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.