This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
It’s a nerve-wracking rite of spring for parents of young children. Every year, hundreds of District families enter the public school system’s “Out-of-Boundary Lottery,” hoping to secure open seats in the city’s high performing schools. We explore how the system works, and how parents navigate a complex world of information, statistics and wait-lists.
- Sam Chaltain D.C. resident and parent; Author, "American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009)
- Yolanda Hood D.C. resident and parent
- Elizabeth Paladino D.C. resident and parent
- Victoria Sherk D.C. resident and parent
- Janice D'Arcy Reporter and "On Parenting" Blogger, The Washington Post
Voices Of D.C. Parents
Victoria Sherk from Petworth is the parent of a soon-to-be 4 year old. She entered the lottery and secured a place at Hearst Elementary.”We started thinking about it probably two years in advance…we really played all our options. It felt very much like gambling…we were going to try the lottery, we were going to try for the charter schools, and then we were going to try for private schools…and see what happened. See what stuck. We were very fortunate that the lottery stuck.”
Sam Chaltain is a writer and education activist who lives in Columbia Heights. His two-and-a-half year-old is on wait lists at Ross Elementary and Bancroft Elementary. He is currently researching a book on school choice in D.C., tracing a year in a public school and a public charter school.”What’s happening in D.C. is this great intra-city migration. We know about charters…but there’s an equally robust pattern among public schools, where some schools have as many as half of their students coming from out-of-boundary.” Chaltain said that there is an “illusion of choice” when it comes to preschool. “The reality is, you’re not going to get in to a pre-school program out-of-boundary,” he said.
Liz Paladino from Eckington has a 4-year old enrolled at Cleveland Elementary. She said her family has played the lottery for 3 years but has never won.”As a middle class family, we are being out-priced for public education. DCPS has become a class system in which public and equal access do not exist unless you can spend close to a million dollars on a small home,” she said.
Yolanda Hood attended DC Public Schools as a child. Today, she is the mother of a 3 year old. She entered the lottery for six DCPS schools. However, she is planning on sending her child to a charter school. In advance of school lottery season, she attended 19 open houses.
“I tried to go to every school regardless of what tier it was… I went to 19 charter schools. The schools I liked most, I went to three or four times.”
Public Insight Network
The people above generously shared their experiences with us through the Public Insight Network. For more on the network and becoming a source for WAMU 88.5 and The Kojo Nnamdi Show, visit wamu.org’s information page, where you can also sign up.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a different kind of March madness, an agonizing ritual for parents of young kids in D.C. This month, D.C. Public Schools held its annual out-of-boundary lottery. And for an entire Friday, hundreds of parents waited on tenterhooks, checking and rechecking their cellphones and email for news, hoping they'd secured a coveted spot at a city's high performing school outside their neighborhood.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINow, most of the parents are confronting round two -- wait-list purgatory, up to six schools, they might get into over the next three or four months. The lottery continues to dominate conversations on playgrounds and on Listservs. But it also speaks to bigger challenges facing the city as it moves forward, how to keep young middle-class families in the city that might otherwise pick up stakes and move to the suburbs. Joining us in studio to have this conversation is Janice D'Arcy, reporter and the "On Parenting" blogger with The Washington Post. Janice, good to see you again.
MS. JANICE D'ARCYThanks. Thanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation you can join by calling 800-433-8850, or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Have you entered D.C.'s out-of-boundary lottery system? What were your results? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. In most cities and suburban communities, Janice, your address is your destiny when it comes to public schools. You're zoned for one elementary school or middle school. And you can either choose to attend it, or you can look for a private option.
NNAMDIIn D.C., there's a lot more flexibility and a whole lot more neuroses. Tell us about how the out-of-boundary system works in the city.
D'ARCYThat's true. For any parent who wants into the public schools for a preschool program or pre-K program, they have to apply for the lottery. These are even parents with in-boundary pre-K programs. And any parent who wants to go to a school in a different neighborhood, an out-of-boundary neighborhood, has to apply for the lottery. There is that chance that they can get in.
NNAMDIThere used to be three or four great elementary schools in D.C., and it was a feeding frenzy to get into them. People used to camp out front of the schools -- yours truly included -- on the days they awarded out-of-boundary seats. Today, D.C. Public Schools use that different aforementioned lottery system. Tell us how the lottery works.
D'ARCYWell, again, the applications are for preschool and pre-K and for anyone out of boundary. Interesting this year is there have been an unprecedented number of applications into that program. There were -- it was record-breaking last year. It's exceeded that this year.
NNAMDIIt's record record-breaking this year.
D'ARCYYeah, record record-breaking.
D'ARCYThat's right. And also interesting is that parents applied to a greater swath of schools, so there was a slight uptick in the number of schools on each application. So that means more parents want into the system. And parents are considering more options.
NNAMDIAnd you can now apply to up to six schools, it's my understanding.
