, I'm not trying to sell you on Arlington, but the Clarendon, Courthouse and Rosslyn corridor is neat -- immediate metro access (indeed, all of the above are stops), young families, bountiful rental opportunities, great restaurants, no need for a car, etc. My general sense is that the further out you go (i.e., Fairfax) into the suburbs the more apt you are to need a car. Conversely, the closer in you are (i.e., Arlington), the less likely you are to need a car.

So you might want to take a look at the Clarendon area in Arlington, particularly if you are seeking the urban/hip/young family/singles demographic + great schools.

Conversely, if you still want green areas but have a desire for something that is slightly more suburbia/established/older families + great schools, have you looked at Reston? Metro is halfway finished with the new Silver line, which eventually will end at Dulles Airport. The Silver line currently goes out to Reston. http://silverlinemetro.com/. Rental rates should be substantially lower in Reston than Arlington. Reston is one of America's first planned communities. It has wonderful parks, lakes, bike paths. It lacks the "hip" aspect of Clarendon, however.

I know you said you wanted to rent, but positioning yourself to buy something along the Silver line is likely a long-term great investment, too.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2015, 01:26:31 PM by Earthling »

Guizmo

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 263
I never quite understood why people ask if a school is good. If you look at the soci economic demographics feeding into the school, that should answer the questions. People falsely assume that good scores and how many kids go to college is a reflection of the quality of the school. It is most certainly not. It's a reflection of the resources of the home that feeds into the school and the absence of major behavioral issues. It's pretty obvious that as you self select out of schools and neighborhoods and leave only the poor kids and their parents behind that the opportunity for success of those left behind is not very good.  Studies after studies have found that poor children thrive best in a mixed socioeconomic environment. Incidentally, America is the only society in the world whose school system functions like this. Education is the greatest leveler and it is the reason why all major economies outpace America in terms of social mobility. This does not answer your question but it does bring this major problem with American society to mind. What is worse than this?  The fact that the average American is very content to live in their bubble and don't give a damn.

Concerned parents always ask about the quality of schools.

Indeed, studies indicate that parental concern, care and engagement with their local school, not economics, positively correlate with student performance. Still yet other studies suggest that dollars-spent-per-child is not an indicator of student performance. I suspect that many parents here know of relatively poor performing schools in wealthy areas, with over-privileged children with drug problems and you name it. I know many schools like that here.

So you paint an anti-Mustachian view of education, with each person doomed to their own educational fate based on socioeconomic status. A concerned parent, no matter income level, will do what he/she can to improve the lot of his/her child. Failing schools cluster where parents do not care. So, with all due respect, your cause-and-effect is backwards.

As to your "bubble" comment, I interpret that to be criticism of acting in one's self interest (and indeed, also somewhat anti-Mustachian). The world runs on self interest. Milton Friedman said it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A. I'd posit that even you are operating on self-interest.

And call me a homer, but I'm not one to condemn America's educational system. Millions of people are voting with their feet -- many of them poor -- to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities created by a free society.

I think Letj was saying is that the most important factor isn't whether a school is good or bad, but rather that the parents are involved and push their kids to do well. I agree.

Also, fuck Milton Friedman. What a simplistic view of economics and human nature.

Earthling

  • Guest

Also, fuck Milton Friedman. What a simplistic view of economics and human nature.

When you get your Nobel Prize in Economics, I'll take your view under advisement.

Guizmo

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 263

Also, fuck Milton Friedman. What a simplistic view of economics and human nature.

When you get your Nobel Prize in Economics, I'll take your view under advisement.

Meh, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

pagoconcheques

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 190
Inside the beltway, in VA, in Arlington go with the Yorktown HS pyramid, in Fairfax County go with McLean HS (avoid Langley given your description of your kid) or Madison HS in Vienna.  We were very happy with McLean HS (2 kids, one to UVA and the other to Ivy League).  Yorktown HS in Arlington is probably more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse if that matters to you.  Much of the "diversity" in McLean is achieved through diplomat families and Asian parachute families.  FCPS is a system that is well funded and where the schools know better than to imagine parents don't know enough or care enough to press the system as necessary.  I have heard good things about Falls Church City schools but have no personal experience to comment from and do not know enough parents there to offer an opinion. 

If you stay on the Falls Church side of McLean you can be walking distance from the West Falls Church metro station and the kid can likely walk to elementary, middle, and high school.  Yorktown puts you in good reach of the East Falls Church station and is also very walkable. 


frugalfedmom

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 21
Inside the beltway, in VA, in Arlington go with the Yorktown HS pyramid, in Fairfax County go with McLean HS (avoid Langley given your description of your kid) or Madison HS in Vienna.  We were very happy with McLean HS (2 kids, one to UVA and the other to Ivy League).  Yorktown HS in Arlington is probably more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse if that matters to you.  Much of the "diversity" in McLean is achieved through diplomat families and Asian parachute families.  FCPS is a system that is well funded and where the schools know better than to imagine parents don't know enough or care enough to press the system as necessary.  I have heard good things about Falls Church City schools but have no personal experience to comment from and do not know enough parents there to offer an opinion. 

If you stay on the Falls Church side of McLean you can be walking distance from the West Falls Church metro station and the kid can likely walk to elementary, middle, and high school.  Yorktown puts you in good reach of the East Falls Church station and is also very walkable. 



Awesome, this was helpful! I'll definitely look into these specific pyramids.

mozar

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2963
For another perspective,
« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 12:46:37 PM by mozar »

frugalfedmom

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 21
I live in Greenbelt which is on the greenline. There is a wonderful neighborhood elementary school with a strong science and math program because of our proximity to NASA. There is also a Montessori elementary and french immersion. The middle school gets generally poor reviews and the high school has pretty good reviews.

