The Washington Post

Should D.C. public schools do away with the lottery?

Earlier this week, D.C. Pubic Schools revealed that more parents than ever before applied for admission in the pre-school, pre-k and out-of-boundary lottery.

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The lottery, in theory, is supposed to give those families who don’t highly regard their local school some options. But, the landscape is changing. More families in-boundary for the better schools are taking up the seats, and overall, more families want to stay in the city and also have the option of a good school. (That shouldn’t be too much to ask, but for many it still is.)

The decreasing number of seats available at the “best” schools and the increasing number of families who want them has created a welling anger and what’s been called an illusion of choice.

DCPS officials have said that the fact that parents are applying for a broader selection of schools is an indication that neighborhood schools are improving. Bancroft Elementary in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, for instance, was until recently considered sub-par by many neighborhood families. This year, it broke into the top 10 most sought after schools in the lottery.

Still, everyone acknowledges that the schools are not improving fast enough.

One mother wrote me with an intriguing solution: Do away with the lottery altogether.

A theory holds that the lottery has always contributed to the inequality in schools because when the most dedicated parents “win” the lottery, it means they bring their energy to a different school and thus deprive the neighborhood school of a possible change-agent.

The mother who wrote me — she lives in Ward 5 and entered the pre-school lottery for the first time this year and was waitlisted at all of the six schools she applied to — adds that the lottery is also creating a tinderbox of pressure for parents.

Here’s an excerpt from her note:

“I looked at the results for several schools online — and not the usual suspects either — most families who made it either were in-boundary or had a sibling. It’s sad to me that the families with kids who live on my block may all have kids in different schools because the school around the corner is really ‘bad.’

“The improvements in DCPS are great, but sadly it appears that those improved schools are out of reach for most families. I think the lottery process is really, really stressful for families and ultimately I question whether or not it is a feasible option. That process coupled with the charter school lottery system is really ridiculous — like applying to college.

“I understand that the next six months will be a chaotic mess of shifting list positions and badgering school administrative offices. There has to be a better way and I’d almost prefer DCPS just saying, ‘no more lottery, commit to your local neighborhood school and we’ll support you.’ ”

What do you think? Is the lottery itself creating a problem? Or will removing all public school choice encourage parents to abandon the system?

Related Content:

D.C. public schools: Lottery results reveal a new set of popular kids

DC school waitlists: How to endure the purgatory?

D.C. parents choosing to home-school their children


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