Greater Greater Washington

Education


Create one single lottery for charter and non-charter schools

The current application process for DC's charter and non-charter public schools is a chaotic mess that confuses parents and hurts education for students. DC could fix many problems by creating a centralized lottery process for all public schools, charter and non-charter.


Photo by evmaiden on Flickr.

Steve Glazerman called for a centralized application for charter schools in 2010. Since then, DC Public Schools (DCPS) instituted a common application for the District's specialized high schools.

This is a great step, but it could go a lot further to include charter schools and traditional neighborhood schools at all grades. It wouldn't be hard; the company that operates whose software enables the centralized application for DCPS application-only high schools is currently implementing a centralized application for charters and non-charters in Denver.

District officials generally agree. Scheherazade Salimi, Senior Advisor to the Deputy Mayor for Education, says that "a common application is something the Deputy Mayor would like to explore in partnership with DCPS and [the Public Charter School Board]."

In a centralized application, parents would select several schools, rank-ordered by preference. They would select charters and non-charters, and could conceivably select up to 12, 15 or 20 schools.

A single lottery would select applicants one by one, and assign each to the first school on his or her list with an open slot. This is similar to how many colleges assign dorm rooms, for instance.

This type of centralized application would have many benefits over the current system.

Parents are more likely to get into their top choice schools.

When parents apply to schools now, they apply for DCPS schools using a centralized application, and apply to each charter school separately. Pre-K programs have lotteries for all children, while students in 1st grade and older enter lotteries only for out-of-boundary DCPS schools.

As a result, one applicant in Capitol Hill could be waitlisted at a nearby charter that was their top choice and accepted into a Columbia Heights charter that was their 2nd choice, while a Columbia Heights family that preferred the nearby charter could be waitlisted there but accepted to the Capitol Hill charter school.

The result is that neither child can go to his or her top choice charter, and both families are making unnecessary drives to get the kids to school.

Spots at competitive schools won't be locked up by parents who don't plan to send kids there.

Schools hold their lotteries in the spring for spots in the fall. In the current system, if a child gets accepted to multiple charter schools and/or an out-of-boundary DCPS school, parents might tell each school that the child will attend in the fall.

When they decide which school to attend, they inform the schools at some point in the summer or they just don't show up for the schools they didn't select. There's no deposit or penalty, so they don't pay a cost for this, but other families lose out who might have taken the slot but had to make a decision earlier to go elsehwere.

Some parents do this to give themselves more time to research the schools; some want to wait until school starts to assess the facilities of charter schools that were still preparing their facilities in the spring.

When a student attending an out-of-boundary DCPS school gets into a different out-of-boundary DCPS school, the principal of the first school "releases" the student before they can secure their spot into the new school. Charter schools have no such process.

Squatting on multiple school slots is unfair to everybody. When children accepted through the lottery don't show up in the fall, principals have to scramble to contact any remaining applicants on their wait list. Squatting also leads to the next problem.

Principals could provide better estimates of enrollment for funding purposes.

One of the most common grievances from charter advocates is that DCPS principals overestimate their enrollment to receive extra funding.

DCPS schools project fall enrollment in the spring and these projections determine funding for the following year. If the actual enrollment is lower, DCPS' budget doesn't shrink. But charter schools receive funding quarterly based on their actual enrollment. If a charter school's enrollment declines, it loses money.

Some principals might be doing this on purpose, but it's also difficult for DCPS principals to accurately estimate enrollment for the following fall when applicants hold a spot at their school while they spend the summer deciding whether to attend charter schools.

A centralized application would eliminate much of this problem. Each school, DCPS and charter, would know that every child on its list isn't going to suddenly go elsewhere in the DC system. They could go to private school or move to another jurisdiction, but that applies to a smaller number of children.

Charter principals wouldn't be able to "skim the cream."

Charter school critics often complain that charter school principals find ways to weed out students during enrollment who may be harder to educate. The lottery initially fills all charter school slots randomly, but as parents of children who got in on the lottery tell the school that they won't be taking the slot, the charter itself contacts applicants off of their wait list.

There are opportunities for principals to intentially or unintentionally abuse this system. For example, principals can give an applicant more or less time to respond and claim the slot before they move on to the next child. They might give more "desirable" children more time than others.