Which schools are these? The green/yellow line wouldn't be too bad for me either and housing is definitely cheaper there, but I have no idea what the schools/community is like.

It is often the case that the elementary school, middle school, and high school have wildly different quality within the same neighborhood.

Yes, this seems to be the case even from my solely online-based research, which makes it so confusing!

catccc

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1681
  • Location: SE PA
I am no longer in the DC metro area, but I grew up there and I thought my education was pretty top notch.  I went to Montgomery County, MD schools.  If you are in northern MoCo, the homes are much more affordable than in southern areas like Potomac.  But then your commute to DC, if it is in fact DC you will be working in, is longer.  But there's the metro, which might help. 

The northern schools lacked diversity when I attended, but much has changed.  I graduated in '97, and my 10 yrs junior sister went to the same school, graduating in '07 and it was much more diverse by then.

Not sure if that helps much.  If you live outside of MoCo, I think you can still attend their schools for a mere $20K a year.

mozar

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2963
Are you looking to rent a
« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 12:46:14 PM by mozar »

kleiker

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 3
My 5 year old attends kindergarten at Bridges Public Charter School in DC in the Petworth neighborhood. We are very pleased with the school overall. While starting as a special needs school, they have quickly expanded to serve all children, and will add one class plus grade a year until they reach 5th grade.

We chose to raise our son in a more "urban" area, and this school fits well. The school is just a few blocks north of the Georgia Avenue / Petworth stop on the Green and Yellow Metro lines, and is walkable/bikeable for most families in attendance. The children frequently use the location as a springboard for learning, including walking trips through the neighborhood, recess at city parks and playgrounds, field trips via Metro, etc.

The school complements our life well, as we have been car-free since moving to DC 6 years ago. We can walk to school (less than 1 mile) in about 20 minutes, ride the bus (15 minutes) or ride our bikes (trailer or not) in 10 minutes. There are plenty of new rental buildings in the neighborhood, including a recently completed apartment building on top of the brand new Safeway grocery store that is just a couple blocks south of the school. If you're looking to buy, there are plenty of condos in the neighborhood, but the majority of the homes are townhouses that were built in the early 20th century.

This may not be for your family, but my point is just that DC can be a very exciting, livable place for families.

Hopper

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 41
Inside the beltway, in VA, in Arlington go with the Yorktown HS pyramid, in Fairfax County go with McLean HS (avoid Langley given your description of your kid) or Madison HS in Vienna.  We were very happy with McLean HS (2 kids, one to UVA and the other to Ivy League).  Yorktown HS in Arlington is probably more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse if that matters to you.  Much of the "diversity" in McLean is achieved through diplomat families and Asian parachute families.  FCPS is a system that is well funded and where the schools know better than to imagine parents don't know enough or care enough to press the system as necessary.  I have heard good things about Falls Church City schools but have no personal experience to comment from and do not know enough parents there to offer an opinion. 

If you stay on the Falls Church side of McLean you can be walking distance from the West Falls Church metro station and the kid can likely walk to elementary, middle, and high school.  Yorktown puts you in good reach of the East Falls Church station and is also very walkable. 



Awesome, this was helpful! I'll definitely look into these specific pyramids.

I second this.  If you are looking at VA, N Arlington is great.  We chose the Yorktown pyramid (and all of the elementary schools in it seem stellar) although we are a few years out from a school age child.  Also very seriously considered Falls Church City schools.  One thing I liked there is the very small school and class size.  I have friends with kids in both N Arlington schools and Falls Church City and everyone is happy with their choice.  Commuting into DC from N Arlington is probably one of the best commutes relative to the "good" school districts in VA.  Bike path to DC is a good option.  Yes, the bike path goes out to Vienna and beyond (Reston, etc) but I have a tough time personally managing my commute into , job, and childcare responsibilities.  I need more hours in the day. 

I also hear very good things about a lot of schools in Fairfax (particularly the Mclean school district, which many houses just outside Falls Church City so easier commute into town) on the north and west side fall into (but beware extra time driving to get to school functions once the kids are in middle and high school as these houses are on the edge of the boundary and not that close to the schools)).  Some Reston schools in Fairfax county are probably good but don't have a wonderful word of mouth reputation.   

Edit:  Also, as far as walkability, this is a fun little family area in the N Arlington pyramid. I am surprised it didn't get a higher walk score, I guess its just tiny compared to some neighborhoods.  https://www.walkscore.com/VA/Arlington/Westover_Village

I'll let others discuss Maryland and DC proper.  Welcome to DC!   

 
« Last Edit: January 14, 2015, 09:12:03 AM by Hopper »

frugalfedmom

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 21
I have friends with kids in both N Arlington schools and Falls Church City and everyone is happy with their choice.  Commuting into DC from N Arlington is probably one of the best commutes relative to the "good" school districts in VA. 

Yes, Arlington does seem to be the closest to DC although Falls Church is about 4 more metro stops further. In your experience, does the extra 8-10 minutes make a big difference? My current commute is almost an hour long and I've never really had commutes much shorter than that, but I figure that's an extra 20 min/day roundtrip, which is ~400 min a month I'd be saving/spending more time with my family. Also, I've heard the DC metro isn't overly reliable, in which case that extra 10 min might turn into much longer.

mozar

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2963
Yes, it's worth it to be 4 stops closer. There are a lot of delays on the metro.