School lottery demand shows sharp east-west divide

Parents who have applied to preschool, pre-kindergarten, or out-of-boundary lotteries for DC public schools are anxiously looking at the results today. These lotteries are far from equally competitive; the most desired schools are all in 4 wards of the city, while the least in-demand are all in 3 other wards in the eastern part of the city.

Schools with more than 5 applicants per available spot, 2012-2013 (blue pins) and schools with less than 1 per spot (red pins). Maps on Google Maps by the author.

Analyzing the lottery data from both the 2011-2012 school year and 2012-2013 school year, every school with more than 5 applicants per available spot was located in wards 1, 2, 3, or 6, while every school with less than 1 applicant per spot was located in wards 5, 7, or 8.

The lottery for preschool (for children turning 3 by September 30th) and pre-K (for children turning 4 by September 30th) spots is different from the out-of-boundary lottery because in-boundary students in these grades are not guaranteed a spot at their in-boundary school. This means that every spot in these grades is filled from the lottery.

Students with a sibling and students who are in-boundary still have priority in the lottery, but simply living within the school's boundary does not guarantee admission to that school in the early years.

Research suggests that those first few years are critical for brain development and that early childhood education is linked to higher high school graduation rates, lower rates of incarceration later in life, and higher wages. Clearly, parents have taken this to heart as is evidenced by the thousands of parents who apply for the lottery on behalf of their child in the hopes that they will be granted one of the few coveted spots at their school of choice.

Where are the schools parents most covet?

From analyzing the lottery data, that school of choice is most likely located in ward 3, and may be in wards 1, 2, or 6. For the 2011-2012 school year, Oyster-Adams Elementary School in Woodley Park (ward 3), for example, received over 27 applications for each and every one of the 14 spots in the preschool class, followed by Watkins of the Capitol Hill Cluster School (ward 6) at 18.3 applicants for each spot.

Janney Elementary School in Tenleytown (ward 3) placed 400 prekindergarten students on the waitlist after in-boundary students filled its 57 spots. Further, in-boundary students accounted for 4 out of every 5 spots in the ward 3 schools, which limits access to these schools for those who cannot afford to live in these wards.

Schools with more than 5 applicants per available spot, 2011-2012 (blue pins) and schools with less than 1 per spot (red pins).

The data for the 2012-2013 school year tells a familiar story with Dupont Circle's Ross Elementary School (in ward 2) getting over 21 applicants per spot and by Watkins of the Capitol Hill Cluster School (ward 6) at 18.3 applicants for each spot. Similarly, Janney placed 390 students on the waitlist after all of its 57 spots were filled by in-boundary students.

In both years, though the order was different, the schools with the most applicants per spot were the same. For the 2011-2012 school year Oyster-Adams, Watkins, Mann, Ross, and Brent rounded out the top five spots and for the 2012-2013 school year it was Ross, Watkins, Hyde-Addison, Mann, and Oyster-Adams. The schools with the fewest applicants were also similar in both years.

It's important to note that the number of lottery applicants alone does not indicate a school's quality, but it does indicate which schools are perceived as high quality schools and, more importantly, where parents want to send their children.

Independent of whether or not these schools are high quality, there are a significant number of schools in these wards that are not meeting the needs or standards of parents who live in these areas and parents believe that a better fit for their student can be found in other areas of DC. The pattern of low confidence in these schools is a huge obstacle to improving them.

The pattern of high numbers of applicants in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6 and low in wards 5, 7, and 8 is particularly troubling because poverty is highest in wards 5 (19 percent), 7 (27 percent), and 8 (34 percent). Additionally, these are the wards with the lowest rate of high school graduates as well as the highest rates of unemployment.

Access to high quality early child education is an important component in future student achievement including whether the student graduates from high school.

Jessica Christy has two children learning Chinese at Washington Yu Ying, where she is also the president of the Parent Association. For work, she does industrial hygiene consulting and stays at home with her two-year-old. In her free time (ha!), Jessica enjoys needlepoint and DIY home improvement. All opinions stated here are her own. 


