Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Education

Education


Schools are still segregated in Maryland, and state legislators want that to change

Studies have shown that while our country is becoming more ethnically diverse, our schools have become more segregated. In fact, studies by the Civil Rights Project have found that Maryland to be among the most-segregated state in the country for black students. A bill hoping to change that just passed through the Maryland state legislature.


Photo by US Department of Education on Flickr.

Segregation is still a problem in our schools

I am an elementary school teacher in Prince George's County. In our school of over 700 students, nearly 90 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced meals. We have fewer than ten white non-Hispanic children, and most of our students speak Spanish as their first language.

It's not that we do not have white or middle class children in our neighborhood. But at present, the majority of these families are choosing private schools, charter schools, magnet programs or homeschooling. They do anything to avoid sending their kids to the predominantly low-income local public school.

Looking at Prince George's County on the whole, nine out of 10 black students attend a school where at least 90 percent of students are minorities. Nearly four out of 10 black students attend what the Civil Rights Project report called "apartheid schools," where more than 99% of the school is African American; nearly all of the 400 "apartheid schools" are in Prince George's County or Baltimore City.

As early as the 1960s, we have understood that the two greatest predictors of student academic success are the socioeconomic status of the student's family, and the socioeconomic status of the student's peers. That is to say that low-income children who attend mixed income schools will achieve at higher rates.

With a state as segregated as ours, it is no wonder that Maryland's achievement gap is also one of the greatest in the country. According to our 2013 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores, the gap in average math scores between black and white fourth-graders in Maryland was the fifth-worst in the nation, and in reading the gap was the ninth-worst.

A new program called EDCo wants to confront these issues

Senator Bill Ferguson, a democrat from Baltimore City, proposed legislation to create the Maryland Education Development Collaborative (EDCo). The collaborative would make recommendations to the state Board of Education, the General Assembly, and local school systems about how to make schools more diverse in terms of socioeconomics and demographics.

The EDCo bill has now moved through the Maryland state legislature. If signed by the Governor, the new educational entity will be a big step to addressing the greatest civil rights issue and roadblock to educational equity in our state: socioeconomic segregation.

While equitable education is elusive, there's plenty of reason to think it's not impossible. The challenge is collecting, analyzing and sharing best policies and practices across schools, districts and regions.

In 1998 the Maryland Legislature founded TEDCo (Technology Development Corporation) to foster innovation and entrepreneurship communities across the state. In under two decades, the organization has created thousands of jobs and impacted hundreds of companies through granting and mentoring programs. The goal with EDCo is to bring the same level of growth and innovation to the field of education by connecting universities, research institutions, venture capitalists, and school districts. Hopefully, this would mean turning research into policy and practice.

For example, last year Governor Hogan launched the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) partnership with IBM. EDCo could assess the impact of this collaboration and work to disseminate progress.

Another way that EDCo could help is by developing a model to make magnet programs more inclusive and economically integrated. While magnet programs were designed to diversify schools by drawing students from across boundary lines, the current system in Prince George's County favors families who are actively engaged in their children's education by requiring parents to apply. That leaves the neediest children isolated in their increasingly segregated schools.

EDCo would seek to break down these barriers to comprehensive integration by supporting programs that attract a broad demographic clientele, and developing lottery systems that do not discriminate against poor, under-resourced children. Rather than relying on a competitive application or lottery, magnet programs would instead use strong marketing and weighted lotteries to build demographically diverse school populations across the state.

Teachers need an organization that considers broad policy changes

Public school systems aren't in a great position to push for change because teachers, principals, and superintendents are consumed with making sure they're educating kids every day. There's little time or energy to zoom out and think about policy.

An entity like EDCo, on the other hand, can provide perspective, make connections, and help us evolve towards a better future, where all children of all colors and classes learn together in high quality schools that would make any parent proud.

Education


Eliot-Hine, a DC middle school, is falling apart

Katelyn Hollmon, a student at Eliot-Hine Middle School, cried when she testified before the DC Council last year, saying she and her classmates shouldn't have to attend a school that reminds them of the homeless shelter where several of her friends live. "Just because we're kids doesn't mean we don't have rights... It is not enough to believe in us. You must invest in us also," read her testimony.


All photos by Heather Schoell.

We often look at investments in education in terms of expenditures per student and academic program. But there's another key piece of the puzzle: the poor condition of our school facilities.