A charter school in New York was put on probation last year for weeding out applicants in the enrollment process. While there hasn't been a specific accusation like this against any DC charter school, a centralized application system could remove this because students would be assigned to a single school.

We would have data on capacity needs at all grades, especially pre-K.

District officials say that DC has achieved universal pre-K, but the city's auditor of pre-K capacity disagrees. Who is right? We won't know until we have data on the actual demand for pre-K.

A centralized application for pre-K, including all of the pre-K programs, would generate this data. It would then be easy to compare the number of total children applying against the number of public pre-K slots.

The data wouldn't be perfect, as some parents apply to DCPS pre-K programs as a backup to their private pre-K applications, while other parents miss the pre-K lottery (in February) but still want to send their children to pre-K. But it would be far better than the current audit, which effectively measures nothing.

All students would start school on time together.

One of the unintended consequences of the plethora of charter school choices is that schools don't really know who will show up for school in September. This is largely due to parents holding spots through the summer for multiple schools but only sending their kids to one school.

The result is that classroom compositions are in flux throughout September and October as principals contact students off the wait list to fill suddenly vacated spots. This is challenging for teachers and ultimately hurts students' education.

District education officials and the State Board of Education can start pushing toward a single lottery right away. An education committee in the Council, as many have suggested, could also help move this forward.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

Comments

Add a comment »

I like the idea of a centralized application, though would it be something for charters to opt into, or would their charter arrangements need to be revised? My guess is that some charter schools would appreciate having the administrative burden alleviated, while others might prefer to continue working internally, and not having one more bureaucracy with which to coordinate.

Either way, I'm not sure that aneducation committee in the DC Council would do much to help achieve this goal. In fact, without major changes to the current mayoral control of DCPS (plus the Elected State Board of Education), I'd want to see some specific responsibilities enumerated for a Council committee before thinking it has potential to add positive effects, rather than provide another avenue for potential political posturing/meddling.

by Jacques on Jun 29, 2012 12:46 pm • linkreport

I suspect that for some percentage of charter schools and parents, the complication of applying directly is *desired* since it is a form of weeding out unmotivated students and families. Not saying that that is legitimate, but it's probably there nonetheless. Having a single application where you just can check the box (particularly if you can choose up to 20 schools) would encourage families to go box check crazy. Again, maybe that's not a bad thing, but it would alter the status quo and a lot of people have a vested interest in the status quo.

by TM on Jun 29, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

I suspect that for some percentage of charter schools and parents, the complication of applying directly is *desired* since it is a form of weeding out unmotivated students and families....maybe that's not a bad thing, but it would alter the status quo and a lot of people have a vested interest in the status quo.

I agree that this is a central source of opposition to a centralized application. But we have to be clear what charter school autonomy really refers to.

Charter autonomy should be autonomy from institutional constraints of DCPS, not autonomy from the educational challenges kids present to DCPS schools.

Until charters aren't insulated from the challenge of educating children whose parents don't demonstrate agency and ownership of their kid's education, all charter gains will be suspect in the eyes of many.

by Ken Archer on Jun 29, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

Charter autonomy should be autonomy from institutional constraints of DCPS, not autonomy from the educational challenges kids present to DCPS schools.
This is the best, most concise way I've heard someone put this, and it's exactly right. If charters are simply able to avoid the effects of poverty in the city, then we haven't done anything to actually improve education as a whole. Of course the charters already have means at their disposal to get rid of troublesome students that the school system as a whole doesn't.

by MLD on Jun 29, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

Charter autonomy should be autonomy from institutional constraints of DCPS, not autonomy from the educational challenges kids present to DCPS schools.

I agree with this as well, although as Ken has said, there is a lot of grumbling about the supposed "weeding out" without any actual accusations of this happening, much less a finding that it HAS happened.

A unified lottery would take care of many of the inefficiencies Ken points out, in particular parents holding multiple spots. But I wonder if it wouldn't substitute other logistical difficulties:

- You'd probably have to have families who want to take advantage of a sibling preference to declare before the lottery. But does that preclude the family from trying to get into a different/better school via the lottery? (DCPS probably deals with this now, I just don’t know how.)

- What about twins? When the first twin gets in, the other automatically does as well? What about different-age siblings? (I’d be interested to know how Denver deals with it these issues.)

