Housing Complex

School Assignment Proposals: Who’s Happy, and Who Freaks Out

roosCue the hysteria: City officials have released a proposal for new school boundaries, along with three potential scenarios for determining which schools a child attends. The proposals range from moderate to radical, with something in each one to rile up a large chunk of the D.C. population. They're also highly uncertain: Not only must the committee that developed them, led by Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, narrow down its slate of options to a more concrete recommendation, but anything pushed by the administration of Mayor Vince Gray could be rejected by Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser or independent challenger David Catania, who both sit on the D.C. Council—and Catania chairs its education committee.

Nonetheless, here's a rundown of the three proposals and who will love and hate them.

Proposal A

What it does:

Elementary: Elementary schools are grouped into "choice sets" of three or four schools located near one another. Each household is in boundary for a certain choice set and ranks the schools in that set by preference. A lottery determines placement, with preference for that ranking and for sibling enrollment. Charter schools could also opt into choice sets and act like neighborhood schools.

Middle: There are no boundaries. Instead, each student has the right to attend one of the two middle schools located closest to his or her home, with a higher chance (but no guarantee) of attending the school that student prefers.

High: High-school placement is determined by lottery, with preference given for proximity and sibling enrollment.

Who's happy:

Diversity advocates for elementary schools: This proposal ought to help ensure that within a neighborhood, everyone has equal access to the "good" school or schools. Still, the impact might be limited, given that high-performing schools are still clustered together, as are low-performing schools. For example, Lafayette, Janney, and Murch elementary schools—all desirable schools west of Rock Creek Park—form one of the choice sets, raising the question of who benefits from mixing them up.

People who don't like their neighborhood school: With these changes, particularly the high-school lottery, there could be a greater chance of attending a school that's currently not within a student's boundary.

Who freaks out:

People who want to walk to school: If you live next door to your in-boundary elementary or middle school, you might get forced to go to a different school within the elementary-school choice set or middle-school pair that's a mile or more away.

Homeowners in the Wilson boundary: Buy a home recently with the hope of sending your kids to Wilson High School? You no longer have a guaranteed right to go there.

The Garrison and Powell crews: People who have devoted time and effort to improving their local elementary school, like the active group advocating for Garrison and Powell elementary schools, might suddenly find their kids unable to go there.

Neighbors who carpool (or just hang out): Families on the same block have no guarantee of going to the same school.

Diversity advocates for high schools: Proximity preference could mean that only people west of Rock Creek Park get preference for Wilson—if, that is, enough of them stick around D.C. Public Schools to populate Wilson.

Proposal B:

What it does:

Elementary: The system stays pretty much as it is, but with some redrawn boundaries. Each school sets aside 10 percent of its seats for out-of-boundary students with an underperforming neighborhood school.

Middle: Again, the boundary system reigns. Middle schools set aside 15 percent of their seats for out-of-boundary students with an underperforming neighborhood school.

High: High-school boundaries are determined by combining the boundaries of the feeder middle schools. High schools set aside 20 percent of their seats for out-of-boundary students with an underperforming neighborhood school.

Who's happy:

Advocates of predictability: You know exactly where your kid's going to elementary, middle, and high school.

Wilson feeders: Most people currently set to feed into Wilson High School can breathe a sigh of relief—that right isn't getting yanked away. Parents of students at east-of-the-park schools Shepherd and Bancroft will be particularly grateful not to lose their right to send their kids to Alice Deal Middle School and Wilson.

Who freaks out:

Students at Oyster-Adams: They currently feed into Wilson, but would be redirected to lower-performing Cardozo High School, unless there's excess capacity at Wilson.

Students at John Eaton Elementary: They would be sent to Hardy Middle School instead of Deal.

Advocates of change: This proposal mostly preserves the system that some people are hoping to see shaken up.

Proposal C:

What it does:

Elementary: The boundary system continues to reign.

