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Education


What do parents want? A good school, not too far, and some other kids that look like them

Rich or poor, black or white, a family's decision of where to enroll their child in school is one of the most important, gut-wrenching, and revealing choices they can make. In DC, parents can choose from over 200 charter and district schools. By analyzing that data for a recent study, we were able to shed some light on what drives parents' choices.


Images from the study.

What we analyzed

As in other cities, any DC student in kindergarten through grade 12 has a right to attend a neighborhood public school based on his or her home address. But students can also enter a lottery for an open spot at any neighborhood school or public charter school in the city.

In 2014, DC moved from separate lotteries for each school to a common system, MySchoolDC, where applicants rank up to 12 schools. A random lottery process chooses which students get the spots at any school which has more applicants than spaces.

In a recent study for Mathematica Policy Research we had the opportunity to analyze over 20,000 rank-ordered lists that parents submitted in 2014, the first year of the unified lottery. We combined these lists with data describing characteristics of the students and their families, the schools themselves, and information on household and school neighborhoods, including crime and demographics.

This allowed us to estimate the importance parents place on different school attributes, including commuting distance, transit access, test score proficiency rates, programmatic offerings, the school's racial-ethnic composition, the percentage of disadvantaged students, school neighborhood characteristics, and a variety of other factors.


MySchoolDC.org.

DC is a city of liberal values and unconscious biases, of racial diversity and racial tension, of rich and poor, newly arrived and long-time residents. Parents' individual decisions add up to collective social outcomes, patterns of racial and class composition, that have lasting effects on the social fabric of DC.

Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote a moving piece in the New York Times capturing these themes as they played out in her gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn. The same issues come into stark relief in DC.

What parents value when choosing schools

The analysis suggests that parents do prefer schools close to home, but (not surprisingly) they are willing to tolerate a longer commute to a school with higher test scores.

The preference for academic performance was quite strong: if two schools were identical in every way except for their "tier" rating, parents would travel an average of seven miles for a school in the highest category over one with the lowest.

Academic performance was not the only factor. We also found that parents choose schools based on the race and income of students, but did not weight that as strongly.

Parents tend to rank schools higher if there are more students in the same racial or ethnic group as their own children. But the strength of this "own-group" preference differs by grade level, the applicant's race/ethnicity, and the percentage of a school's students in the child's own group.

If the own-group percentage is low, parents show a strong preference against a school. But as the percentage rises, the relationship weakens and even becomes negative, suggesting a taste for diversity.

In short, parents on average seem to want their children to not be in the vast minority at their school, but as long as there are some students of similar racial or ethnic backgrounds, this stops being a priority. (More detailed results are available in the technical paper here).

The analysis found that typical middle school parents would be willing to send their children over two miles farther just to get from a school where 10% of students share the child's race/ethnicity to one with 20%. But if choosing between schools with 40% or 50% of the same race/ethnicity, they would only be wiling to travel a half mile more to school.

Does choice affect segregation?

One fierce debate in education is about whether school choice—the policy allowing families to select a school besides the local one—worsens segregation. Some people may opt out of higher-poverty schools or those with high numbers of racial and ethnic minorities. Does this entrench segregation? Or is the segregation already there in residential living patterns?

We compared the current levels of racial and income segregation in DC to alternative scenarios where everyone got his or her first choice (which would unrealistically require some schools to be far, far larger) and where everyone went to his or her neighborhood school (though in reality, not everyone would attend that school in the absence of choice; some families would move or choose private schools).

It turns out that the existing policy results in less segregation by race for middle schools than if every student simply attended the in-boundary neighborhood school.

What if everyone could attend their most preferred school (ignoring any space limitations)? This would not increase racial segregation. Rather, the analysis showed nearly the same amount of racial segregation as the current policy or perhaps slightly lower.

We repeated this exercise, but removed the lowest-performing schools as school choice options to simulate a policy that directs more students toward high-performing schools. In this case, we found again that racial segregation would not increase under these circumstances, but fall further, to a value of 68 on a scale where 100 is the most segregated and 0 is the least

In addition to racial segregation, we looked at segregation of students by income level (low-income versus non-low-income). using the same type of metric, this time with students who are certified as low-income versus all other students. The overall segregation level by income was only 41 under the current policy, but interestingly, that level is even greater than it would have been if students had simply attended their neighborhood schools.

However, we found that if everyone could attend their most preferred schools, it would result in segregation by income roughly equivalent to a policy of no school choice (32 points, just one point lower than with neighborhood schools).

These findings for race and income segregation looked slightly different for families applying to elementary and high school, where the context is different in terms of both the applicants and the diversity of schools they are applying to. For example, white and Hispanic families' own-race preference was stronger among applicants to elementary schools, as emphasized in a recent Slate article, than applicants to middle and high schools.

Nevertheless, choice policies that expand seats at popular schools were predicted to reduce segregation by both race and income in elementary schools. For high schools, neighborhood school assignment was predicted to lower both types of segregation compared to the current policy (school choice with a lottery for oversubscribed schools).