- Is there a waitlist? And if so, how is it ordered? Does Kid #1 in the unified lottery get into his top choice and automatically # 1 on the list of every other school to which he applies? That doesn’t seem right.

- Under the guise of efficiency, it imposes very significant burdens on parents. Now, parents enter a bunch of charter lotteries, many, or most of which they won’t get into, or have a low enough lottery number to bother seriously checking out the school. Under a unified system, though, they have to make final, irrevocable (presumably) decisions before the lottery – that means vetting ALL potential schools. That’s a huge burden. And many won’t have the time to do all that legwork, and will rely on reputation/shortcuts (“I’ve heard Yu Ying/Kipp/Cap City/EL Haynes is good”), which could lead to all sorts of bad placements – anything from “If I’d had the time to look into this, I’d have realized this isn’t a good fit for my kid,” to ‘Year round program? But we go to visit my family overseas every year for 2 weeks in August!!” to “Whaddaya mean, it’s moving to Walter Reed?!?!” It’s unreasonable to ask parents to learn this much information, and unrealistic to think they will. School choice only works when parents can make informed decisions, and I think this leads to less informed decisions by parents.

Measures can be taken to address holding onto spots and skimming the dream – moving the commitment/enrollment date up date up, and imposing tighter controls on the waitlist process. This would also provide more certainty for funding purposes. This strikes me as an attempt at a comprehensive solution that may create more significant problems than it solves, as opposed to more targeted measures that address specific, discrete problems.

by dcd on Jun 29, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

Interesting concept. I will have to read this again and contemplate it to give you a better response. But as a parent who has gone through the DCPS lottery 3x's and the charter lotteries 3x's my first thought is don't mix them. For some reason it seems that this reduces my options but I have to do the calculation to show it and don't have time now.

by LeeinDC on Jun 29, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

This scheme reminds me of how medical residency programs place new MDs; they have "match day" and all.

We got into our current charter off the wait list a week before school started, and that wasn't really enough time to prepare our 4-year old for the fact that he'd be off to a new building with new friends (and speaking a new language to boot). Earlier decision-making and working through wait lists could have made quite a difference.

And I'll also say that the live lottery event that some charters use, with a public figure literally drawing names out of a bin in front of an audience that, statistically, has a small chance of being picked, is absurd.

@dcd's point on the burden placed on individual parents is important here. In the current scheme, parents will investigate perhaps 3 or 4 schools as offers of admission become likely. Doing a thorough investigation of 20 schools is an awful lot of work. If such investigation involves parents taking time off from work to do a site visit, it's a whole lot of ultimately wasted effort, and would also add to the school staff burden to receive the visits of many more families.

And for being equality-minded: we should be vary wary of disrupting the current uneasy balancing act amongst DC's bi-modal student demographics. DC has a very large population of at-risk students, and also a substantial but smaller population of middle-class students. The ideal placement would have at-risk students in dilute numbers at schools that are predominantly middle-class; this is widely believed to be the best situation for at-risk students. But DC does not have enough middle-class students for this to be the universal arrangement, although we can hope that by growing the middle class it will become more common. We cannot avoid the existence of schools which are predominantly at-risk students. If such schools are the only option for middle-class families, they will leave the system, either by opting for private schools or moving to Montgomery county. If we want to keep middle-class families in the city, we need to make it feasible for middle-class students to go to schools that are predominantly middle-class. This develops a continued presence of middle-class families in an expanding set of neighborhoods, eventually increasing the pool of middle-class students. The barriers and cues in the current system, while not explicitly excluding anyone, do make for a system that seems to support this model, and I'd want to understand how any reforms might impact the present balance.

by thm on Jun 29, 2012 5:12 pm • linkreport

thm, leaving your middle v. at-risk distinction aside (I'm sure others will parse it) your comparison to match day is apt. If residency programs can be assigned this way, surely DC schools can be too--and residency match is even more complicated, since the hospitals AND the med students each have preferences, while in DC just the families rank the schools.

To those who have wondered about sibling preference in a unified system, the residency match program has a feature for "couples match" where two people can express a desire to be sent to lower-preference programs if it means they are in the same city. I think that could easily be programmed into a DC system. They also offer an anti-match, where you accept a lower-preference program in order to NOT be placed with a specific person.

