Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Charter schools and waiting lists in D.C. schools

When school choice procedures result in some children having multiple offers, others must wait for an assignment, which can be taxing. Even in cities that have begun to use single-best-offer school choice systems for the public schools, there can be a lot of congestion if the charter schools aren't integrated into the process. The Washington Post has the story:  Parents struggle with ‘wait-list shuffle’ in D.C. schools

"Thousands of seats change hands in the first weeks of class as students leave one school for another, a quiet migration triggered by the intense competition for a good public education in the nation’s capital.

"This is the wait-list shuffle. Parents say it’s a downside of the city’s school-choice movement — a nationally watched experiment that has given Washington families more options than ever but also has injected a new level of agony and instability into the start of the academic year.

"The change has been spurred by the rapid expansion of public charter schools, which operate outside the traditional school system and under different enrollment rules. As parents try to get their children into the best schools, they can apply to an unlimited number of them. Once admitted, students can hold seats in more than one school.

"Those parents seeking to preserve their options often relinquish the extras only when forced to on the first day of class. Principals then scramble to fill their rolls from long wait lists, recruiting students who are enrolled elsewhere. The cascading effect lasts into October.
"There has long been a scrum to win seats in the city’s best traditional public schools, but the rise of charter schools — which now enroll more than 40 percent of Washington’s 77,000 students, a larger proportion than any other city except New Orleans — has helped turn that scrum into a frenzy.

"A growing number of parents are entering lotteries for D.C. public schools, especially for pre-
kindergarten — but they are limited to six applications each year and can’t enroll in more than one at a time.

"The charter school process is a free-for-all: There are 57 different charter schools, and parents can enter as many lotteries as they like. Many track their options with elaborate spreadsheets, relying on word of mouth, test scores and gut feelings to identify favorites.
"Each year, lucky students win seats in more than one charter school, or one traditional school and several charters. Other families spend the summer months eagerly refreshing school Web sites, watching their children move slowly up long lists.

"This spring, the waiting lists for charter and D.C. public schools topped out at more than 35,000 names, many of them duplicates. 

"The lists begin to move during the summer, as families settle on choices or move away. Then they accelerate after the first day of school, when principals see who doesn’t show up and turn to their wait lists.

"According to the D.C. Public Charter School Board, 1,141 students withdrew from a charter school within the first month of classes in fall 2011. Another 2,671 entered a charter school within that same time frame.
"Parents who take multiple seats say they’re playing by the rules of the game and doing what’s necessary to get what’s best for their children.

"One mother of a kindergartner — who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering school officials and other parents — spent the first week of classes this fall holding slots at two of the city’s most coveted charter schools, weighing whether she could afford after-school care at the one she preferred."

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