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Tens of thousands of anxious parents today got word on which schools their children could attend in the coming school year, as results for the city's first common lottery for public and charter schools were made available.
Over 17,000 students applied to 200 public and charter schools through the lottery — known as My School D.C. — and D.C. officials say 12,200 were matched with at least one of their ranked schools. Of those, 85 percent got a spot at one of their top three choices.
One parent who asked not to be named found herself in that group, matched with her second choice, Inspired Teaching Charter School, and first on the wait list for her top choice, Capital City Charter School.
"I've been doing the happy dance all day because we essentially 'won' the lottery for PK-3," she says, adding that she didn't want to be named because she didn't want to be seen as gloating about her lottery results. "I never thought this would happen... I've spent the last six months trying to figure out where we could move to and how we could possibly afford that," she says.
Other parents were far less lucky, says E.V. Downey, a consultant who works with families to help them navigate the multitude of educational options in D.C. Downey says some of her clients found themselves seemingly locked out of all of their top-choice schools.
To enter the lottery, parents ranked their top 12 schools based on specific preferences. An algorithm matched them to their schools based on available seats and other factors, and placed them on wait lists for any schools they did not get into and were ranked above the ones they did. Those wait lists are rankling some parents.
"I'm getting emails from people who got in nowhere at a far faster rate than last year," she says. "It's been hours and I've gotten emails saying 'We're 350th, we're 400th.' It's bad. I feel like I'm seeing people with just ridiculously bad wait list numbers."
Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith says while wait lists still exist at many of the city's most sought-after schools, the new lottery has cut down on parents who placed their children on multiple wait lists in hopes of getting into at least one school.
"The wait lists are much cleaner, they're made up only of kids that want to go to that school. Wait lists are going to be shorter than they were in the past," she says.
Still, the wait lists aren't likely to move quickly. "Those wait lists, we expect, will move. They'll probably move at a slower rate than they moved in the past because they wait lists are not clogged up with lots of people that got into other schools," she says.
Some parents are complaining that unlike in past years, they can't see what type of students are ahead of them on a wait list, information that could make it easier for them to see how likely it is for a wait list to move. Smith says that additional data from the lottery will be released after all parents are notified of the results.
City officials say that part of the problem remains that there is much higher demand than there are numbers of open seats at high-performing schools, whether public or charter.
Speaking on The Kojo Nnamdi Show today, Scott Pearson, the executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said that Two Rivers Charter School received 2,470 applications for 60 seats, while KIPP took in 6,450 applications for 1,100 seats. "We have a lot of demand," he says.
The common lottery was created as a means to bring some consistency and order to a process that had come to include a hodgepodge of applications and deadlines. Only a quarter of D.C. students attend their in-boundary school, and 43 percent attend charter schools.
For Mikia Currie, the results of the lottery are bringing into focus the competing values of proximity and quality. While her daughter currently attends PK-3 at Powell Elementary School in Petworth, she placed into Mundo Verde Charter School through the lottery. While Mundo Verde is stronger academically, she says, it would force her to rework her morning commute.
"I'm torn between the commute and staying in our current school," she says, noting that Mundo Verde is moving from its current location in Mt. Pleasant to a larger building in Truxton Circle.
As for the lottery itself, she says it's an improvement over what parents faced before. But she does understand that some people may feel differently, especially if they didn't get the result they wanted.
"People had problems with the way it worked before, then they were praising the new system," she says. "But now that the results are out, they're talking about it negatively."
Parents have until May 1 to accept the seat from the school they were matched with. By May 15, they have to submit applications for the lottery's second round.