Video: How to find a middle school
Video: A guide to private schools
By Hank Pellissier
The pressure's on! You live in Washington D.C., vortex of power, neural cortex of the nation. Moneycnn.com calls DC "America's brainiest place to live" because the percentage of college graduates is nearly twice the national average. People around you ponder important ideas all day long. It’s the ideal place to raise your bright children, right? You just need to enroll them in a top-notch school.
Alas, this task can seem as formidable as erasing the national debt. The Capital's public school district has a mediocre GreatSchools Rating, and the high school graduation rate is an anemic 58 percent. If you think that’s bad, things could get even worse: DC schools are facing massive budget cuts that will eviscerate programs and staff.
That’s not all: school stress for parents starts early in the nation’s capital because DC has universal preschool. (In 2008, the DC Council unanimously passed legislation to make PreK available to all 3 and 4-year olds by 2014, and today it is the most comprehensive PreK program in the U.S.)
"The public preschools feed into elementary schools, which feed into middle schools, and then high schools,” explains DC parent Alden Nouga. “To obtain a good placement, parents start researching schools soon after their child is born."
Based on their DC address, parents are guaranteed a kindergarten spot for their child at their neighborhood "in-boundary" school. Unfortunately for many parents, the neighborhood school may be less than ideal.
Parents who want their child to go to an "Out-Of-Boundary" school must brave the new My School DC lottery, which includes all DCPS schools and a majority of the district's charter schools.(In late 2013, the DC Deputy Mayor for Education, in partnership with DC Public Schools (DCPS), the Public Charter School Board (PCSB), and charter Local Education Agencies (LEA's) launched MySchoolDC.org, a common lottery process. The new process allows DC families to apply DCPS PK3/PK4 programs, DCPS out-of-boundary schools, DCPS specialized high schools, and participating charter schools through one online application.)
To participate in the lottery, parents pick 10-15 schools ranked in order of preference. Families seeking seats at the few charter schools that are not participating in My School DC should apply at each school and participate in individual lotteries. (Remember that If your child attends an elementary school as an out-of boundary student, he'll qualify for that school's feeder, or "destination," middle and high schools, so the quality of these destination schools should be a factor when you're creating your school wish list.)
The process isn't for the faint of heart: there's no guarantee your child will end up with any of the schools on your list. DC’s highest performing schools, like Stoddert Elementary and Eaton Elementary, two PreK-5 schools boasting high GreatSchools Ratings, have the longest waiting lists. A child seeking admission to popular schools like these are likely to be assigned an astronomical number on the waiting list. (As in many cities, DC’s highest performing public schools are located in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.)
Other DC schools with high rankings include Janney Elementary, Hyde-Addison Elementary, Mamie D Lee Elementary, Key Elementary, Oyster-Adams Bilingual (grades 4-8), and Benjamin Banneker High School. Upper grade schools include Deal Middle School, McKinley Technology High School, and School Without Walls High School, a small, demanding college preparatory school that "launches students on a quest to find personal meaning from their studies," according to the school’s website. Other innovative schools include Ellington School of the Arts, which offers a rich variety of art programs, from dance and theatre to instrumental music and museum studies; and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School.
Many schools have open houses each year or participate in school fairs, and this is the best way to get a sense of a school's quality and climate. Go to individual school websites for open house dates. School enrollment forms and due dates are available on My School DC for those schools participating in the common lottery, or on individual school websites.
DC also boasts a thriving charter school movement. Each charter has its own local education agency (LEA), which is a sort of mini school district. There are over 50 LEAs in DC, with many operating multiple schools and performance varying widely. (GreatSchools lists 109 separate DC charter schools). DC charters don’t have to admit every kid, and if there are more applications than seats available, enrollment is determined by lottery, either individually or in conjunction with My School DC. With the advent of the common lottery, dates are consistent. Applications will become available on Dec 16 and are due on Feb 3 for high school applicants and March 3 for PK-8 applicants. Non-participating charter schools and private schools may have varying deadlines.
In the charter system, there are a number of schools with stellar GreatSchools Ratings: Edgewood Elementary, Edgewood Middle School, KIPP KEY Academy (Grades 5-8), KIPP AIM Academy (Grades 5-8), Latin-American Montessori Bilingual Elementary, Achievement Preparatory Academy (Grades K-8), St. Coletta Special Education (PK-12). Yu Ying (PreK-4), which offers Mandarin immersion, also ranks high.
Washington DC’s charter schools offer a variety of unique programs. Washington Latin for grades 5-8 provides what it calls a "Classical Education for the Modern World," with Latin required every year; Friendship Collegiate Academy offers AP computer science classes and their Collegiate Early College Program for motivated students.
To find out more about DC charter schools, check out the DC Public Charter School Board website, which provides a list of all charter schools, as well as performance information.
Sign up for our free newsletter and we'll send you
more just like it every week.
Thank you! You will begin to receive newsletters from us shortly.
Great work! Only one more step. Now we just need you to verify your email address. Please click on the link in the email we just sent you to complete your registration.
Great work! Only one more step. Now we just need you to verify your email address. Please click on the link in the email we just sent you to submit your review.
Please click on the link in the verification email we just sent you to complete your change of email address.
Whoops! It looks like we still need to verify your email. To do so, please click on the link in the email we sent you. Can't find the e-mail? Click the button below and we'll send you a new one.
Thanks for registering. Welcome to GreatSchools, the largest online community committed to improving educational outcomes through parental involvement.
Thanks for verifying your updated email address.
Oops! You haven't verified your email address yet. To do so, please click on the link in the email we sent you. Can't find the email? Click the button below to receive a new one.
Oops! That email verification link has expired. Please click the button below to receive a new one.
Create an account to submit your answers.
Sign in with an existing GreatSchools account or using Facebook:
Your review has been posted to GreatSchools.
Share with friends! Post your opinion of on Facebook.
Welcome to GreatSchools!
For principals and school officials, we offer a special Enhanced School Profile (ESP) which allows you to update and add information about your school, as well as respond to reviews. If you are a school official, click Continue to start.
Please note that it can take up to 48 hours for your comment to be posted to our site. While you're here, we'd like to invite you to fill out a survey on your school's programs, activities, and extracurriculars. It only takes a few minutes and will help parents get a full picture of your school.
Get started now! You have successfully registered and can now start updating your Official School Profile. The information you provide is extremely valuable in helping parents and students learn more about your school, so thanks for taking the time!
Thank you for registering as a school leader. We just need to verify your email address. We've sent you an email - please click on the link in that message to get started editing your school's information!
Thanks! We just sent you an email – please click on the link in the email to post your answers.
Get timely updates for , including performance data and recently posted user reviews.