Former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson gave preferential treatment to several city officials, a principal and a graduate school classmate to enroll their children in schools outside their neighborhoods, according to an investigation by the D.C. inspector general.
Inspector General Daniel W. Lucas found Henderson had misused her authority by giving preferential treatment to seven of 10 people who requested special school placements for their children during the 2015 lottery season.
As chancellor, Henderson was empowered to grant a “discretionary transfer,” in cases when the placement is in the best interest of the students or the school system. But the inspector general identified seven cases where those standards were not met.
Thousands of District families enter the citywide lottery system each year, hoping to snag a seat in a traditional public school outside their attendance zone or in a public charter school. Here are some answers to basic questions about the lottery:
Don’t students have assigned schools in D.C.?
Yes, students have a right to attend their neighborhood school, which is determined by the home address. There is no need to go through the lottery to attend a neighborhood school.
So then who applies to a school via the lottery?
Lots of families, especially outside of pockets in northwest D.C. and Capitol Hill. Three out of every four children in D.C. do not attend their assigned neighborhood school. This year, there were 22,050 applications in the lottery.
The lottery is for students applying to a charter school, citywide selective high schools (such as Benjamin Banneker Academic High School and School Without Walls), traditional DCPS schools outside of a student’s attendance boundary and preschool students (enrollment is not guaranteed in neighborhood schools until kingergarten).
Who came up with this system, and is the District the only one doing this?
The lottery’s algorithm was developed by Alvin Roth, an economist. He shared the 2012 Nobel Prize for designing a program that match thousands of medical residents with hospitals as well as New York City students with high schools.
The system is designed to be “strategy-proof” that creates school lotteries that are fair, transparent and can’t be gamed.
Denver and New Orleans have similar lotteries.
How does the application process work?
Families can select up to 12 schools on the myschooldc.org, the centralized system for the District. Families rank schools in order of preference from one to 12. This year’s application deadline was March 1 for prekindergarten through eight grade.
After families submit their preference, students are assigned a random number and a computer algorithm matches students to a school.
How are matches made?
Students are offered a seat at a school based on a randomly assigned lottery number.
But schools also have “preferences,” which gives an edge to certain students meeting those criteria. The most common preference is for siblings, meaning if a student has a sister or brother at a school, that child gets bumped in front of any student without a sibling in the school.
If there are no preferences at a school, then a student is placed based on a randomly assigned lottery number.
Are families guaranteed a seat in their first choice school?
No, some schools are in very high demand.
This year, city officials said less than 60 percent of students were offered a seat at their top choice, but 85 percent were offered a seat at one of their three school choices.
Students remain on wait lists for the schools that were ranked higher. So, if a student was “matched” with a seat in her third-choice school, she’ll remain on the wait list for her first and second choice school.
How many students are on wait lists?
In early April, there were over 9,700 students on waitlists to attend a charter school. There were 8,864 students on waitlists for a DCPS school.
Some schools have hundreds of students applying for a few dozen seats. Latin American Montessori Bilingual Charter School had 643 students on its waitlist for next year’s prek3 seats. This school year, the school enrolled 77 students in that grade level.
DCPS’s Capitol Hill Montessori School at Logan saw 834 students apply for 61 prek3 seats.
That’s why many parents are upset that former DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson gave some city officials preferential treatment. The Inspector General’s report notes that some of those who received Henderson’s help were far down on the waiting list, meaning they had slim chances of getting into the school using the standard method.