D'ARCYYou can apply to up to six schools. The average application this year had three schools.
NNAMDIWell, in order to get an understanding of the experiences that parents go through, in advance of the show, we spoke to a variety of local parents about their experiences with the out-of-boundary lottery. I'd like to play an excerpt of their stories here.
MS. ELIZABETH PALADINOMy name is Liz Paladino, and my husband and I have two kids. And we live in Eckington, which is in Northeast D.C., and we bought a house in 2005 and, at the time, weren't really thinking about schools, but, obviously, now are. We have a child entering kindergarten and a child entering preschool this fall. So we've played the lottery for three years now. We've never won the lottery. I find that DCPS has a lot of good information on its website where you can research all the schools. You can attend open houses. It's definitely gotten much better in the last couple of years.
MS. ELIZABETH PALADINOTheir staff is generally responsive. They hold a lot of community meetings, so you can get all the information and learn about which schools are performing and which schools -- they really strive to find the best, safe -- kind of best fit for your child. But, in the end, it doesn't mean much of anything when you really can't get into the schools. We've applied to schools where we've been 250 on the wait list. We've applied to charter schools where the same has been the case. So I appreciate that they give parents the tools to figure out what they want.
MS. ELIZABETH PALADINOBut, in the end, like I said, it doesn't do much when you can't get into any of those schools. We basically are at the point where we feel like, as a middle-class family, we're being out-priced for public education and that it's -- DCPS has become a class system in which public and equal access do not exist, unless you can spend close to a million dollars on a small home to live in a neighborhood where you're comfortable with the performance of the school.
MS. VICTORIA SHERKMy name is Victoria Sherk, and I'm the parent of a soon-to-be 4-year-old and one on the way. I'm halfway through my second pregnancy. And we live in Petworth. We moved there about seven years ago. And, as it came time to send Lily to pre-kindergarten, there was no -- we felt like -- good options in the neighborhood besides a charter school for her. So we did what many parents have done before us and tried out the lottery.
MR. SAM CHALTAINAnd so you're unique among the people we've been speaking to because you got in.
CHALTAINSo can you tell me a little about what your experience was with the lottery?
SHERKWell, we started thinking about it probably two years in advance, talking to other parents, kind of, you know, doing some research. And then we just -- we really played all our options. It felt very much like gambling. You know, we've always said we had a three-point plan. We were going to try the lottery. We were going to try for the charter schools, and then we were going to try for private schools -- my husband and I both went to private schools in D.C. -- and just see what happens and just see what stuck, literally.
SHERKAnd we're really fortunate that the lottery thing stuck, but that was our least likely scenario in the three. That was the one we were pretty sure was just not going to work out. In fact, we didn't spend too much time -- you know, you can do a lot of math figuring out which school, according to last year's data or, you know, last couple years' data, how many applicants they get for how many spots and what your likelihood is. And we were just like, forget it, we're just going to apply for the best schools in the locations that make sense for us and just see what happens.
SHERKYou know, we didn't play around with it too much. And, amazingly, again, that the option that we thought was the least likely to happen, happened, which is amazing.
NNAMDIJanice D'Arcy, I don't know why I found that one of the more significant statements in what we just heard was the woman who said, my husband and I both went to private schools in D.C. And so now, here, they're looking around to find a public school for their kid. That's really a statement, I guess, on how the economy and a great number of things have changed over the years.
D'ARCYThat's really true, and it's changed in -- very quickly. The first mother mentioned that they moved in in 2005. This landscape has changed drastically since then. There are a lot of different converging trends, but what we're seeing is that fewer families -- more families want to stay in the city. More families want in to the public school system.
D'ARCYAnd that means more families are filling up those in-boundary spots at the most coveted schools.
NNAMDIYou can check out more parent perspectives at our website, kojoshow.org. We found these parents through an online survey using the Public Insight Network. That's a new tool being used by WAMU 88.5 to find experts within our community on a range of issues. What we did was send out a survey and contacted parents who had gotten back to us. If you'd like to participate in such a Public Insight Network process and serve as a community expert on schools or anything else, log on to kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIWe should also note that D.C. Public Schools were supposed to join us for this conversation. They had agreed to the date. They had put forth two guests to discuss the system. However, they ultimately declined to participate. You, however, can participate in the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Are you the parent of school-age kids? How are your local public schools? Have you contemplated moving to get into a better school? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Janice D'Arcy. She's a reporter and the "On Parenting" blogger with The Washington Post. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. If we have a system where everyone attends a different school in a different corner of the city, does it end up hurting the social fabric of the neighborhood?
D'ARCYI would imagine. What happened for years is that out-of-boundary neighborhoods -- certain pockets of out-of-boundary neighborhoods, the parents would come together and all choose a school. They would talk at the playground and say, this one over in this neighborhood is really good, let's all apply together. So even if they were leaving their neighborhood school, they would do it en masse.
D'ARCYNow, that's just not the case. There aren't enough spots at out-of-boundary schools to do that. So people end up -- you have one neighborhood with eight families, and they'll be going to -- three of them will go to an out-of-boundary school, three to charters, one will hightail it to the suburbs. And how is my math? One will pay for a private school.
NNAMDIIt's very easy to direct anger, I guess, at the public school system if you don't get your favorite choice. But a lot of parents have a nuanced view of the system here. For starters, the fact that they're entering the system is a sign that, as you pointed out earlier, they want to be a part of it.
D'ARCYThis is actually a good problem for the city. I mean, what we're seeing is more families want to stay in the city and more families want into the school district. That's a good problem. It's still a problem. The demand is not a bit -- the supply is not at all keeping up with the demand. And you don't want to see families give up on the school system.
NNAMDIWe should note that many parents describe a feeling of information overload, at least from the conversations that we've had.
NNAMDIThere are official school websites, a whole host of data about school performance. There are third-party sites and community listservs and forums. What does that look like from a parent's perspective?
D'ARCYOh, it's a migraine maker. It's just -- it can be an exhausting experience. And I think this also drives so much of the frustration because you have people going to dozens of open houses, both public and charter.
NNAMDIWe'll get to that in a second, but go ahead.
D'ARCYYeah. And that -- and there's so much information to try to take in. And we're talking about people who have 3- and 4-year-olds. You know, a lot of us got into this parenthood thing and thought we wouldn't have to do deal with that until college.
NNAMDIYeah. But at 3 and 4, a lot of parents have to quickly learn about all of these schools and design a strategy for getting their kid in somewhere. If you're a part of that group, call us and tell us what your experience has been. 800-433-8850 or you can send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIWe spoke to a very interesting parent named Yolanda Hood who enrolled in the lottery, but is planning to send her kid to a charter school. You mentioned going to a lot of open houses. Well, Yolanda has attended an insane number of open houses for her 3-year-old while maintaining a full-time job.
MS. YOLANDA HOODMy name is Yolanda Hood. I have two kids, 3 and 2. Attending the open houses, what I did is I tried to go to every school, regardless of what tier it was, except for a couple of schools that were having problems with the D.C. Charter Board. Those, I did not bother with because they're just not worth it, to me, in my mind. I went to about -- let me see -- two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.
MS. YOLANDA HOODI went to 19 charter schools. The schools that I liked most, I went two and three times just to see if it was the same 'cause, you know, sometimes, when you go to an open house, it's all rainbows and butterflies. But then, as soon as the open house is over, it's thunderstorms and crows. So I did -- the schools that I really liked, I went by a couple of times just to make sure that I like them. And if I liked them, I applied.
MS. YOLANDA HOODI think most people should not just go by the school being a tier one or a tier school two or tier three. You have to understand these tier one schools, they didn't come out as tier ones. The parents, the teachers, the students made the school a tier one. So you have to ask yourself, do you want to just go ahead and go with a winning team, or do you want to go with a team that has kind of a win and a loss, but you know that with you on the team, you can make this a tier one school? That's what -- kind of what I'm looking for.
NNAMDII got to tell you, Yolanda makes me feel as if I didn't love my kids enough. Nineteen open houses and went to many several times, but, given the level of competition, I guess, that's what you have to do in some cases.
D'ARCYThat's true. And the landscape is changing so quickly in these schools. Actually, D.C. officials gave me a background briefing over the weekend, and one thing they want to make clear to parents, this landscape is changing. It's not just the traditional schools that you hear about that are top tier. There are also schools that might work for you, and they are asking parents to go to open houses, get a feel for them and consider some schools they might not have otherwise. I mean, the flip side of that is this is a city with a lot of working parents, with a lot of busy people. And, you know, it's...
NNAMDIIt sounds like a full-time job.
D'ARCYIt's a full-time job, and she's right. You go, and there's rainbows, bunches of rainbows and butterflies. And that doesn't really tell you the whole story going to an open house.
NNAMDIOn to Patty in Washington, D.C., to tell us some more of the story. Patty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PATTYThank you. I am grandma who, three years ago, visited and helped my children put in between 19 and 23 applications for public charter schools. And my granddaughter only got into one, and all the other numbers were well in the hundred. I'm doing it again with my 3-year-old granddaughter. And on D.C. Public Schools, she didn't get any reasonable lottery numbers, and we're now waiting for charter schools.
PATTYI just wish all D.C. Public Schools were better because, obviously, the demand is there for higher performing schools. And I -- my question -- what Kaya Henderson is thinking about in trying to have the school board do charter schools. Why can't the D.C. Public Schools be just as good as the charter schools that she has said that she'd like to have the opportunity to open?
NNAMDIWell, we had Kaya Henderson on a few weeks ago, and she did address that issue. Unfortunately, we do not have a representative of DCPS with us today, even though we did invite them. But, Patty, your participation in your granddaughter's applications underscores the fact that this is a full-time occupation, and sometime we have to call for additional assistance, don't we, Janice?
D'ARCYYes. Yes. And one thing, I think, that the D.C. Public Schools would say is that their long-term strategy on this is to improve the neighborhood schools. An easy solution here that a lot of parents suggest is to add trailers to the best schools, to increase the number of spots available in the best schools. D.C. school say, well, that's a space issue. And they also don't want to overwhelm the better performing schools, so they're no longer better performing. So their focus is to try to look to the neighborhood schools and improve them, but that takes time.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation on D.C. Public Schools, the out-of -boundary lottery, a different kind of March madness. You can call us, 800-433-8850, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We are discussing the D.C. Public School's out-of boundary lottery with Janice D'Arcy. She's a reporter and the "On Parenting" blogger with The Washington Post. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850, we'll go directly to Lisa in Washington, D.C. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAMy question is -- we live in a very desirable part of Capitol Hill. We bought the house not really thinking about kids at the time. But now our child got into the best schools, Brent Elementary, but -- and we feel very lucky about that. It's one of those schools that everyone's trying to get into with a 300-person waiting list. But the irony is we have no options and no idea what we're going to do when it comes to middle school and high school. And that's sort of the boat that everybody in our neighborhood is in.
LISAHow do you ensure that your kid is going to be able to also go to a great public school when it comes to those later years? And so I'm just wondering if there's any information about what the plan is to improve middle school then high school, and will they really be in shape for us when our kids get to those ages to be able to attend public school that we have to pull them out and put them in private school?
NNAMDIAgain, we don't have a DCPS representative here, but I'm sure Janice has some thoughts on this.
D'ARCYWell, I think this is a main topic of parents -- the number one topic of so many parents is this lottery. But it's also once you do secure a spot, what's going to happen in fourth, fifth grade? Are you going to stick with it? Are you going to look at the charters? Are you going to look to leaving the system? So this is a conversation parents are having across the city.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Quickwho (sp?) who says, "How about if these new parents just do what many in the African-American community did for 20 years, which is jump in and try to improve their local school instead of applying for a school out of bounds? I grew up in D.C. in the '70s, and my parents were just active at my school and improved the school. Many of the parents seem not to be invested in improving the system. They only want a ready-made perfect school. Sorry, but this is how I see it."
NNAMDIWe also move on to Lavern (sp?) in Washington, who seems to be making a suggestion along the same lines. Lavern, go ahead please. You're on the air.
LAVERNYeah. Hi. It seems to me that these parents are looking for utopia. They think they have a feeling of entitlement. Why can't they work within the system and try to improve the system rather than looking for something outside of it? If they're -- if they feel the neighborhood is good enough to live in, why don't they see that the schools are good enough to try and improve it? I find a lot of the problems with the newcomers to the city -- having been here for 33 years myself -- they come in. They want to be exclusive.
LAVERNThey don't even say hello to their neighbors that have been living there for 30 years. They congregate amongst themselves. They communicate only amongst themselves, and they exclude everyone else. It's almost as if it's a Scion game sometimes with these newcomers to the city. And I'm wondering, why can't they or why do they feel that schools and the students in those schools aren't good enough for their students, for their children to be amongst?
LAVERNTwo of your callers, one said she was out-priced, and that's funny because she's out-priced on certain neighborhoods while other people are out-priced in the same neighborhood that she is in. And the other caller said she grew up in D.C., she and her husband, but they went to private schools. So what are they saying? Exactly what are they saying about their neighbors? And why not work within the system? The effort they've put into getting their...
NNAMDILavern. Lavern, allow me to interrupt by starting with full disclosure. I sent my children to out-of-bound elementary schools in the district because the school in my neighborhood, a school that I worked for many years to try to improve at the time that I moved there, was not, in my view, appropriate for my kids. And I think that, in a lot of cases, people feel that, yes, we would like to work with the school, but there is the element of time. What if the school does not improve in the next year or two?
NNAMDIDo I sacrifice my child's future to my own aspirations for improving the school? But I guess some people, as Lavern points out, just don't want to work with the school at all.
D'ARCYI'm more on -- in your camp, Kojo. I think the difference now is that there is fewer options for out of boundary. So if you go back 20 years, you had people committed to their neighborhoods and staying in the city, but they had the option of school choice. Now, there are fewer options for out-of-boundary parents. So that's where the frustration is coming from. I also think you're seeing parents who are committed to staying in the city. They want to stay in the neighborhood that they chose.
D'ARCYBut they want to find -- and they want to be in the school system, but they want to find a school that they feel they can become a part of and make improvements in within a timeframe that it will benefit their child.
NNAMDILocal neighborhood schools have always served as a common community reference point. Neighbors got to know each other because their kids attended the same school. And following up on what Lavern said, one of our parents, Liz Paladino, raised an interesting question about her neighborhood of Eckington.