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This analysis seems incomplete in that it doesn't consider lotteries of high-performing charter schools. Many east of the river, serving hundreds of students in under-served neighborhoods. If you're interested in analysis of which parents need access to more high performing seats, you have to consider the whole portfolio of public options available. End result will no doubt be that those communities still need more high quality seats, but it's a significantly different picture and would help inform stronger policy decisions than what you're seeing from DC leadership now.

by Eric on Mar 8, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

I'd be curious to see how the raw numbers compare, as well as the applicants-per-spot ratios. While I wouldn't be surprised if they tell the same story, it seems that the high (and likely rising) numbers of in-boundary students in some of the Ward 3 schools would give them high ratios even without a massive number of lottery applicants.

by Jacques on Mar 8, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

@Eric many charters haven't had their lotteries, and it's harder to compile them when they do. This presumably isn't a overall analysis of public options, but rather a snapshot of today's lottery results. Which are just DCPS.

Incidentally, and it's not exactly relevant to the overall issues, but why east-west divide? Couldn't one just as easy argue north-south divide?

by Tim Krepp on Mar 8, 2013 12:37 pm • linkreport

Pardon my ignorance, but are there simply no analogous programs in Ward 4?

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 8, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

I put in the east-west divide thing into the title. I think that's the way it usually gets talked about. But the "favored quarter" is northwest, so there is a north-south as well as east-west issue. Also, we say "east of the river" but the river runs northeast-southwest.

by David Alpert on Mar 8, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

I'm not certain either, Geoff, but I think they only graphed the more than 9 per slot and less than 1. So maybe W4 has 1-9?

by Tim Krepp on Mar 8, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

David, you're right, it IS how we have traditionally talked about it. Of course, we used to use Rock Creek as a dividing line. It's as if we took the traditional narrative ("good" = west, "bad" = east) and just shifted the line a bit. After Rock Creek, it was "Northwest schools are good". Now it's "NW, and well, some Hill schools". Give it a little time, and we can all relax and use the Anacostia as our dividing line! The situation is changing but we keep the narrative going.

I don't say this to be pedantic (or not just to be pedantic!). There's a steady creep of improving schools from NW to SE. It mirrors the demographic shift of the city in interesting and complex ways. My fear, and it may be overblown, is that by labeling it "east-west", we fall into the trap of saying this is how things have always been.

There ARE improving, drastically improving, DCPS schools and it's not just due to demographics. If it was, there'd be more blue dots on that map near me. The map, to me, doesn't just present an excellent lay out of today's divide, it also can provide some lessons as to where to look for success we can duplicate.

Oh, and good work to Jessica for an excellent tool!

by Tim Krepp on Mar 8, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

@Eric: I didn't want to do data overload by trying to incorporate data from charter schools as well, but definitely look for a post on that in the future.

@ Geoff: Tim is correct. I only graphed those less than 1 and those more than 5. Ward 4 had a few schools that were close to 5, but not quite there yet.

by Jessica Christy on Mar 8, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

I hope that this blog will have a chance to cover the Save Our Schools Lawsuit Information Session.

by dcblogger on Mar 8, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

Lafayette Elementary is in Ward 4 and has more than 5 applicants per available spot. It is on the border with Ward 3, but it is in Ward 4.

by Turtleshell on Mar 8, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

I am sure this data is highly correlated with the average family income within each school's boundary.

by Brooklander on Mar 8, 2013 4:22 pm • linkreport

@Turtleshell: Actually Lafayette has just under 5 applicants per spot (76 admitted students + 295 on the waitlist/76 spots=4.88 applicants per spot.

by Jessica Christy on Mar 8, 2013 7:06 pm • linkreport

Huh-surprised Capitol Hill Montessori did not make this article. I heard it had one of the longest wait lists of any school.

by Sameena on Mar 9, 2013 7:49 pm • linkreport

Actually, given that parents only have a limited number of schools they can enter in the lottery, the most exclusive schools probably have fewer applicants. Why waste a bid on Janney when there aren't any slots? That's why other WOTP schools like Hyde get a lot of interest. It's viewed as in the same league as the Ward 3 schools but with more open OOB slots.

by TM on Mar 10, 2013 6:37 pm • linkreport

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