EdFEST, DC’s only citywide public school fair, took place this past weekend, unofficially signifying the start of DC public school choice application season. The DC public school choice lottery opened on Monday, December 14 and over the next few months, parents from all over DC will make choices regarding school options for their own children. Last year, over 20,000 applications were submitted to the lottery, so there are a wealth of parents just like me who are exercising choice in order to find the best public school option for their child.
Next year my daughter will transition to high school. We began researching school options this past summer and as of today we are considering applying to as many as 10 different schools, several of which have nuanced application processes and requirements.
Last year, the DC Public Schools system adjusted the district’s traditional school boundaries, and overnight my son’s right-to-attend middle school assignment changed. My wife and I wanted him to still be guaranteed a seat in his original right-to-attend middle school. To make this possible, we chose to move to an entirely different neighborhood to ensure him a seat in that school.
Although I am deeply involved in the DC public school choice sector on a daily basis, even I still find it at times complicated and confusing. I can only imagine that if I feel this way, other parents who are not nearly as immersed as I currently am must feel just as—if not more—overwhelmed.
I would do almost anything to give my children the best educational options possible, and the steps my family has taken to secure quality schools for our children are no different than what many other families would do in our position.However, many families do not have the flexibility to move from one neighborhood to another, which can put their child at a disadvantage in accessing quality schools. Moreover, most children don’t have parents whose job it is to have their finger on the pulse of their city’s public school choice sector.
We at DCSRN decided to play our part in making school selection easier for parents, which is why we launched the High Quality Schools Campaign (HQSC). The campaign levels the playing field of access, especially for families in underserved communities so that no matter your zip code, you can compete for quality schools. The HQSC supports families applying to, enrolling and persisting (maintaining enrollment) in quality schools. The HQSC informs parents about the characteristics of high quality schools and helps parents identify and pursue quality education options for their children. Last year DCSRN served families representing nearly 600 students with a pool of well over 1,000 waiting to be served.
To our knowledge, DCSRN is the only organization in the U.S. doing this type of targeted work. As parent engagement becomes increasingly important in the national public school choice sector, I’m proud to lead an organization on the forefront of leveling the school choice playing field so that all families can compete for quality seats.
David Pickens is the executive director of DC School Reform Now.