PALADINOMy husband and I are really lamenting the fact that we don't have a community. We have neighbors who we really like, but we don't get to spend that much time with them because they're not part of our school community. I would say there are 10 families with elementary school-aged kids within a two-block radius of us, and we're probably in eight different schools, which means, on a day-to-day basis with 14 parents, we don't -- we can't see them. We're not going to meetings with them.
PALADINOWe're not car pooling or anything like that. We're not walking to school with them. So we neither have a home-based community nor a school community because our school community, which is only a mile from us, has families from all over the city, has families that aren't in that boundary, and so they're not spending that much time after school having play dates because they don't come from that neighborhood either.
PALADINOAnd so we feel that we're really in limbo. You know, where do we spend our time? Who's going to be the families and kids that are -- we want our kids to spend time with, and who's going to be the peer group for us as working professionals who are educated? And so, you know, do we buy the expensive house in a neighborhood that we don't necessarily identify with for the school, or do we stay where we are and figure out how we pay for a private school? But, for sure, the lack of community is a really, really difficult consequence for us.
NNAMDILavern, I'd like to hear your response to what you just heard.
LAVERNMy response is, from my experience when I have had family members who have gone to out-of-bound schools -- this was about 10 years ago when it was much easier and the reasons differ. Now, I find that the newcomers to the community, they do not act as if they want to be a part of the community. I will say that categorically: The newcomers stick to themselves. They do not associate with the rest of the community.
LAVERNAnd if you take a poll in D.C., you will find that that is true, that it has become polarized. The city has been polarized, and it is showing up here in the choice of schools also.
NNAMDIWell, I think Liz Paladino was expressing that she wants to develop a sense of community, and being able to have all children go into schools in the same neighborhood is one way of doing that. And I think that you will find different experiences in different communities. Lavern, I think that when we speak of newcomers, we are speaking of newcomers in a variety of communities here in the city of Washington D.C., and I would hesitate to characterize them all in the same way.
NNAMDIBut thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. We got an email from Anne, who says, "We live in Takoma, D.C., and are parents to an almost 4-year-old. Our local school, Takoma Education Center, although changing, is not a school that anyone from the neighborhood is intending on sending their child to. So it seems that even when there are signs of progress in the neighborhood school, it seems like it will take years before things change."
NNAMDI"All of our neighbors send their kids to Eaton, Lafayette, et cetera. We applied to the lottery last year and didn't get in anywhere. And this year we have the same dismal results. That is, number 175 on a waiting list. It's disheartening because we love our neighborhood and strong community, but we feel as though we may have no other choice but to move across the line to Montgomery Country, which, of course, in Takoma Park means you might have to move two blocks away from where you live before." But that is a problem that the city has to deal with, is it not, Janice?
D'ARCYYes, it definitely is. And I think what the city school officials would say is, go check out that school. Just because neighbors didn't consider it an option a few years ago, it may be a good option now, certainly, if your neighbors are going to those schools, Eaton and Lafayette that you mentioned. Their kids are older because they're not getting in out-of-boundary now. No one is getting in out-of-boundary for some of those top schools.
NNAMDIWe got another email from Sheryl, who says, "I'm a resident of Shepherd Park. I wish the Shepherd School was stronger. We, too, applied to six schools in the lottery. Problem is, according to stats released on the DCPS website, it suggested there are virtually no kids got into out-of-boundary to desired West of Park Schools last year. Eaton accepted. They hold back two slots for out-of-boundary. This makes the process largely an exercise in futility. The open houses of these elite schools only underscore what is missing elsewhere."
NNAMDI"At bottom, DCPS should be providing those priced out of Ward 3, but all children deserve, very small class sizes and excellent experienced teachers, especially in the lowest income neighborhoods." True that, but easier said than done. And this from Keith in Silver Spring. "The shame of it all is you have to choose a school. They should all be good. They should all be as good as the best."
NNAMDIWell, that's the kind of wishful thinking that I think we are all indulging in, that we hope that the school system can get better so that everybody could have that opportunity. On to Clara in Mt. Pleasant, D.C. Clara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLARAYeah. Hi, Kojo. Thank you for having me on. I'm sorry I have to agree with Lavern in terms of the gentrified neighborhood becoming less and less inclusive. I live in Mt. Pleasant, and Mt. Pleasant is becoming rapidly unpleasant neighbors.
CLARAYes, absolutely. Neighbors -- newcomers keep to themselves, have their own block parties, exclude others. I've lived in this neighborhood for 17 years. I had a woman almost run me over with her new SUV and -- at the stop sign and then shout at me, we have rules in this country.
NNAMDIWell, where do your kids go to school, Clara?
CLARAWell, my son now goes to Alice Deal. My daughter goes to Walls. My son -- my children both went to Oyster Adams, which is a whole new political game in its own.
NNAMDIWell, those were the exact same schools that my children went to, even though I was out-of-boundary at the time. Do you find that your neighbors' children also go to the same schools that your children go to, in boundary?
