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Record number of families took part in D.C. schools lottery

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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010

District families applied in record numbers to the annual online lottery for out-of-boundary, preschool and pre-kindergarten slots, school officials reported Thursday.

School leaders said the historic level of participation, which generated first-time waiting lists at 14 schools, reflected improvements in test scores, school building conditions and teacher quality since control of the system was transferred to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in 2007.

"In just three years, a number of schools have gone from underenrolled to flourishing," Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said in a statement. "It's heartening to see this, and it's a testament to the incredible work being done by teachers, principals, DCPS parents and our many community partners."

The overall number of unique lottery applicants grew by 50 percent over last year to 5,219. The number of families placed in schools through the lottery grew by 1,300 over last year, to 3,365 from 2,056. In all, 64 percent of lottery applicants received a placement this year.

Although officials praised the lottery, some parents said it also reflected the continued dearth of real choices in a system where a majority of the schools are under some sort of federally mandated corrective action. They say parents are forced to pursue scarce spots in a relative handful of effective schools.

"To me, the deep disadvantage of the lottery is that it's a crapshoot," said Peter MacPherson, former president of the Capitol Hill Cluster Schools PTA. "I would hope that as the reform effort proceeds, people will have so much confidence in their neighborhood public schools that the lottery will fade away."

Among the schools that received what officials called "unprecedented interest" are two elementary schools in Ward 8, Turner Elementary@Green and Malcolm X, and a Ward 7 school, Drew Elementary. Francis-Stevens, a new pre-K-8 school in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Ward 2, also drew heavy interest, officials said.

Schools that generated waiting lists for the first time include Seaton Elementary (Ward 2), Walker-Jones Education Campus (Ward 6) and Houston Elementary (Ward 7).

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