Again, choice with no cap on the number of accepted applicants and removal of the lowest-performing schools always results in the lowest indices of both race and income segregation (this assumes it would be possible to increase capacity at individual campuses).

What is consistent between all levels of school is that policies which let all students into their first choice (the two blue bars in the graphs above) led to the lowest segregation. For high schools, putting everyone into the neighborhood school (purple bar) also lowered segregation compared to the current policy.

Parents in DC are not race-blind, nor do they ignore the socio-economic status of their children's potential peers. But they also are sensitive to distance and indicators of academic quality. There are also numerous unmeasured determinants of choice.

Based on the data we have available, though, we don't see evidence that the worst fears of choice opponents are true. That is, we don't see evidence that school choice by itself worsens the level of school segregation produced by residential patterns.

However, we also don't see choice as a very powerful mechanism for voluntary desegregation. There remains much work to be done to understand the impacts of choice on equity and access to quality schooling for the most disadvantaged. We also need to better understand how disadvantaged families access information about school options.

The model in this study, however, provides a promising tool for leveraging data to predict the effects of policy changes on sorting of students across schools throughout the city.

Education


Gentrification isn't the only reason DC's test scores are rising

Student performance in the nation's capital has increased so dramatically that it has attracted significant attention and prompted many to ask whether gentrification, rather than an improvement in school quality, is behind the higher scores. Demographic change explains some of the increases in test scores, but by no means all of them.


Photo by US Department of Education on Flickr.

We drew this conclusion after analyzing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the "nation's report card," which tests representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students in mathematics and reading every two years.

NAEP scores reflect not just school quality, but also the characteristics of the students taking the test. For example, the difference in scores between Massachusetts and Mississippi reflects both the impact of the state's schools and differences in state poverty rates and other demographics. Likewise, changes in NAEP performance over time can result from changes in both school quality and student demographics.

DC's school demographics have changed substantially since 2005. The NAEP data show that the proportion of white and Hispanic students in DC has roughly doubled, while the proportion of black students has declined. The question is whether DC's sizable improvement is the result of changing demographics, as some commentators claim, or improving quality.

Changing demographics are only part of changing test scores

Our analysis indicates that, based on the relationships between demographics and NAEP scores in 2005, demographic changes predict a score increase of four to six points between 2005 and 2013 (the data needed to perform this analysis on the 2015 results are not yet available).

But the actual score increases have generally far outpaced the gains predicted by demographic change alone. For example, in fourth-grade math, demographics predicted a four-point increase, but scores increased 17 points.

The figure below shows predicted and actual score increases for all four tests for DC schools overall (including charters) and the traditional school district (DC Public Schools). Only in eighth-grade reading scores at DC Public Schools do demographic shifts explain more than half of the score increase.


Graph from the Urban Institute.

To be sure, our analysis does not account for all potentially important demographic factors. In particular, we do not include any measures of family income. Though researchers often use eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch as a proxy for determining income level, changes to who is eligible make this measure unreliable. With the eighth-grade scores, we did attempt to use parents' education as a proxy for socioeconomic status, but our results did not appreciably change: changes in demographics still did not account for changes in academic performance.

The bottom line is that gentrification alone cannot explain why student scores improved in Washington, DC, a conclusion that echoes previous analyses using publicly available data. DC education saw many changes over this period, including reform-oriented chancellors, mayoral control, and a rapidly expanding charter sector, but we cannot identify which policy changes, if any, produced these results.

And despite the large gains, DC NAEP scores still reveal substantial achievement gaps—for example, the gap between average scores for black and white students was 56 points in 2015; the gap between Hispanics and whites was 49 points.

In other words, much work remains to be done.

Here's how we drew our conclusions

Our analysis of student-level NAEP data from DC, including students from charter and traditional public schools, compares the increase in scores from 2005 to 2013 with the increase that might have been expected based on shifts in demographic factors including race/ethnicity, gender, age, and language spoken at home. The methodology is similar to the one used in a new online tool showing state NAEP performance (the tool excludes DC because it is not a state).

We used restricted-use, student-level data from NCES to generate these results. (That means that researchers have to get special permission to access files that have scores on a kid-by-kid (but de-identified) basis, whereas most people would have to use data that averaged for entire states and cities (by subject and year).

We measured the relationship between DC student scores in 2005 and the student factors of gender, race and ethnicity, age, and frequency of English spoken at home. We then predicted what each student's score in 2013 would have been if the relationships between demographics and scores were the same in 2013 as they were in 2005. We then compared the average predicted score of the 2013 test-takers (relative to the 2005 average score) to the actual 2013 score (also relative to the 2005 average score).

We tried model variants that included special education status, limited English proficiency status, and eligibility for free- and reduced-price lunch. Including these variables tended to lower the predicted score change (indicating that an even larger portion of the score changes came from non-demographic changes). However, because these variable are also subject to district and school-level definitions (direct certification/community eligibility may have increased the numbers of FRPL-eligible students, for example), we chose not to include these variables in our prediction, and focused only on demographic changes.

Crossposted from the Urban Wire.

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.

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