CLARASome of them do, yes. Some of them. I should say that Bancroft, which is just down the street from me...
CLARA...became a pleasant or inadequate school. Only once it was -- the neighborhood was gentrified. Before that, we had leaky rooms, no textbooks, rodents, et cetera, et cetera...
NNAMDIAnd it's now?
CLARA...which is a pity, Kojo, because we only serve the same kind of education and facilities.
NNAMDIClara, thank you very much for contributing to this conversation. You know, Janice, a lot parents are committed to the idea of public schools, and they recognize that high performing neighborhood schools do strengthen communities. They would like to contribute to that, but they also want what's best for their kids kind of, like, right now, which poses an interesting dilemma.
D'ARCYThat does, yeah. I think we're talking about a lot of parents here who are committed to staying in the city. They don't want to hightail it to the suburbs. But when you're talking about a school, it's got to be something that benefits the kids right away. It's interesting that she mentioned Bancroft. Bancroft is one of the schools that just broke the top 10. A few years ago, it was not considered a top performing school, but now it's one of the top 10 in the highest demand for elementary schools in the city.
NNAMDIContinuing the conversation, here is Christine in Washington, D.C. Christine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINEHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to echo the sentiment that there are a lot of great neighborhood schools that are improving. And I really took issue with the notion that "newcomers aren't committed." As someone who's only been in D.C. for -- on the Hill -- five years, and my son is 3 years old, I am committed to our neighborhood school, and a lot of other families are, even though they're not -- we are not long-time D.C. residents.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Janice?
D'ARCYI think that Christine has a lot of neighbors in the same group. I think there are a lot of young parents. And, you know, to say something, sometimes when you're a parent of young kids and you're trying to navigate this system, you can get a little myopic in your view. But it's interesting, too, that some of the callers might be seeing the result of the lack of school choice now. When parents have to commute -- get up in the morning and have to commute across the city to go another school, that's going to make them less committed to where they live.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Christine. I wanted to share another perspective before we went into the break because Washington is a unique city in terms of how many different options are offered to parents even if parents are sometime skeptical about whether they can actually access those options. We talked with an education writer who also has a kid about to enter in the system. Here is Sam Chaltain's perspective on what's going on.
CHALTAINMy name is Sam Chaltain, and I'm a D.C.-based writer and education activist. I'm also the father of a 2-1/2-year-old who's going to enter the public school system of D.C. next fall. And one of the things that's been most interesting to me to observe about the process is that what's happening in D.C. right now is this great inter-city migration. We know about the rising number of children that attend charter schools. Soon it'll be a majority of the kids in D.C.
CHALTAINBut what I think is a little less known is that there's an equally robust migratory pattern among public schools where some public schools have as many as half of their students coming from out-of-boundary. And this places a different kind of opportunity and obstacle before parents because one of the things that I've experienced, both personally and through some of the other families that I'm following for a book project I'm doing about school choice in D.C., is that, in order to successfully navigate this new world, parents need two things.
CHALTAINThey need time to invest in learning about all of these schools, to attending these open houses, to thinking about what it is that they're looking for, and then, related to that, they need a deeper level of expertise about what really healthy, high-functioning teaching and learning looks like and requires.
NNAMDISam Chaltain's project involves spending a year in two local elementary schools, one charter and one public school. We're having a conversation about D.C. public schools' out-of-boundary lottery with Janice D'Arcy. She's a reporter and the "On Parenting" blogger with The Washington Post.
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850 to tell us your experience if you have participated in that lottery or how -- if you happen to be a parent of school-age kids, what do you think about your local public schools and whether you've contemplated moving to get into a better school. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDITalking about D.C. public schools' out-of-boundary lottery. Our guest is Janice D'Arcy. She's a reporter and the "On Parenting" blogger with The Washington Post. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We got an email from Peter, who says, "There's a race class element about what is a good school to this that is difficult. My wife and I moved to Brookland in Northeast D.C., 10 years ago. My son is now 10. My daughter is seven. They are at the Latin-American Montessori Bilingual PCS on Military 14th. We're panicked about middle school for our son."
NNAMDI"There's a middle school three blocks away from my house where I taught for two years under the best principal I have ever worked for. But I would never send my kids there. It's not the teachers or the school or system leadership. The issue is that I do not want my kids around the kids who were in that school. Not because they're black. They go to a school that is majority minority. It's the behavior of the kids and parents. There are a lot of middle-class family -- middle-class white families here now. Their kids are all at charters." Peter raises a very conflicting issue here, Janice, the issue of race.
D'ARCYYeah. Well, I would argue that it's economics that is really at the heart of a lot of these changes. In the last couple of years, the economic implosion created an atmosphere where families didn't have the extra money to go to private schools. They are spending the rising house prices. They're spending all their money on their mortgage, so they don't have the private-school option. That's making everybody look at the schools, and it's filling those seats. So race is part of it, but I think economics is really driving the major changes here.
