Most D.C. schools to participate in unified enrollment lottery starting next year

October 8, 2013

The majority of D.C. charter schools and all schools in the city’s traditional school system plan to participate in a single unified lottery to determine enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year, officials in the office of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said.

Details about how the lottery will work will not be available for a few weeks, according to a new Web site, myschooldc.org, which went live Monday and will serve as a central clearinghouse for information about the effort.

The Web site features a list of schools that plan to take part. It includes all traditional public schools, including selective magnets and out-of-boundary and early childhood programs. The list also includes more than 40 charter schools, which account for nearly nine out of 10 charter seats in preschool through 12th grade, according to Deputy Mayor of Education Abigail Smith.

The intent behind the unified lottery is to streamline an enrollment process that can be chaotic and frustrating for families and school administrators.

Smith worked with representatives from the traditional school system and charters to develop the shared lottery, and sketched the outlines of the effort when she first announced the effort in May.

Parents are likely to be asked to rank both traditional and charter schools in order of preference. Then a computer algorithm would run the lottery, admitting each child to only one school and maximizing the number of students who are matched with one of their top choices.

Currently, dozens of charter schools operate separate enrollment lotteries. The traditional school system holds its own lottery for students seeking a seat in pre-kindergarten or in magnet schools and other so-called out-of-boundary schools, which draw children from outside their neighborhoods.

Children can win admission to multiple schools across both sectors, leaving other youngsters on long waiting lists that shift throughout the summer and into the fall as families decide where to enroll.

The unified lottery is meant to cut down on that waiting-list shuffle. It also allows parents to submit one application for all participating schools rather than juggling multiple forms.

The online application will be available Dec. 16, according to the Web site. Applications for high schools, including selective magnet schools, will be due Feb. 3. The deadline for early childhood, elementary and middle school applications is March 3.

Participation in the unified lottery is not mandatory for charter schools. Those who do not take part will continue accepting separate applications and conducting separate lotteries. Among the charters not listed on myschooldc.org are: Washington Yu Ying; Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom; Meridian; Latin American Montessori Bilingual; Options; Booker T. Washington; SEED; Tree of Life; Roots; Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science; and St. Coletta.

D.C. Council Member David A. Catania (I-At Large) has also been advocating for a shared lottery. He introduced a bill in June that would require the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to develop and implement a unified lottery to determine enrollment beginning for the 2015-2016 school year.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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