Over the last decade, Capitol Hill's Eliot-Hine Middle School has struggled. Enrollment and test scores have declined, but so has the building itself. Film blocks its windows, preventing natural light and fresh air from entering classrooms, and making it difficult to open them in case of an emergency. The heating system is full of dust and dander, and makes the classrooms so unbearably hot that the school has to turn on its air conditioning as soon as the heating system goes on in the fall. And that leads to another problem: Noise from the A/C units makes it too loud for teachers and students to communicate.

According to the District, many of these problems don't exist. In 2008, as a part of the "school blitz" associated with the merger of Eliot Middle School and Hine Junior High School, Eliot-Hine was allocated $8 million for new windows and additional work was done throughout the building. According to DGS data used by the DC Council to prioritize capital spending in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, the condition of Eliot-Hine was rated "good," the same rating as neighboring Stuart-Hobson MS, which recently completed a $40 million renovation.

Last spring, after proposals to further delay the modernization of Eliot-Hine came forward, the community stepped up. Social media was filled with photos of restrooms with trash bags covering urinals, broken doors, and mold. Local ANCs wrote letters and the community spoke out at District Council hearings. Despite these efforts, the Eliot-Hine modernization was, again, delayed, this time to FY2019 and FY2020 (meaning construction will end on August 31, 2020).

However, the Mayor heard residents and the District took immediate action. Last spring, restrooms got repairs and ceilings and radiators were painted, among other repairs.

Still, many underlying conditions persist and other promised improvements—science labs, new furniture, and new technology in classrooms—have yet to be completed.

"Eliot-Hine is old and falling apart," Malia, a 4th grade student who attends one of Eliot-Hine's feeder elementary schools told the DC Council Education Committee last year. "Half the toilets don't work. I don't like using the bathrooms there; they are too disgusting to use."

Underlying problems are resurfacing. Ceilings are again damaged and mold is returning. The heating and A/C systems continue spread years of accumulated mold, dander, and dust. Rodents continue to infest the building.

And it's not like the community isn't aware, nor is the problem that it doesn't care. Over Spring Break, a group of parents, with the support of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, organized the Eliot-Hine Extreme Bathroom Makeover, where they cleaned, painted, and put up mirrors in two restrooms.

Just last week, Eliot-Hine asked the community for help with preparing the facility to host Watkins Elementary next school year while its building is torn down and replaced.

DC can have safe, smart, and healthy schools for all students

The most disappointing part of the story of Eliot-Hine is that billions of our tax dollars have been spent and countless students still attend inadequate facilities. Across the District there are more than 20 schools that have not been renovated, and others, like Eliot-Hine, that fail to provide even the basics for our students. Last summer, the DC Auditor released a report stating that the District's school modernization program lacks accountability, transparency, and basic financial management.

In short, we have failed our students and our taxpayers.

While we can rehash the poor decisions of the past, it is more important that as we move forward we make our first priority that all school facilities (1) comply with applicable safety codes, (2) have adequate heating, air conditioning, acoustics, lighting, ventilation, and meet other basic needs, and (3) meet basic academic programming requirements. Furthermore, decisions about where our District's school modernization dollars are spent must be made in partnership with the community and our decision-makers must be held accountable.

Moving forward at Eliot-Hine

In late March, Mayor Bowser announced her plan to pump an extra $220 million into school modernization over the next two years as part of a $1.2 billion plan. The Mayor announced that her office will be using more realistic cost estimates and that 98 of the District's 112 schools will be modernized by 2022. This is progress, but it still leaves crucial community involvement and transparency out of the planning process.

On March 1st, DCPS and DGS convened a School Improvement Team (SIT) for Eliot-Hine (of which I am a member). Our government agencies came to the first meeting of the SIT with a proposal for a 480 student facility that incorporates space for Eliot-Hine's Radio/TV course, expanded music programming, and various other amenities at a price tag of approximately $30 million. While nearly everyone in the community would be pleased with this outcome, this process fails to address the problems with school facilities planning.

Since reaching an enrollment of 348 students during 2011-2012, Eliot-Hine's enrollment has plummeted to a projected 188 students for 2016-17. Given the continued growth of our District's public charter sector, as well as enrollment projections provided to the Maury ES SIT, as that feeder of Eliot-Hine prepares for an expansion, that state "students in 4th and 5th grade will continue to utilize the lottery to access PCS and DCPS alternatives rather than continue to Elliot-Hine MS," it is unclear how Eliot-Hine will return to these old enrollment figures. Even if Eliot-Hine meets these projected enrollment numbers, it will mean that there is still a great deal of under-utilized space within the facility.

Planning cannot happen in a vacuum. Rather, we must engage the community, per the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, to "secure input into the studies on school capacity, utilization and attendance zones." I believe we must also determine if there are additional amenities that the broader community can use. At Eliot-Hine, this could mean lending the second gymnasium to neighborhood elementary schools that lack a full-sized gym or for school-wide performances; a new 9th grade academy for Eastern High School, which is nearing its building capacity; a partnership with the DC Youth Orchestra, Challenger Center for Space Science Education or another organization that serves students from across the District; or co-locating with a charter school. The possibilities are endless and should be discussed.

The fact that the Mayor and Council seem to be much more focused on the school modernization capital budget is a positive sign, but major concerns about out-year projects remain. A number of questions remain, especially in terms of community input. The process should begin with community input and the District's leaders should develop plans that include specifics for each school and the broader community of schools. Only then should architects develop a budget that will fulfill those plans and meet all relevant educational specifications. Without comprehensive community planning on the front end, the District's school modernization budget will continue to be largely a shot in the dark. We can and must do better for our students.

If you want to get involved in the school modernization process, you can testify before the District Council at the DC Public School and Department of General Services FY2017 Budget hearings on April 14 and April 22 respectively.

Roads


Kids can be traffic engineers, too. Check out the video.

Last week at the National Building Museum, hundreds of local kids learned how to design streets. In the video below, check out what Fairfax-based civil engineer and STEM skills advocate Fionnuala Quinn taught them, and see if you can spot how they're working on challenges that are unique to DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

It's fascinating to see young heads nod with understanding at this year's Discover Engineering Family Day as Quinn explains how a complete street serves all users: people on foot and on bikes, drivers, transit riders, and people in wheelchairs.

An intersection of two streets with four car lanes in each direction forms the center of Quinn's display, to which she gradually adds components including traffic signals (for cars and pedestrians), crosswalks, sidewalks, bus stops, and bicycle facilities (including a bike counter and Capital Bikeshare station).

Quinn then alters her street by adding grass medians to show how land can be re-purposed, pointing out how the arrangement cuts the number of travel lanes and the possibility of head-on crashes while giving rainwater a place to soak in. She also closes off a street, transforming it into a space for food trucks and community events.


Engineering educator Fionnuala Quinn helps kids make street design choices at the National Building Museum's Discover Engineering Family Day on Feb. 28, 2016. Photo by the author.

Quinn makes everything in her mini-streets out of common household materials to show kids how easy it is to create their own designs.


Kids get their hands on The Bureau of Good Roads demonstration station at Discover Engineering Family Day. Photo by the author.

To help ordinary people of all ages who don't have engineering degrees and planning backgrounds engage in civic discussions around streets and multi-modal mobility, Quinn recently started an organization called The Bureau of Good Roads. Among its offerings are hands-on workshops, camps, walking and bicycling field tours, as well as design guidance and advice.

Education


Are long waitlists for DC's public preschools hurting the entire school system?

At some DC Public Schools, the programs that prepare kids for kindergarten by teaching pre-literacy and math skills, like learning the alphabet and counting, are in such demand that many neighborhood residents are unable to enroll their children. If DCPS doesn't expand the number of preschool slots where demand is highest, it risks losing those families to charter and other non-DCPS schools.


A preschool classroom. Photo by Herald Post on Flickr.

Officially called the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program, it offers Preschool-3 (PS3) and Pre-Kindergarten-4 (PK4) classes at elementary schools around the city through a lottery called My School DC. When it opens on December 14th, thousands of families from around the city will enter in hopes of securing a seat at the school of their choice.

To apply, families fill out a single online application for participating public charter schools (PS3 through 12) DCPS out-of-boundary schools (K-12), most DCPS ECE (PS3 and PK4) programs including programs at in-boundary schools, and DCPS citywide selective high schools (9-12).

Each student may apply to as many as 12 schools per application. The My School DC lottery is designed to match students with the schools they want most, and maximize the number of students who are matched.

As 3 and 4 year olds are not required by law to attend school, DCPS is not required to offer a seat for every in-bound child. Therefore a child must enter the lottery to secure an ECE seat. DCPS is current piloting program that offers guaranteed seats for in-bounds PS3 and PK4 student at six Title I (low income) elementary schools across the city (Amidon-Bowen Elementary, Bunker Hill Elementary, Burroughs Elementary, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary, Stanton Elementary, and Van Ness Elementary) but families are required apply through the lottery to exercise this right.

Preferences are given to students that are in-bounds and have a sibling that attends the school, in-bounds students without a sibling at the school, and students that are out-of-bound and have a sibling that attends the school, in that order. A majority of elementary schools are able to offer seats to all of their in-bounds ECE students. If there is a waitlist, students are ordered by the lottery based on the algorithm, which accounts for any preferences a student may have.