NNAMDIWe got another email from somebody who -- from Amanda, who says, "The population at charter schools are a self-selected group who have a strong desire to get a higher quality education. They are, by definition, willing to do more work and put more effort into school. Education, like genius, is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration." But, to some extent, the jury is still out, is it not, on whether charter schools in the District, on the average and overall, do better than D.C. public schools?
D'ARCYDefinitely. You have to look school by school on that. And, you know, theoretically, I would agree with her. But the case for so many parents who want to stay in the city now, charter school is -- really has become their only option.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here now is Molly in Washington, D.C. Molly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOLLYHi there. I just wanted to make a comment. I'm a Ward 3 parent of a middle schooler. And I just wanted to note that it seems like if you're not in the Deal school district, then everybody is completely freaking out. Where are your going to go? Where are you going to go? And everybody is applying out-of-boundary to Deal, which is not taking any out-of-boundary kids. We applied because of the hype, and we were 221 on our -- on the waiting list. So my son ended up going to Hardy, which is our neighborhood schools, which has been fantastic. And, you know, I just wanted to give a plug.
MOLLYI know not everybody is lucky enough to have a school that's as good as Hardy in their neighborhood, but I just wanted to give a plug for it, especially Ward 3 parents, not getting so hung up in Deal is the best and nothing else will do.
NNAMDIHardy is working out for her. Thank you very much for your call. This lottery process raises a whole bunch of fairness questions, doesn't it? For instance, how should a system be designed to give out those highly coveted scarce resources, Janice?
D'ARCYWell, that's a big question, and I think people who are left out of the lottery probably have different ideas. But D.C. Public Schools would say this is the only fair way to do semi-blind lottery. They give preference. There are a number of different categories that get preference, including if you have a sibling or if you're in boundary. But, really, the big question is if you have extra seats in the school, how do you give them out fairly?
NNAMDISome parents are indeed concerned about how fair the system is in terms of how it's actually run. The actual wait lists are operated by each school, and many parents suspect that the schools don't always follow the list. And there are stories about parents calling up a principal every day to try to move up unfairly. What do you think? Of course, there's the perennial issue of elected leaders who seem to get their children into the best out-of-boundary schools, but that's another story.
D'ARCYYeah. It's always surprising. Well, the wait lists are actually very deceiving. At some schools, the top schools, they're not moving at all. They're really -- they're just -- they're really a name only. At other schools, they are completely inflated. Some of these schools have hundreds of people on the wait list, and there is going to be that much movement on them because of the way the lottery is designed, where families can pick up to six schools.
D'ARCYThat means every family is getting on up to six wait lists. Even when you get a slot, you're on five more wait lists. So these wait lists are filled with people who have no intention of going to the school.
NNAMDIOn to Mary in Arlington, Va. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYHi, Kojo. Thanks for doing this. I want to support what Sam Chaltain said. And I also want to let you know that Sam Chaltain has a website, and he provides wonderful information for people who want to make their judgments about schools based on things they know about how teaching and learning do go. I'm a former teacher myself, and one of the things you're always up against is opinions from people who say, well, I know all about schools 'cause I went to schools.
MARYBut there's a great deal to know, and, of course, even more to know about what's appropriate for your own children. Sam Chaltain is a great help for exactly that kind of information. And I just wanted to let you know that. There's also an organization that comes mostly from Busboys & Poets in Washington, and that is Teaching for Change. I don't know if you know that organization, but they, too, are remarkable for what they give in the way of insights into the best of education. And that can be in a whole array of different schools. You have to know what you're looking for.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Mary. And, yes, we were aware of Sam's website. Thank you for passing it on to our listeners. We got an email from Rachelle, who says, "Many young" -- Rachelle describes herself as a Ward 1 parent. "Many young or first-time parents don't realize that D.C. law does not guarantee preschool or pre-K education. We are a in-boundary, Spanish-speaking family for our bilingual public school. We did not get into the pre-K lottery, but we had planned for that possibility.
NNAMDI"Parents need to prepare themselves for the fact that there is no guarantee for public education before age five. Unless the law changes, the scramble for out-of-boundary preschool and pre-K will continue. The 'D.C. School Chooser' document, published by independent nonprofit Great Schools, gives parents everything they need to know in one place, from where schools are actually located to embassies of special ed programs and private school.
NNAMDI"It has a worksheet and tips for parents to make decisions based on their own priorities and not hearsay and playground chatter. Keep an open mind and focus on the needs of their children and their families." Talk a little bit about the "D.C. School Chooser" document. Are you familiar with that at all?
D'ARCYI'm not, actually.
NNAMDIIt sounds like a great document to access.
D'ARCYIt does. I'll have to check it out.
NNAMDIRachelle, thank you very much for sharing that with us. On -- sure.
