We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Last week, the District released the waitlist numbers for each public and charter school. For D.C. Public Schools, this means the number of students who couldn’t get in on the first round to an out-of-boundary school or to a pre-kindergarten program. For charters, it’s the number who couldn’t get into a school in the citywide lottery, since there’s no neighborhood preference for charters.
The map above shows the results, courtesy of the District, Measured blog from the Office of Revenue Analysis. Orange circles represent traditional public schools; blue circles represent charters. The larger the circle, the longer the waitlist.
The pattern for traditional public schools is striking. Nearly every public school with a long waitlist is west of Rock Creek Park or on Capitol Hill. The trend among charters is less obvious, since there are no charters west of Rock Creek Park. But all the longest waitlists are still west of the Anacostia River, although there are plenty of charters to the east of the river.
Even when two schools have equal academic performance, there’s a sharp geographic disparity in demand for the schools. Take Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan and Shepherd Elementary School. Both are DCPS elementary schools with 73 percent reading proficiency. But Capitol Hill Montessori, near Union Station, has a waitlist of 716 students, while Shepherd, in Shepherd Park, has a waitlist half that size, with 394 students.
Or take two lower-performing elementary schools: Bancroft Elementary School in Mount Pleasant and Martin Luther King Elementary School in Congress Heights. King actually has slightly higher reading proficiency: 32 percent to Bancroft’s 31. But Bancroft’s waitlist is 460 names long, while King has no waitlist at all. Why? In part, it’s surely because Bancroft feeds into well-regarded Deal Middle School and Wilson High School, while King feeds into lower-performing Hart Middle School and Ballou High School.
Perhaps the biggest outlier here is Benjamin Banneker High School. The application-only school has consistently had among the highest test scores of any in the city. And yet, perhaps because of its existing demographics, many parents continue to shy away from it. This year, the school is 81 percent black, 14 percent Hispanic, and zero percent white, despite the growing number of white families in the surrounding neighborhoods, like Columbia Heights and Logan Circle and LeDroit Park.
These numbers paint a disheartening picture. City officials’ mantra has been that if they enhance the academic performance of schools in poorer parts of the District, they can bring more equity to the public-school system and stop the closure of schools in lower-income neighborhoods due to under-enrollment. But it appears that the correlation between performance and demand is messy, and families still have a strong preference for schools in certain neighborhoods.
Images via District, Measured