The in-bounds waitlists can be very long

The list of schools that are able to accept all of their in-bounds students into their ECE programs is shrinking. Last year 25 schools had to waitlist one or more of their in-bounds ECE students. The schools on this list put an average of 25% of their in-bounds students on the waitlist, although in some cases it was much higher.

Of the four schools that waitlisted 50% or more of their in-bounds students, two were located in Ward 3 (Stoddert and Oyster-Adams) and offered only PK4 slots, while the others were located in Ward 6 (Brent and Maury) and offered positions for both PS3 and PK4 students.

Brent and Maury provide examples of how quickly things can change:


Table by the author.

These numbers offer a poor introduction to many families that DCPS is trying to attract and retain. The situation is worse for new families, as children with older siblings in the school receive priority over other in-bounds students. This past year, in-bounds students without siblings had a 24% chance of getting into Maury's PS3 class and no chance of getting into Brent as they had 39 students receiving the in-bounds with sibling preference for only 30 PS3 spots. While there is a chance that students could receive a PK4 seat the following year, the fact remains that a large percentage of in-bounds families will not experience the best recruiting tool DCPS has to offer.

Families are deciding about middle school when their kids are three years old

At a time when DCPS is taking steps to encourage families to stay beyond elementary school, potential new families can see these large waitlists as a deterrent. DCPS also risks losing these students to private schools, DC public charters, or other districts with more established middle school options.

Even if the student returns for kindergarten, DCPS has missed an opportunity to build loyalty with these students and their families, which matters in neighborhoods with unsettled middle school situations like Capitol Hill. Due to the increasing number of middle school options, some families are choosing to leave DCPS elementary schools as early as second grade.

Also, the charter middle schools that are popular with Capitol Hill families such as BASIS and Washington Latin start in fifth grade, which also pushes up the Middle School Decision timeline. As a result, DCPS may only have a few years with a student that starts in kindergarten to demonstrate they are a viable option beyond fourth grade.

Here's what DCPS can do about this problem

One option is for DCPS to eliminate PS3 classes in the schools with long in-bounds waitlists and convert those seats into PK4 seats. This still may not provide room for all in-bounds students, but by bringing in a larger percentage of the in-bounds population for one year it would offer a better experience for more families and would reduce the "Golden Ticket" feeling that divides communities into haves and have-nots at three years old.

It is notable that in Northwest DC, only two of the twelve elementary schools that flow to Wilson High School offer PS3 classes. While many of those twelve schools still have to waitlist in-bounds students applying for PK4 seats, in several cases they are able to accommodate a much larger percentage of their in-bounds students. As DCPS tries to create a "Deal and Wilson for all," Eastern High School and the schools that flow to it offer DCPS a chance to re-create that model, which starts for most families at PK4.

As more families choose to stay in the city, it is likely that DCPS will have additional schools that experience large increases in the number of in-bound applicants from one year to the next. However better demographic information in the school districts would allow DCPS to predict and then plan for these large increases in order to minimize the waitlists.

As DC changes, its preschool programs will need to as well

The DCPS ECE program is a great resource for District families, and is often the envy of our friends in Maryland and Virginia. While it is often derided as "free day care," ask parents with children in one of the classes around the city and instead they will talk about the excitement of their students describing metamorphosis and reading and writing their first words. They will also talk about the relationships their children have developed with the other students and the sense of community a neighborhood school can provide.

As DC continues to change, DCPS must be able to anticipate these changes and adapt as well. Investing in information gathering will benefit DCPS by allowing neighborhood schools to better predict how large rising classes of in-bounds three year olds may be.

DCPS has made significant strides convincing DC families that the DCPS elementary schools will provide an excellent education for their children. In fact, they have been so successful that families are clamoring for seats in their ECE programs. However, the next phase, persuading DC families to believe in DCPS middle schools, begins with families' first interactions with DCPS.

DCPS has the ability to make that interaction better.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that families who wanted to claim an in-bounds state at one of the six schools that guarantees admission to their ECE program did not need to go through the My School DC lottery. That's incorrect. Students must still apply through the lottery to claim their in-bounds seat.

Education


Education in multiple languages gives kids a big boost, which means high demand for DC's programs

Seven DC public schools and six charters teach children in not just one language, but two. It's an approach that helps native and non-native English speakers, poor and affluent children alike, the latest research shows. But 13 schools are far from enough to meet the demand.


Photo by sussex.library on Flickr.

