The District of Columbia public school lottery deadline for pre-K through 8th grade students is fast approaching; just as new figures confirm that District public charter schools now educate 47 percent of all D.C. students enrolled in public schools. This vote of confidence in these unique public schools is a tribute to the diversity and strength of the educational programs they offer.
Tuition-free and open to all District-resident students, public charter schools are free to design and develop their school curriculum and culture, while being held accountable for improved student performance by the city’s Public Charter School Board.
D.C.’s school lottery, accessible online at myschooldc.org, allows families to choose from the District’s public schools, charter and traditional, that are out-of-boundary—schools that are not the local option provided by D.C. Public Schools and for any pre-K program. Parents and guardians rank up to 12 choices, allowing them to express a preference for over-subscribed programs. Names are drawn at random until available spots are filled.
The lottery is backed up by practical support, including an education festival with different schools exhibiting and an email and telephone hotline with multiple language options. Free public transportation allows students to attend schools across the city without extra cost.
While some schools are in such demand that there are waitlists, the lottery randomly fills places, but shortlists students who don’t make it into a chosen school—some 85 percent of students are awarded a place at one of their top three school choices.
Charters were introduced to the District to raise public school standards by increasing choice. While these unique public schools have led the way in raising standardized test scores and on-time high school graduation rates, they also have introduced themes and approaches that boost college and career readiness. This has been particularly important in the District’s most underserved communities: charter students in D.C.’s Wards Seven and Eight are twice as likely to achieve state benchmarks for college and career preparedness than their peers enrolled in traditional public schools.
Thanks to an expansion in preschool pushed by public charter schools and the city-run school system, nearly all four year olds and most three year olds attend preschool. Charters have the flexibility to tailor their programs to provide effective early education.
By allowing public charter schools to offer different paths to educate young scholars so that they may access the higher education and advanced career options that position them to succeed in life, best practices evolve from which all educators can learn. Families also are brought to the table because, as schools of choice, parents and guardians have a say in what works for their children. Public education dollars follow the student in the District, so charters have incentive to inspire confidence.
The District of Columbia model of school choice for all regardless of income has multiplied quality public school options—especially for the least advantaged. Today, three in four students exercise families’ rights to attend an out-of-boundary school rather than simply accepting their neighborhood school place. And as the next generation of children is increasingly provided with the skills necessary to succeed, all of our communities can look forward to better opportunities and a more secure future.
Dr. Ramona Edelin is the executive director of the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools.