School Choice Takes A New Road

EV's Education Corner

Big changes are coming to the early childhood and Out of Boundary lottery system for DC Public (DCPS) and Public Charter Schools (DCPCS). In the past, every school, public or public charter, ran an individual lottery and maintained separate waiting lists. This created a tremendous amount of uncertainty and redundancy as parents applied to multiple schools and were wait-listed in many locations.

A Unitary Lottery

Rather than the current hodgepodge, balkanized application circus, parents will apply with single online application to both their preferred public and public charter schools of choice. An algorithm will be used to match students with schools. Those who wish to remain a current school or school feeder pattern are not required to enter.

The lottery website is live. The new process is due to open in two months. Yet, there remain many details to work out in that short period.

  • How many schools a family can choose?

  • Will preferences for traditional public and charter schools will be combined into one list?

Even the list still has kinks in it. For example, Prospect Learning Center, closed by the Chancellor at the end of last school year, is included. Almost all 105 DCPS schools are required to participate including the application-only high schools. Charters had the option of retaining their old system. Nevertheless, 86 out of 154 charters have joined the new system.

Noticeably absent from the charter list are a few popular elementary schools: Creative Minds International Public Charter School (PCS); Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS; Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS (LAMB); and Washington Yu Ying PCS. A number of middle schools are also absent.

The Theory

The joint system is designed to streamline the enrollment process. Currently students can enroll in one DCPS school and more than one charter school. Parents are not compelled to make a final choice until the school year has actually started. The result is the 'September Shuffle' in which students start out at one school and then move when accepted off a wait list at a more desirable institution. This is unsettling and stressful for the schools, the parents and the students. It makes the start of the school year, already a difficult time for school administrators and teachers, even more chaotic.

Nothing has been made public about how the joint lottery system will operate. The logical assumption is that parents will choose a certain number of traditional and charter schools, ranking them in order of preference. A computer algorithm will sort out any applicable preferences, such as in-bounds, siblings, proximity, admitting each applicant to only one school. The goal is to increase the number of students who actually get into their top choice school, while decreasing the numbers wait-listed. (Presumably students will only be wait-listed at schools they ranked above the school they were accepted to.) Most importantly, this procedure will prohibit students from enrolling in more than one participating school. There is no word yet on how they will handle the non-participating schools in terms of dual enrollment.

Further information, school lists, and applications will be available on the website. The online application will be made available starting Dec.16. The deadline for high schools including the test-in schools is Feb. 3 while the deadline for all other applications is March 3.

It will be an interesting lottery season, to say the least. The first hurdles, getting enough charter schools to join, putting the website and lottery operator in place, and publicizing the process, have been overcome. Time will tell whether the new system will make getting into a “right fit” school easier or more difficult for the city’s families.

E.V. Downey is the principal educational consultant at Downey School Consulting, where she consults on public, charter, private, and special needs school choices and issues. She started consulting after years of teaching kids of all ages and working in private school administration. A graduate of DC Public Schools, E.V. lives on Capitol Hill with her husband and 2 children.

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