Children pick up languages very quickly. When you think about it, it's quite an amazing feat to learn one language when you know zero. Their brains can easily pick up languages in the early years, and in much of the world, children learn multiple languages.

Traditionally, US education doesn't start other languages until middle school, when the window of best opportunity has closed. A once-a-week Spanish lesson isn't enough either. But a few DC schools offer true immersion, where many lessons are in a language besides English.

Unfortunately, those programs are so successful that some boast among the longest waiting lists in the city. With few such programs concentrated in even fewer neighborhoods, it's not an option open to everyone.

What is immersion and where is it in DC?

To be an "immersion," "dual language," or "bilingual" school, at least half of the instructional time has to happen in a language other than English, even for kids who are native English speakers. This isn't the same as teaching "foreign language" or "world language" as a separate subject; instead, students might have their math or history lessons in Spanish, or Chinese, or another language depending on the school.

DC Public Schools has seven bilingual elementary schools, all in Spanish: Oyster-Adams in Woodley Park, Marie Reed in Adams Morgan, Bancroft in Mount Pleasant, Powell in Columbia Heights, Bruce-Monroe in Park View, Cleveland around U Street, and Tyler in Capitol Hill.


Photo by Daniel Lobo on Flickr.

A number of charter schools also teach in two languages: DC Bilingual in Columbia Heights, Latin American Montessori Bilingual (LAMB) in Brightwood and Brookland/Woodridge, and Mundo Verde in Truxton Circle all teach Spanish. There's also Sela, which teaches Hebrew in the Riggs Park area; Stokes, in Brookland, which teaches in French and Spanish; and Yu Ying, near Catholic University, in Mandarin Chinese.

The only private immersion school in DC I'm aware of is the Washington International School, which offers Spanish, French, or a small Dutch program only for native speakers. Some private preschools teach dual language and some teach only in one. CommuniKids runs a Spanish-immersion preschool in Tenleytown as well as both French and Spanish in Falls Church and Loudoun.

When my family took a tour, the CommuniKids administrators explained that most of their students speak English at home, but they teach entirely in Spanish; kids at that age pick up Spanish very quickly, and the Spanish at school balances out with English at home.

Of course, that's not a good strategy for schools serving non-English native speakers, such as immigrants. Many of DC Public Schools's bilingual schools are located in areas with a high percentage of native Spanish speakers (such as Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights) because many started as a way to help "English language learners" (which was called ESL when I was in school) better participate.

However, according to Vanessa Bertelli of the DC Language Immersion Project, a group advocating for more language immersion education in DC, the latest research shows that immersion helps all students, native and non-native English speaking alike.

Is immersion good for native English speakers?

Once, many people in the US believed that if you spoke to a child in two languages, he or she would learn language more slowly overall. In fact, 30 years ago, some educators discouraged bilingual parents from speaking a language other than English to their children from birth.

Today, psychologists believe there isn't a disadvantage, and in fact are many advantages, to speaking multiple languages at home.

Bertelli says that new research shows the same for school. According to a longitudinal study of 85,000 North Carolina public school students, in immersion programs where close to half of students speak the partner language, students consistently outperform their peers by close to two grade levels, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and home language.

Other studies of immersion programs that don't start until grades 2-5 "show evidence of a temporary lag in specific English language skills such as spelling, capitalization, punctuation, word knowledge, and word discrimination," but after a year or two, these gaps disappear and there is no long-term disadvantage in English proficiency.

Some highly educated parents are able to help their children with reading and math at home, but they can't offer them instruction in another language. I've talked to parents in that position who felt that a language immersion program at their local DCPS school could keep them from leaving the system for a high-demand charter or private school, or even moving out of DC altogether.

For lower-income families, the value can be even greater. Start with the overall cognitive benefit: immersion helps close the achievement gap between children of high- and low-income families. Helena Curtain and Carol Ann Dahlberg write that "Children of color, children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and English Language Learners make the greatest proportionate achievement gains from foreign language study."

Further, in an increasingly globalized economy, more and more jobs require other languages. The fastest-growing job categories in DC include health care, where bilingual workers command higher salaries, and hospitality and tourism, where the value of other languages is obvious. And knowing two languages makes it far easier to learn a third, compared to only knowing English.


Graph from the DC Immersion Project.

Unfortunately, there are currently no immersion programs east of the Anacostia River. This may originally have been because there are few native Spanish speakers east of the river, but evidence is growing that immersion is valuable even in schools with few children speaking the relevant language.

Immersion seats are in demand

DCPS is taking steps toward expanding bilingual programs, and immersion charter schools have created new options. However, space at immersion schools is not readily available. In fact, many immersion schools top the charts of the longest waitlists.

