In 2009-10, 12,000 Washington, D.C. students transferred from a school that failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress. But only 29 percent found an opening at a “higher-proficiency” charter or district-run school, concludes Choice Without Options, an American Enterprise Institute study. Almost three-fourths of transfers “made a school choice that can be described as choosing the bad over the worse or the unknown over the known.”
Washington, D.C., has an environment that, on the surface, is ripe with school choice. Last year, 70 percent of all public school students attended a school other than their zoned neighborhood school; nearly 40 percent attended public charter schools and another 30 percent attended selective magnet schools or traditional public schools using the out-of-boundary application process. Residents of D.C. can apply to more than ninety public charter schools and more than one hundred DCPS. All public charter schools must accept applications from any D.C. resident, and DCPS must accept applications from out-of-boundary students for excess seats not filled by neighborhood children. If the number of students applying in either case exceeds the number of available seats, a lottery is held to determine which students may enroll.
Despite this environment of school choice, parents in D.C. face fierce competition to enroll their children in one of the city’s few “higher proficiency” public schools . . .
Twenty percent of charter schools and 29 percent of district-run schools are higher-proficiency schools with above-average test scores and improvement rates, the study found. Another 22 percent of charters and 47 percent of district-run schools were classified as lower-proficiency. Fifty-two percent of charters were too new to have a track record.
Many of the higher-proficiency charters admit most students in preschool or kindergarten; others have openings in sixth or ninth grade but few slots in other grades. Parents who miss out on the best schools typically take a chance on new and unproven charters; some choose a low-proficiency charter over the low-proficiency neighborhood school.