Middle: Each elementary school feeds into a group of one to three middle schools. Where there's more than one option, the student's preference would guide but not guarantee placement.

High: Placement is determined by a city-wide lottery. Preference is not given for proximity, but rather for sibling enrollment and the ability to continue in specialized programming (for example, a student coming from a STEM middle school would get preference for a STEM high school).

Who's happy:

Charter schools and Montgomery County: With no guarantee or even likelihood of being able to attend the city's top high schools, residents of neighborhoods with good schools would likely flee the public-school system for charters, private schools, or the suburbs.

Residents of neighborhoods with bad schools: They'd have a better shot at attending the city's top schools like Wilson, although it could mean a trek.

Who freaks out:

People in the Wilson and Eastern boundaries: Thought you were sending your kids to one of the city's best high schools? Guess again. You're just as likely to end up at Roosevelt, Ballou, or Anacostia.

The travel-averse: With proximity no longer a factor for high school, the majority of the city's high-school students would likely have to travel a long way to get to class.

Photo by Darrow Mongtomery

  • A

    I dislike the "freaks out" turn of phrase. It presents those for whom this matters as "other" and plays into stereotypes about alternative newspapers being the realm of the smug, child-free, and hipper-than-thou. And I know that not to be the case, e.g., with Mike Madden.

  • Tbonebullets

    Reminds me of the old bugs bunny cartoon: "one for me, one for you; one, two for me, two for you; one, two, three for me, three for you..."

    The flaw in this charade is the premise that anyone MUST choose any of the options. Bugs is going to get thrown out on his ass.

  • Freakout Family

    Uhh ...I bought my house in DC counting sending my children to my neighborhood schools , which are great because of the hard work of the local , in-bound parents. The threat of voting with my feet is real. Don't want to move to Bethesda, but would faster than you can say "micelle rhee". Lottery for middle and high school no thanks.

  • sarah

    The funniest (but not at all funny really) part of this is the ridiculous idea that some schools in dc are "good" and some are "bad" based on the schools themselves...the schools that are currently "good" are good because of the fanilies who attend, and same for the "bad schools". I've taught in "good" public schools and in charter schools where the kids come from Anacostia, and though some of the teachers were stronger in the charter school, the school is "bad". The behavior problems and culture is created by the students who go there, and anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying. I would never send my kid to a school where there was a high concentration of low SES kids. Sad, but true.

  • sarah

    I forgot to add: it's the exact same thing in MoCo. Schools in certain parts of the county are "good" because of the students/families who attend, and vice versa. There are many schools in Silver Spring and Germantown that are sumilar to the "bad" schools in DC!

  • Mike

    Some version of B sounds most plausible. Parents generally like knowing where their children are likely going to be attending school years in advance and I don't blame them. Besides, in coming years look for "bad" schools like Hardy, Cardozo and a slew of elementary schools in gentrifying neighborhoods to improve both their reputation AND their test scores and enrollment numbers. School reputations, like demographics of the neighborhoods surrounding them, are not set in stone. They will continue to evolve as the Millennials continue to evolve from hipsters to settle down and more and more often decide to stay in the city and advocate for their kids and their schools and community.

  • drez

    Like many thousands of other families, we purchased our home based on school boundaries.
    If the government changes that for the worse, we'll view it as the greatest of deliberate harms they could do.

  • sbc

    you can add many SW and Near SE residents to the list of folks unhappy with proposal B, since they'd be cut out of Wilson and shifted to Eastern.

  • Northwesterneer

    The funniest (but not at all funny really) part of this is the ridiculous idea that some schools in dc are "good" and some are "bad" based on the schools themselves...the schools that are currently "good" are good because of the fanilies who attend, and same for the "bad schools".

    Sarah, you are very much wrong. My local school is horrible due to horrible teachers and a horrible principal who is trying to get put on disability and misses weeks of school at a time. Most of our neighborhood sent their kids there for Pre-K and Kindergarten and then pulled their kids to go to different schools. Don't blame ME for that failing school, I gave up trying to change the teachers' culture.

