Waiting lists at DC charter and public schools don’t imply “No Child Left Behind” but rather “Let’s Leave All Those At-Risk Kids Behind”.

Quite recently all of the DC public and charter schools held an annual lottery to see who gets in. Many families applied to multiple schools because they hoped to get their children into a school that is more “successful” than their local in-boundary school. Many parents did not get their children into their first-choice school, and many children ended up being placed on waiting lists at one or more schools. “More successful” of course today usually means “higher test scores” and those are very strongly correlated to parental income and education levels.

Guess how many names kids are on those waiting lists in a school district with about 76,000 students? (I’m counting both public and charter schools in DC)

Nearly half that number: about thirty-three thousand! 

Obviously, many students are on multiple waiting lists (which means some kids are doubly, triply, or quadruply-counted and -listed) and there are many families that were happy with their current situation and didn’t apply. I have no way of calculating how many separate, individual students are wait-listed somewhere, nor how many of them applied and were admitted to some school that may or may not be their first choice.

However, this situation sounds crazy. It seemed to me that a parent would need a LOT of computer savvy to navigate the ‘choice’ system; parents who are somehow ‘missing in action’ won’t make use of the system at all. Plus, how can any school actually plan for the next year if they still (May 8) don’t know how many children will actually enroll when school starts up again in about three months?

I made a prediction that one of the major factors in the length of the waiting list would be the socio-economic status of the school’s student bodies. I predicted that the smaller the fraction of the student body that was officially determined to be At Risk, the longer the waiting list would be, and vice versa of course: the greater the population of At Risk students, the shorter would be the waiting list.

I have now crunched the numbers, and found that my prediction is essentially correct, especially at the elementary level (less so at the secondary level).

What this means is that parents appear to be trying to leave any school that has a high proportion of At Risk students, and are trying to get their children into schools with more affluent student populations. So much for ‘No Child Left Behind’: it’s more like “Let’s Leave All Those At-Risk Kids Behind”.

You can see that in the following three graphs:


First, elementary schools (which I defined as any school that ended at the 5th grade or earlier). The r-squared value is quite high: 0.6731, so R = 0.82, which is pretty amazing for any real-life data.

elementary wait lists

(click on the image to view it more closely)

In case you were wondering, the winner in the elementary wait-list category is Mundo Verde, which is represented by the dot farthest to the right, with about 1200 kids on its waiting list. The schools at the left-hand edge of the graph are those with no, or almost no, names on their waiting lists.

(BTW, if your child is on one of those long waiting lists, I would suggest giving up on that particular school…)

Middle Schools

At the middle school level (which I defined as any school that ended at grades 6, 7, or 8), the R-squared correlation between length of wait list and percentage of students At Risk is not as strong as at the elementary level, but it’s still a fairly robust 0.4228, which means that R = 0.6502. In this group of schools, the big winner is Two Rivers, which is fortunate to have the 2014 DC Teacher of the Year on its staff. (I suspect that winning that award increased the number of applicants at the school!) It’s the dot way off on the very right edge of the graph.

middle school wait lists

(click on the image to view it more closely)

High Schools

At the high school level (which I defined as any school with any of the grades 9 though 12) the correlation is less strong: only 0.2774, but R is still a respectable 0.5267). The winner here is Woodrow Wilson SHS, which is the dot at about 550 names on the waiting list and only about 20% of its population At Risk.

high school wait list

(as usual, click on the image to view it more closely)

Let me repeat myself: what we see here is not “No Child Left Behind” but instead ” “Let’s Leave All Those At-Risk Kids Behind”.

Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 1:42 pm  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Sorry readers, when I first posted this I left out the graph for the high schools. GFB


  2. “what we see here is not “No Child Left Behind” but instead “Let’s Leave All Those At-Risk Kids Behind”.”

    Exactly! Doesn’t seem like the free market model really makes sense for public education.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, certainly not, when the only available rating for a school is scores on standardized tests. Didn’t I read somewhere that successful investment in the free market is a function of the available amount of info?


  3. I accidentally left out the HS graph when I first published this. That’s now fixed.


  4. […] Brandenburg studied the wait lists at charter schools in D.C., and he discovered that poor kids were fleeing from schools with the kids […]


  5. As a means of preserving everything you’ve tried to instill, why is there anything wrong with wanting to get your kids as far away as possible from a lot of “bad influences?”


    • Perhaps it’s because we as a society should care about all of our children, even the ‘bad influences’? Perhaps if we didn’t have such amazingly segregated housing patterns and school attendance patterns, then every school would have its share of high and low achievers, and when they grew up, they would know each other a little better. Unfortunately, it seems like the idea has never been tried on a widespread basis in this country.


    • He’s not criticizing the parents. He’s criticizing people who say that school choice programs will not end up helping the students who are most at risk. Rather, those are exactly the students who will suffer most. This is not surprising, or shouldn’t be surprising, except that proponents of school choice and charters very, very often make the argument that school choice and charters will in fact help poor kids and other at-risk kids. It won’t, and this shows why.


  6. Actually, some of the finest public schools are those that explicitly are designed to serve students with lots of problems. Here’s a link to an Ed Week blog in which I describe some of those schools – some run by districts, some run as charters.


  7. currency including fifa

    Waiting lists at DC charter and public schools don’t imply “No Child Left Behind” but rather “Let’s Leave All Those At-Risk Kids Behind”. | GFBrandenburg’s Blog


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