As for the parents who are concerned that it's too much burden to check out 20 schools and kids will get placed into a school that's a bad fit, I disagree. Parents don't have to apply to 20 schools, just as many as they think their kid should go to. I think lots of people apply to all the "good" OOB and charter schools now based on reputation, and while a unified application might increase that a little, it ameliorates a lot of bigger issues too. I don't think it's the end of the world for some parents to be surprised their kid gets into a year-round school. The kids whose parents don't do the research might benefit from year-round school. And if the parents don't like it, they can remove their kid--it doesn't lead to any more switching system-wide than the current method does, and I doubt that will happen too often.

One way to get over the lack of information problem would be to publish unified school profiles (like colleges' Common Data Sets, http://profiles.dcps.dc.gov/, or the "compare" feature on electronics companies' website) that allow schools to submit responses to a questionnaire). Ideally, they'd have a lot more information than the DC Schools Chooser http://www.greatschools.org/res/pdf/DC/DC_School_Chooser_2012-2013.pdf but that is a good start.

by sb on Jun 30, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

"...DCPS principals overestimate their enrollment to receive extra funding.

DCPS schools project fall enrollment in the spring and these projections determine funding for the following year. If the actual enrollment is lower, DCPS' budget doesn't shrink."

Is the above accurate? From what I understand (based on experience w/ my kids' school), DCPS only releases a small portion of estimated budget to the schools at the beginning of the school year (10%, maybe?). The rest of the budget is released after the audits are conducted in October (where every child is counted). Actual budget received by the schools is based on the actual headcount.

The 'fun' part starts when new children enroll in the school after October, but the school is not given additional funding those kids.

Enter the 'stories' (full disclosure, this is hearsay on my part - I've heard this from principals) of charters getting rid of kids who are not 'good fits', charters keeping the budget for those kids, and those kids then being absorbed by their DCPS neighborhood school (the kid without the funding).

All that said, the point of centralizing charter lottery process is a good one, whether or not it's combined w/ DCPS'. From my perspective, the online lottery brought much needed transparency and efficiency to DCPS' enrollment process.

by Sandra on Jun 30, 2012 11:22 am • linkreport

As for the parents who are concerned that it's too much burden to check out 20 schools and kids will get placed into a school that's a bad fit, I disagree....One way to get over the lack of information problem would be to publish unified school profiles

I completely agree. School choice is a market, and centralizing the application process will lead to demand for centralized information. Also, the lotteries could be pushed back further in Spring.

by Ken Archer on Jun 30, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

"...DCPS principals overestimate their enrollment to receive extra funding. DCPS schools project fall enrollment in the spring and these projections determine funding for the following year. If the actual enrollment is lower, DCPS' budget doesn't shrink."

Is the above accurate?

A centralized application that prevents parents from using DCPS schools as backups and then just not showing up for the DCPS school in the fall would help DCPS principals avoid overestimating enrollment.

Yes, it was revealed in reports that Mary Levy did for the DC CFO and then for some charter organizations. As reported by the Post:

DCPS is funded each spring for the following school year based on enrollment projections. If the actual enrollment is lower than projected, which is usually the case, the system's budget is not reduced. Charter schools are funded by the city in quarterly installments based on actual enrollment. If it declines, allotments are cut.

by Ken Archer on Jun 30, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by topryder1 on Jul 3, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

This is long overdue. The model that medical schools, and now school systems in NYC and New Orleans is called a "deferred acceptance model." They make great sense. Here's a good primer on how and why deferred acceptance models work:

http://www.bklaus.net/Aenorm67BKlaus.pdf

by Mark Jordan on Jul 3, 2012 7:06 pm • linkreport

The idea that charters kick out their problems is supported by the data reported to the council by the charter school board.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-schools-insider/post/charters-quick-to-suspend-expel-council-told/2012/02/17/gIQAQRGlKR_blog.html

If the charters are kicking out approximately 4% of their kids from the day after the audit until May 1 of the same year, it is probably true that some do some gaming of lotteries and "not asking back" of students. Re-enrollment rates when reported run in a range of 41% to 91%, so that is another point when charters my be weeding their student population. I was interested to find that some of the charters who are allowed to claim graduation rates of 9th graders of over 90% have yearly re-enrollment rates of 60%. How can you claim to have a 90% graduation rate of 9th graders if only 60% of your kids re-enroll each year.

by Mary Melchior on Jul 24, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or

Support Us