Correction: An earlier version of this story said that about 1,700 students travel east of the river to attend schools in Wards 7 or 8. Some of the schools those students attend are located in Ward 7 but are on the west side of the river. Also in an earlier version of the story, a charter board official said that route distances were calculated point-to-point on a map, but the routes do account for commuting distances on city streets. The story has been updated.


Math teacher Robert Biemesderfer asks students questions at BASIS charter school, which draws students from all over the District. (Jabin Botsford/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Commuting distances vary widely at charter schools in the District, according to a new school-by-school analysis of enrollment patterns. The analysis, from the D.C. Public Charter School Board, shows that some schools attract students from across the city and that others serve mostly families from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Fewer than 10 percent of the city’s charter school students commute less than a mile to school, compared with more than 60 percent of students enrolled in traditional public schools in the District, the report found. At nearly 50 percent of charter schools, students commute between one and two miles to school, and at more than a third of charter schools, students travel as much as two or three miles to and from school.

“This report tells us something about the character of each school and the diversity of charter schools in the District,” Scott Pearson, the board’s executive director, said. Some charter schools are rooted in their neighborhoods, while others attract students from miles away because of a special academic program or because they offer convenient hours or transportation.

Pearson said the report could offer useful information if District leaders want to consider offering neighborhood families preference for charter schools in the citywide lottery, which Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has supported.

Similar school enrollment maps were developed as part of a task force in 2012 that recommended offering a neighborhood preference in a limited way — for charter schools moving into former neighborhood public school buildings. The charter board still supports this position.


The analysis considered enrollment data for the 2014-2015 school year for 105 charter schools. Distances were calculated by using pedestrian, public transportation or auto routes.

The school that students travel farthest to attend, according to the report, is Potomac Preparatory, with a median distance of 5.6 miles. The school came close to closing this school year when the board moved to revoke its charter for poor performance. It was given conditional approval to stay open under new management and a turnaround plan.

The school is near Providence Hospital in Ward 5, but many students come from other wards, a commute facilitated by five buses that make stops around the city. Public school students in the District are typically expected to provide their own transportation. But offering transportation is one of the “unique features” of Potomac Preparatory, said Principal Marian White-Hood. “It’s on our fliers and our brochures,” she said.

Another charter school that more than half of the students travel more than five miles to attend is YouthBuild, an alternative school for young adults that offers workplace training and is located near the Columbia Heights Metro stop.

Some schools with strong academic reputations, including Washington Latin, also draw from a wide radius and enroll students from every ward. The median distance traveled for Washington Latin’s middle school is 4.7 miles and for its high school is 3.3 miles.

Students at Center City-Brightwood have the shortest commute of those at any charter school in the city, the report showed.

The Brightwood campus is high performing — it has been rated Tier 1 for three years in a row — but it is located in upper Northwest, near the Maryland border, a location that is not very convenient to other parts of the city, said Russ Williams, chief executive.

Two other Center City campuses, in Shaw and Petworth, also had median travel distances that were a mile or less.

Center City’s six charter schools converted from Catholic schools that have been “anchors” in their respective communities for a long time, Williams said. Some students have parents or grandparents who attended the former Catholic schools.

The Catholic church attached to the school in Shaw recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. Despite tremendous change and development in that neighborhood, the school maintains a strong neighborhood following, he said.

At least 48 percent of public charter school students attend school in their home ward. Nearly 5,000 charter students from Wards 7 and 8 attend schools in other wards. About 1,700 students travel south or east to attend schools in Ward 7 or 8.

Pearson said the finding challenged a long-held “belief” that no one will travel east across the Anacostia to go to school. Five schools in Wards 7 and 8 enroll more than a quarter of their students from the other six wards: Friendship elementary and middle schools at Blow-Pierce, Friendship Collegiate Academy, AppleTree Early Learning-Oklahoma Avenue and SEED.

A study about school choice in New Orleans by researchers at Tulane University showed that academics are just one consideration for families when they are making decisions about schools.

Parents also consider convenience, extended-day and after-school programs and extracurriculars. After Hurricane Katrina, average driving distance to schools increased by nearly two miles, the report found, as nearly all traditional public schools were turned into charter schools and most offer transportation.