D'ARCYI will jump in to say that both the last caller and this caller, it's wonderful information, it sounds like. It's also part of information overload for many parents. A lot of us grew up, you know, in places where we just went to the local school and didn't think much about it. And it's very surprising to have -- when your kids are still so young, to suddenly be presented with so much important, good information that you've got to digest very quickly.
NNAMDIA lot of people have indeed recommended the website greatschools.org. We'll provide a link to that website at our website, kojoshow.org. You can go there and get your head filled with some more data that you will probably need to ultimately make a decision. Here's Tony in Lebanon, Pa. Tony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TONYYeah. I went to a school in rural Pennsylvania here up in Lebanon County area. Now, I do know about the whole out-of-bounds thing and, you know, how that all works 'cause there is a bunch of school districts in our area. And some students, halfway through high school, went through different schools. Now, it is a very important thing, I guess, you're discussing. Now, I'll be very straightforward. I'm not very good with spelling and math, but I hold that credit to my teachers.
TONYAnyway, I graduated in '08. But I guess the important thing to be is, I guess, make a point for everyone to choose wisely on where they send their children, like you are maybe discussing. But, you know, that's all self-evident.
NNAMDII guess that -- I think you're right. That's exactly what we're discussing, the attempt of people to make a decision that, as Janice and others who simply went to the local elementary school are pointing out, is much more difficult in these times and, in particular, in this place. Thank you very much for your call, Tony. Here's Susan in Washington, D.C. Susan, your turn.
SUSANThank you, Kojo. I'm calling about an added consequence to the lottery process that was created by a change in policy by Michelle Rhee. She -- prior to this, if you were out-of-boundary student attending an elementary school, when it came time for middle school, you had to apply to get -- again to go to an out-of-boundary school or go back to whichever one you were supposed to go based on where you lived.
SUSANShe changed the policy to make it -- the consequence of getting your child into an elementary school was that you then could send your child to the school into which that school fed, both middle school and high school. So the consequence of getting a child into a school that feeds into Deal or feeds into Hardy or then feeds into Wilson is enormous because once you're in, then you don't have to go and worry about lotteries or application to specialized high schools. Your child can attend safe, solid schools.
NNAMDIDo you like to get rid of that?
SUSANWell, I think it's really unfair, I truly do, because it really puts a premium on the families that really get their act together young. And so that kids who have had, you know, pretty poor schools for elementary school, none of those feed into decent middle schools. Or that certainly the middle schools that have no waiting list -- let me put it that way -- or have incredibly long waiting lists and no out-of-boundary places, it just puts a premium on families to get their act together early.
NNAMDIYeah. D.C. schools have the good ones, and then we have traditionally been clustered in upper Northwest where home values tend to exceed, oh, $800,000. And I guess what our caller Susan is saying is that if, in a way, you do not get channeled into those schools, you're stuck in what might be bad schools, and she would like to see the system change. Any pressure, as far as you know, for that to happen?
D'ARCYNot that I know of, but I think part of the reason is because it's a bit of moot point at this point. Deal, the feeder schools going into there are filling up the in-boundary slots. So even, you know, as that begins to change and the out-of-boundary kids who have been fed into the system, well, those slots are going to be filled by more and more in-boundary kids. So it's not like Deal is suddenly going to open its doors, and there's going to be mass lottery for those slots.
NNAMDIOn to Leslie in Washington, D.C. Leslie, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
LESLIEHi. Good morning and thank you for taking my call. I am a prospective DCPS parent for the fall. I have a child who's about to turn three. But I'm also in the position of being a DCPS employee. I'm an art therapist with the Office of Special Ed.
LESLIEAnd my comment is, although the process is really exhausting in terms of open houses and doing all your research, looking at the ISF document to make sure you're comfortable with the test scores and all of that, I've got to say, having gone through about eight DCPS schools, I'm really, really pleased to be given the options with the quality of the teaching, tools of the mind, all these -- the (unintelligible) aspect.
LESLIEThere's a lot of different programs to give the kids that wonderful start. And I'm now looking at charter schools because, unfortunately, we got into our sixth choice, which is better than nothing, but it doesn't offer some of the programs that we want. So we're now looking at the charters. And while they look good as well, the first one that we got accepted to has classrooms of 24 3-year-olds as opposed to DCPS, which has the cap at 15 or 16.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. And on that optimistic note, Janice, I'm afraid we've come to the end of our conversation. Before we leave this education topic, we'd like to invite you to help WAMU news producers and talk show producers identify topics that reflect your interest in your life. We're a member of something called the Public Insight Network, which is a new tool that's helping journalists to identify experts in our local communities. Right now, we're looking at issues facing parents.
NNAMDISo if you're a parent or guardian of a young child, please consider logging on and taking up parents survey at WAMU.org or kojoshow.org. Janice D'Arcy, thank you for joining us.
D'ARCYThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIJanice D'Arcy is a reporter and "On Parenting" blogger with The Washington Post. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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