For pre-kindergarten at age three, LAMB and Mundo Verde lead the city with the longest waitlists, while three other bilingual charters are in the top 12.


Schools with the longest waiting lists for PK3. Bilingual schools highlighted in yellow. Orange bars are DCPS, blue bars are charters. Graph from District Measured.

For age four, bilingual Oyster-Adams in Woodley Park (and non-bilingual Janney in Tenleytown), which start at age four, both top the list. Yu Ying is the fourth highest among elementary schools which are not west of Rock Creek Park.



Schools with the longest waiting lists for PK3. Bilingual schools highlighted in yellow. Orange bars are DCPS, blue bars are charters. Graph from District Measured.

Perhaps the best way to gauge the value of immersion is to look at schools which have an immersion pre-kindergarten program alongside an English-only one, such as Marie Reed, Tyler, and Cleveland. The immersion waitlists are on average 2.2 times as long as the non-immersion ones.


Graph by the author.

Personally, while we are fortunate enough to live in boundary for a school (Ross) which has the second-highest DCPS waiting list at age three, it is not an immersion program. Our daughter is one-quarter Latin American and has been learning Spanish, but not from her parents. She speaks Spanish terrifically for her age, but we fear that in an English-only school she might lose it.

Unfortunately, the long waiting lists for immersion schools, especially nearest to our house, mean immersion may not be a viable option. If DCPS and charters are able to expand immersion programs, perhaps more children can benefit at just the time when their growing brains are ready to learn this valuable skill.

The DC Language Immersion Project is organizing a panel this Thursday, June 11. Greater Greater Washington education editor Natalie Wexler will moderate the panel, which is 7-9 pm at Tyler Elementary School, 1001 G Street SE.

Education


School waitlist data can tell us what families want

Charter and traditional public schools with the longest waitlists for the coming school year are clustered west of the Anacostia River, with bilingual programs generally leading the pack. But there's also a marked difference in demand for some schools that have similar test scores.

Earlier this month the District announced the results of the lottery that determines admission to many public schools, along with waitlists for each participating school. Families need to enter the lottery in order to apply to almost all charter schools and some DC Public Schools.

Students who want to go to their zoned DCPS school don't need to enter the lottery. But the lottery is the route for those who want to go to DCPS schools as out-of-bounds students or to an application-only DCPS school. Most families who want to send their children to a DCPS preschool program also need to use the lottery.


The size of the circles on the map correspond to the size of their waitlists. Click on map for an interactive version. All charts from the DC Office of Revenue Analysis.

Families can list up to 12 choices. This year the vast majority were matched with one of them in the lottery's first round. But if families didn't get their first choice, they were waitlisted at any schools they placed higher than the one they were matched with.

Now that the lottery results are in, more than 8,500 students are on waitlists for charter schools, and almost 7,000 are on waitlists for at least one DCPS school. Families matched in the first round have until May 1 to enroll. Those who didn't get matched in the first round or who didn't participate can enter a second round until May 8.

Both DCPS and the Public Charter School Board have created tools to help families find schools that still have space available.

DC's Office of Revenue Analysis has published a series of interactive graphics illustrating the waitlist data on its blog, District, Measured.

Waitlist data roughly reflects demand

Roughly speaking, the waitlist data shows where the demand is for schools, both geographically and in terms of specialized programs. One caveat is that it doesn't reflect demand for neighborhood schools from those who live within a school's boundaries. If a lot of "by-right" students want to attend their neighborhood school, the school simply has to squeeze them all in.

With that caveat, the map above shows that demand is generally strongest for schools west of the Anacostia River. East of the river, there's more demand for charters than DCPS schools.


Click on graph to break down data by grade or ward.

For at least the second year in a row, Two Rivers, a charter school in NoMa, has the longest waitlist, with 1,381 names. The school will open a second campus this fall with 178 spaces in preschool through first grade. That campus, in a less central location at 820 26th Street NE, has a waitlist of 183.

The bar graph above also reveals how strong the demand continues to be for dual-language programs. With the exception of Two Rivers, the schools with the four longest waitlists are all bilingual.

Schools with similar test scores aren't always equally popular

Perhaps the most intriguing of ORA's graphics is the one that plots waitlist numbers against reading proficiency scores on DC's standardized tests.


Click on graph for an interactive version.

Generally speaking, the schools with the highest scores also have the highest demand. But there are exceptions that show families don't make decisions about schools just on the basis of test scores.

For example, Bancroft Elementary in Mt. Pleasant and Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary in Congress Heights have similar unimpressive reading proficiency rates: 31% for Bancroft and 32% for King. But Bancroft's waitlist has 460 names on it, while King has no waitlist at all.

Why the discrepancy? The Washington City Paper's Aaron Wiener opined that it's "surely because Bancroft feeds into well-regarded Deal Middle School and Wilson High School, while King feeds into lower-performing Hart Middle School and Ballou High School."

But there are almost certainly other factors at work as well. For one thing, while Congress Heights, in Ward 8, may be on the rise, it hasn't yet seen anything like the gentrification that's been going on in Mt. Pleasant for decades. And it's in a far less central location.

And the reason for the low reading score at Bancroft may be that 55% of the school's students are English language learners. The school's math proficiency rate is 56%—more than twice the 25% math proficiency rate at King.

And if Wiener is right about the importance of feeder patterns, the discrepancy between the waitlists of two other schools with similar scores doesn't make sense. In that case, the one with the longer waitlist is the one that doesn't feed into Deal and Wilson.

Shepherd Elementary—which feeds into Deal—and Capitol Hill Montessori both have respectable 73% reading proficiency scores. But the waitlist at Shepherd is 394, while the waitlist at Capitol Hill Montessori, which feeds into lesser-regarded Eliot-Hine Middle School, is 716. It seems that the demand for a particular educational approach, like Montessori, can trump a less desirable feeder pattern.

And then there's Brent and Ludlow-Taylor elementary schools, both in Ward 6. Both have high proficiency rates of 77% in reading, but Brent's waitlist is 880, and Ludlow-Taylor's is 413. The schools are of similar size and have similar facilities, and neither feeds into Deal.

One explanation for the difference in waitlists may be that middle-class parents tend to choose schools where there's already a critical mass of families like them. Brent, for example, is 64% white, and only 6% of its students are on welfare, homeless, or otherwise at-risk. Ludlow-Taylor, on the other hand, is 21% white and has 32% of its students in the at-risk category.

Of course, the difference in waitlists doesn't mean Brent is a better school. In fact, it seems Ludlow-Taylor is doing an amazing job with a more challenging population. And the bottom line is that a whole lot of families who want to go to either of these schools are going to be disappointed.

Meanwhile, there are many DCPS schools operating below capacity. The real trick is to figure out how to make enough schools desirable so that we no longer have hundreds of students being turned away from schools they want to attend.

Correction: Originally, this post said that Capitol Hill Montessori fed into Eliot-Hine, relying on information from the DCPS website. In fact, the school goes through 8th grade, so it doesn't feed into any middle school. Nor does it feed into any high school, because it's a District-wide school rather than a neighborhood school. When they leave Capitol Hill Montessori, students have a right to attend the high school their home address is zoned for, or they can apply to another high school.

Cross-posted at DC Eduphile.

Education


We visited 18 schools in 90 days to play DC's annual preschool lottery. Here is what we learned.

Parents all over DC are awaiting the results of the city's annual lottery to get into public schools and public charter schools, which are expected to hit inboxes Friday. The anxiety level is high.


Lottery image from Shutterstock.

My husband and I entered the lottery to get a spot in a preschool program for our three-year-old child. Not all 3- or 4-year-olds are guaranteed a spot in a school, even in the school they are zoned to attend. Only in kindergarten is there a secured spot for students in the District (and for preschoolers in five low-income areas as a pilot program).

That means applying to multiple schools in hopes of getting into one. For months or years, parents like us have pored over school data, researched curricula, visited school buildings to meet with principals, teachers and parents, and asked questions of other parents on listservs, on the playground and at community meetings throughout the city.

We all want to get our children into the "best" school that is the "right fit." And it all comes down to putting together a list of 12 schools in ranked order in the hopes that our lottery number and/or other preferences will get our children into a school we actually want to send them to.

Here is some of what we learned about the process and about some of the schools in DC.

Lotteries are enormously competitive. At both charters and neighborhood schools, alike, we often heard the refrain of "Our school is more difficult to get into than (insert the name of the Ivy League school du jour)." Some of these elementary schools receive hundreds if not thousands of applications, with just a few spots to fill. (We tried our best not to even entertain the idea of going to places like Brent Elementary, where it seems a family must win the actual lottery to afford a house that is in bounds for the school.)

The largest number of seats for incoming 3-year-olds that we saw was in the low 60s. Most were in the 20s and low 30s, and that is before the schools take into account the sibling and other preferences. The lottery gives preferences to the siblings of students already at the school and, in some schools, children of the school's staff.

