Washington's public preschool lottery can turn otherwise sane professionals into nervous wrecks. Washingtonian magazine recently chronicled the hysteria and frantic strategizing the lottery inspires in middle-class parents, even though there is very little families can do to influence where — and if — their child gets into preschool.
Raynette Lindsay, 26, isn't one of those parents. Although the public schools in her neighborhood have the lowest test scores and highest high school dropout rates in the city, she would have been fine with sending her daughter, Autumn, to the elementary school across the street. As for the lottery application, which requires parents to rank schools in order of preference? "It was really easy," Lindsay says.
This year, the city rolled out a simplified lottery process aimed at putting all parents on equal footing. But D.C. remains divided between frantically strategizing, middle-class parents and less educated parents, who aren't used to playing the school-admissions game. Whether you think the Washingtonian moms are crazy, or Lindsay is, may depend on where you yourself are from.
In theory, everyone who lives in the District of Columbia can send their child to public or public charter preschool. But parents aren't guaranteed a spot at their neighborhood school. Instead, they must submit a list of up to 12 schools to an online lottery, which uses an algorithm to match children with open spots. In the first round of this year's lottery, 88 percent of 3-year-old applicants and 67 percent of 4-year-olds were matched with a school.