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It’s a nerve-wracking rite of spring for parents of young children. Every year, hundreds of District families enter the public school system’s “Out-of-Boundary Lottery,” hoping to secure open seats in the city’s high performing schools. We explore how the system works, and how parents navigate a complex world of information, statistics and wait-lists.
Victoria Sherk from Petworth is the parent of a soon-to-be 4 year old. She entered the lottery and secured a place at Hearst Elementary."We started thinking about it probably two years in advance...we really played all our options. It felt very much like gambling...we were going to try the lottery, we were going to try for the charter schools, and then we were going to try for private schools...and see what happened. See what stuck. We were very fortunate that the lottery stuck."
Sam Chaltain is a writer and education activist who lives in Columbia Heights. His two-and-a-half year-old is on wait lists at Ross Elementary and Bancroft Elementary. He is currently researching a book on school choice in D.C., tracing a year in a public school and a public charter school."What's happening in D.C. is this great intra-city migration. We know about charters...but there's an equally robust pattern among public schools, where some schools have as many as half of their students coming from out-of-boundary." Chaltain said that there is an "illusion of choice" when it comes to preschool. "The reality is, you're not going to get in to a pre-school program out-of-boundary," he said.
Liz Paladino from Eckington has a 4-year old enrolled at Cleveland Elementary. She said her family has played the lottery for 3 years but has never won."As a middle class family, we are being out-priced for public education. DCPS has become a class system in which public and equal access do not exist unless you can spend close to a million dollars on a small home," she said.
Yolanda Hood attended DC Public Schools as a child. Today, she is the mother of a 3 year old. She entered the lottery for six DCPS schools. However, she is planning on sending her child to a charter school. In advance of school lottery season, she attended 19 open houses.
"I tried to go to every school regardless of what tier it was... I went to 19 charter schools. The schools I liked most, I went to three or four times."
The people above generously shared their experiences with us through the Public Insight Network. For more on the network and becoming a source for WAMU 88.5 and The Kojo Nnamdi Show, visit wamu.org's information page, where you can also sign up.