Is Your Neighborhood Elementary School a Sure Bet?

Last week we looked at the waitlist results for the District of Columbia Public Schools common lottery. Today we focus on the DCPS early childhood entry years for 3- and 4-year-old children (PreK-3 and -4) to understand how the common lottery and various preferences built into the lottery affect the chances of being matched with your neighborhood school. Unlike all other elementary grades, attendance at your neighborhood school is not guaranteed for PreK-3 and PreK-4 and all seats are offered through the lottery (with limited exceptions). The two most common preferences are for in-bounds families who live within the attendance zone and for siblings of current or accepted students at the said school.

Let’s look at overall demand for neighborhood schools measured by the number of in-bounds applicants who got in or waitlisted at their neighborhood school. Over the last three school lotteries, 77 schools participated each year and offered in-bounds preference to applicants. 66 percent of those schools experienced an average annual increase in in-bounds applications. Click the map below to view the growth rate in in-bounds applicants at all schools that received at least ten such applications in the school year 2013-2014 lottery.


So, with increasing demand, does in-bounds preference guarantee you a seat at your neighborhood school? For the most recent school year 2015-2016 lottery, 31 of 83 schools (37 percent) did not have enough seats for in-bounds families. In school year 2014-2015, the first year of the common lottery, 27 out of 80 schools (34 percent) were unable to offer seats to all in-bounds applicants. And in school year 2013-2014, the final year of the DCPS-only lottery, 18 out of 79 schools (23 percent) waitlisted in-bounds applicants. So the answer is ‘no’, your in-bounds preference is not a sure bet at a growing number of schools.  Click below to view in-bounds waitlist rates across school years.


Further, 14 schools placed families with in-bounds preference on the waitlist for each of the last three school year lotteries, while 38 schools accommodated every in-bounds family seeking a seat over those years. School year 2015-2016 saw 11 schools join the ranks of those unable to match all families at the time of the lottery for the first time in the past three years. Use the radio buttons below to view which schools always, never, or for the first time waitlisted in-bounds families.


In addition to waitlisting a high percentage of in-bounds applicants, two elementary schools, Brent (PreK-3) and Stoddert (PreK-4) matched all seats to siblings of in-bounds families; they are the only two schools to experience this phenomenon over the last three years with Stoddert experiencing it twice (SY 2013-2014). Stoddert reduced its PK4 offering from 2 classes to 1 class this school year, which contributed to the reoccurrence this year. Dual language programs also have high rates of sibling matches because these programs give greater weight to the sibling preference in the lottery. The interactive graph below will allow you to see the schools each year and by ward and the respective match rates for siblings.


What exactly is this data? The data is published by DC Public Schools and includes the number of students matched to available early childhood seats, with and without preferences (in-bounds, sibling, proximity, etc.), and those wait-listed through the lottery process. This analysis looks only at the elementary entry years – all schools that begin their programs with 3 year olds (PreK-3) and the nine schools that begin their programs with 4 year olds (PreK-4). Recent boundary changes, program reconfigurations, and guaranteed admission at some Title I schools over the last few years play a role in determining available slots in these programs. Additionally, the number of applications schools received was even larger than the waitlist numbers since students matched with one of their higher-ranked schools are removed from the waitlists of schools they ranked lower.

2 thoughts on “Is Your Neighborhood Elementary School a Sure Bet?

  1. The lottery methodology changes make it harder to compare year-over-year waitlist growth. The current methodology will likely remain stable for a few years, so it will be interesting to see how things shake out in, say, school year 2018-19.

    There are also some strategic behaviors identifiable in the data. The waitlist at West definitely seems to be along those lines, in that the nearby schools are known to have longer waitlists while West has not to this point. People may even be making rational choices. Now the charter overlay over these data complicates things, but it is all very interesting to read.

    Thank you for your look at this topic.


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