After hearing about the difficult odds, parents in the open house sessions murmured and whispered among themselves. And at the end of the sessions, these same administrators would smile and say, "We invite you to apply for our school and to put us in the No. 1 spot." While inviting to hear, it also made us wonder whether some schools are trying to goose the numbers of applications, so they can continue to tout their desirability to future parents.

There are some amazing schools in DC. Really amazing. Yes, it's an urban district with lots of unevenness and inequality—some painfully obvious—but there are many schools that are thriving and excelling. For example, one of the first schools we walked into was Peabody Elementary School on Capitol Hill, and I was very impressed with what we witnessed. From the outdoor garden to the music class, it felt like a warm, friendly building where children would grow and be challenged.

The inequities of the system are real. Why can't all of DC's kids go to a school like Peabody? Some schools have old buildings, or school leadership that doesn't demand and provide excellence, or general poverty, or parents who aren't or can't be more involved in their children's education, or a whole host of other issues all combined. But it still hurts to know that not every child can go to the excellent schools that the District has to offer.

PTAs are providing enormous amounts of extra funding and other types of aid to schools throughout the District. Many of the schools we visited have signature fundraisers that they put on every year in the hopes of buying a new kiln, supporting a gardening program, updating the school library, etc., etc. This is both invigorating and frustrating.

It's wonderful to see parents come together to support their children's education, and I expect one day that we will be heavily involved with our son's school's PTA. But what about parents who don't have extra money or extra time to give? What happens to schools without those extra resources? How can we as a city support ALL schools with resources for the arts as well as for writing, reading, math, social studies and science?

Demand for the city's language immersion schools is high and only growing, as many parents want to see their children gain valuable skills and knowledge about other cultures in this globalizing world. We are keenly interested in these schools and this model of teaching and ended up putting many of these schools near the top of our list, even though the chances of getting in are so thin. District leaders—and others throughout the country—should pay close attention to this demand and find ways to meet it.

School data—or the lack thereof—can make you start to twitch. My husband, a statistician, eagerly dove into the data that he could find about the results of past lotteries to help us figure out where we'd have the best chance of getting in. (We have no sibling or other preferences for 11 of the schools we chose, and we put our zoned school, which is still struggling to find its way, last on the list.)

But even with all his expertise, we still couldn't get a great grasp on the numbers because many of the charters don't supply that information. And that's just the information about the lottery. We had to ask basic questions at every school—publics and charters alike—about things like whether there is a full-time school nurse, whether there is a separate library in the building with a dedicated librarian, etc.

For the most part, all of the public schools had these things, but many of the charters did not (especially the newer ones). Regardless, we shouldn't have had to ask for this information. All of this should available publicly in a place where everyone can peruse and compare easily and quickly. No one should have to go into a school building to figure out these basic things.

There is data in DCPS's school profile pages, on the Public Charter School Board's website, and on LearnDC, but not everything we wanted to know.

The charters we visited are offering a solid education and a caring environment to students. It's unfortunate that the public schools don't have the flexibility to do some of the things the charters can, but there are great schools of both types. However, I firmly believe that if the charters receive public money they must be just as accountable and transparent to the residents of the District and their children as the public schools.

It was dispiriting to hear one charter administrator speak with some level of hubris as if her school answered to no one, least of all the parents of the children in her school. (That only happened at one place we visited, thankfully.) We as parents and citizens in the District should demand more transparency from the city and Congress about the charter schools whose budgets come, at least in part, from our tax dollars.

The whole process is heavily weighted in favor of wealthier residents. My husband and I both took off time from work—which we later made up in various forms of working late or on weekends—to attend the open houses. We are grateful that our jobs allowed us the flexibility to do so. Only some schools offered visits after working hours. For anyone who works a job on a shift or with little flexibility, visiting these schools would not have been an option. The schools need to do a better job of finding other ways to open their doors to potential parents.

An organization called DC School Reform Now has been making videos, or "virtual school tours," to address this problem. There aren't a lot of videos yet, though, and it's not going to close the gap entirely.

DC doesn't really offer "school choice" today. Yes, we did make choices about which schools to put on our list. Yes, with the charters and publics taken together, the city offers a variety of different models and philosophies. (We really liked the Montessori schools, for example, but they aren't for everyone.) And yes, there are some truly excellent schools in the District.

But ultimately, with so many people competing for few spots, our ability to get into those schools is mostly due to chance, not choice. Rather than being a process of choosing what's right for one's child, the current lottery is mostly about hoping that child can get into any good school at all.

An expanded version of this article originally appeared on Medium.

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