Families Await Their Fate With New D.C. Schools Lottery


We'll turn now to lotteries, but not the kind where money is the prize. No. In this case the prize is a slot in one of Washington, D.C.'s top schools. Thousands of students have applied through District's new lottery system, which covers both traditional public schools and charter schools. Special correspondent, Kavitha Cardoza, met with Abigail Smith, D.C.'s deputy mayor for education, who says in the past the system was far more complex and confusing for families.


If you wanted to apply to a charter school, you applied to each one separately. The deadline was different for everyone. You found out whether you got in at a different time. And then at the same time, if you were applying to DCPS to an out-of-boundary school or to pre-K for any school, you would apply through the DCPS out-of-boundary lottery. And so what would happen was that parents would be on multiple waiting lists, and therefore having a difficult time planning for the coming school year.


And at the same time, schools wouldn't know who was coming and would have their -- what we call the great shuffle -- the roster shuffle, which would happen over the course of the summer and into the early fall, even after school had started. So frustrating for kids, frustrating for parents and for schools.


And so now you have a uniform lottery system, a common lottery system. Parents will rank their top 12 schools, traditional and charter, and a computer will match them with a choice. And 90 percent of schools are participating.


So you go onto, you can find out information about all the schools that are participating and that includes all DCPS schools. And then on the charter side, of all of the available seats on the charter side, 95 percent are included in the lottery. And then there's a computer algorithm that runs a lottery. The idea is to provide seats for as many students as possible in the lottery.


So no student will get more than one seat through the lottery. If you get into a school, you're then waitlisted at any school that you ranked higher than the one that you got into. But not at the ones that you ranked lower. So we know that right now the waitlist numbers that we hear about every year, that there are 20,000 kids on waitlists, those are the same kids on multiple waitlists. And there was no way in the past for a school to be able to take into account what school the kid or their parents most wanted them to go to.


So the idea is that this lottery system takes into account both maximizing the number of students who get matched up with seats, but also maximizing the number the students who get matched up at a place where they really want to go.


Do families that maybe work multiple jobs, that aren't computer savvy, that don't have the time to do the research, are they at a disadvantage under this new system?


So we have made a significant focus on insuring that all families have access. So not only have we done a sort of standard ad campaign and on busses and that sort of thing, all of the schools have information, but we've also reached out to community groups, we've done door-to-door canvassing, every public library, all the staff in the libraries have been trained. The librarians can help you actually go through the process. And there's a hotline that you can call and actually go through it over the phone, if that's easier for you. And in multiple languages.


And we actually think that what this will do is not limit access, it actually will increase access for all families because everyone is able to -- without having to go to an individual school and drop off an application and make separate phone calls about when the deadline is, they can get all the information in one place. They can apply to multiple schools at the same time. So it actually really reduces the burden on families.


That was Abigail Smith, the deputy mayor for education in D.C., speaking with special correspondent, Kavitha Cardoza.


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