    Schools run by recalcitrant fake teachers with fake credentials (remember Michelle Rhee was firing teachers who never went to college but had diploma mill "degrees" and couldn't pass certification tests) can NOT be changed by the parents. The major culture for school success is the teachers, the kids come second and the parents come third. Anyone who tells you the parents matter first are likely communicating a racist dog whistle that says- "people of this race cannot succeed."

  • M in DC

    Proposal A would cause SERIOUS uproar throughout DC. Buying a home is intrinsically tied to school boundaries in Ward 6, where I live with a small child who will one day be enrolled at the elementary school of our choice. Making that change would stir up nothing short of rioting.

  • Jesse

    The only Wilson that matters in DCPS is the JO one. NE rules!

  • Lisa

    You forgot about one community that freaks out under every scenario: Crestwood. Not only does half of the neighborhood lose the right to attend Powell, but under ALL scenarios all of Crestwood loses its feeder rights to Deal AND Wilson.

  • Jennie

    Yeah, except almost no one from Crestwood actually sends their kids to Powell.

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  • Mel

    Do these changes effect DCPS Specialized High Schools (School Without Walls, Banneker, McKinley Tech, ect.)?

  • efavorite

    north westerner -- if your school is bad due to "Horrible" teachers and a horrible principal you can indeed blame Michelle Rhee and her successor Kaya Henderson for the abject failure of their reforms, which involved getting rid of all the "crappy" teachers -- years ago.

    They installed IMPACT - a costly invented-here teacher evaluation tool that now tells us that the great majority of teachers are rated effective (if not, they are fired), including some "highly effective" teachers who receive a pay bonus. Also, principals can be fired on the spot. If your bad one remains, blame Henderson for letting him/her stay. After the way principals were treated here, I bet it's hard getting principals to apply for jobs in DCPS.

    As for teacher certification -- there have always been standards -- that are lower now, with so many teach for america teachers, fresh out of college, with no teaching credentials and only a two year commitment to teach.

  • Rob

    You're precisely right. A recent study concluded that children benefit more from experienced educators in the classroom. Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson may have rid the system of a few bad apples but they also forced out many good teachers and discouraged some potentially good teachers (with the proper teaching credentials)from wanting to be part of this dysfunction.

    A not-educate-all children across the city agenda was and to some extent is still being pushed in this city and will (unfortunately) continue indefinitely. Shouldn't this discussion have its basis on how are we going to improve all schools, rather than on how can we keep the (boundary) apparatus working to the advantage of people residing in certain zipcodes. I'm sure that most children residing east of the park would like to be able to walk to their neighborhood school too.

  • Tenleytown

    We need to hear from Catania and Bowser on this ASAP. Both have been mum. My vote largely hinges on whether, in 12 years, my kid gets to walk 4 blocks to Wilson or is forced to schlep to the other side of town.

  • Oxman

    Oyster is thrown out completely of the Wilson feeder pattern. Shows what the mayor's office must think of the Spanish-speaking families. Other schools drop from Deal to Hardy, but then there is cryptic language that Hardy will no longer go to Wilson but rather feed to some TBD high school.

  • HongKongCarryout

    I'm relieved to see the updated map - I live on the Maury boundary and was worried the boundary would shrink, instead it's growing. Wilson high school was never in the cards for us so option A looks appealing, but I had shelled out for a house in that district, I'd be livid.

    This whole process is not going to be easy, and one thing is guaranteed: If kids don't have the opportunity to go to a decent middle/high school, any family with the means to do so will vote with their feet, as they've already been doing for years. The less well-off families whose kids are already at a disadvantage and in-bounds for crappy schools won't have that option. Which group do you think is more likely to get screwed in the redistricting? My guess is they go with proposal B.

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