The My School D.C. Lottery matched a lower proportion of its 21,208 overall applicants to schools this year, according to results released April 1.
This year the program received 1,000 more applicants. The lottery saw a decrease in the proportion of applicants it was able to match from 72 percent last year to 70 percent this year.
The My School D.C. Lottery was launched two years ago to address a series of complaints from District parents that the old lottery program, in which individual schools held their own lotteries, was difficult to navigate.
Schools voluntarily take part in the current District-wide system, with 96 percent of D.C.’s public schools currently participating in the lottery.
My School D.C. Executive Director Catherine Peretti said the new lottery program was established in response to the challenges posed by the old system.
“[The new lottery] came into existence because the number of schools in the lottery was growing at a fairly rapid rate. It was becoming complex for families to navigate disparate timelines and different applications, some of which were on paper and some which were online,” Peretti said. “In both the public charter sector and in the D.C. public schools out-of-bound lottery it was becoming too difficult for parents.”
To sort students into schools, the lottery relies on a matching algorithm developed by the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, an organization specializing in school choice systems that is based on the work of Nobel Laureate economist Al Roth.
Though the lottery system is random in that there is no advantage to applying first, it does incorporate preference. Students are matched to schools based on measures such as the number of available spots at each institution, proximity to the student’s residence and the applicant’s own ranking of school choices.
To apply to the lottery, students and parents must create a family account and provide basic information, such as the student’s identification number and proof of D.C. residency. Through this account, parents can pick up to 12 traditional or charter schools as their top choices. Additionally, students may apply to any of DCPS’s six selective schools, which admit applicants based on specific eligibility requirements and require essays or letters of recommendation.
From 2014 to 2015, the lottery program saw large increases in the length of its waitlist, where students are placed if they are not matched with either of their top choices or any schools. Waitlists for traditional schools surged by 25 percent, while those for charter schools rose by 18 percent in 2015, according to The Washington Post.
This year, however, with the addition of several new programs, including the provisionally titled Empowering Males High School — the District’s first all-male public high school — the lottery saw a more moderate 11 percent increase in its waitlist numbers.
Montessori and other specialty schools have drawn larger demand, with the waitlists for the Mundo Verde Bilingual School and the Twin Rivers Public Charter School containing over 1,000 students each.
McCourt School of Public Policy Associate Professor Nada Eissa, who specializes in public policy and economics, said the lottery effectively communicates information about which schools are doing well based on their desirability.
“What [the lottery] has provided the school system is a very strong signal of which schools are succeeding and which are not, which schools parents value and which schools they do not,” Eissa said. “The value of the DCPS lottery is exactly that — the signal it provides to the system and the administrators.”
D.C. Public Charter School Board Associate Communications Specialist Sara Maldonado said the demand for specific schools echoes the talk she has heard in the DCPS community.
“One of the things that we’ve heard in the community is that there is demand for language immersion schools,” Maldonado said. “The waitlist information is also showing that there is growing demand for pre-K and other specialty programs.”
According to Maldonado, the lottery program also aims to increase educational equity in the District. Despite spending nearly $30,000 per student, the District had a reading proficiency rate of 17 percent among its students, according to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2014.
Peretti said that the lottery reduces barriers to educational access through a centralized application that provides easily accessible, multilingual information. Peretti emphasized the program’s aim to make it easier for students and parents to apply regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic status.
“In general, we strive for an equitable way to allow families to access schools of choice in the District,” Peretti said.
Adam Barton (COL ’16), a member of D.C. Schools — a language tutoring program for youth and adults from immigrant backgrounds — said the District struggles to provide equal access to language learners, or students for whom English is not a first language. Barton said that these students and their families have more difficulty navigating the lottery process, but highlighted improvements in outreach.
“[Language learners] have to navigate extra hurdles just to get into the lottery process,” Barton said. “I would be really surprised if there were no issues of racial disparities, but based on data I’ve seen, it seems that, in outreach, they’re doing a really good job.”
Aidan Thaggard (MSB ’19) said the lottery program aids the crucial goal of improving education to help all students, regardless of socio-economic status.
“The idea of improving education should be the ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ idea where you don’t just cater to the overtly disadvantaged or the overtly advantaged, but you bring everyone up through whatever programs are functional for that,” Thaggard said. “By stratifying school programs, specifically through concentrating the higher level kids in some schools and, inevitably, the lower level kids in other schools, it’s going to be a lot harder to unilaterally bring students up.”