DC School Lottery Strategy: Our Pre-K plan for 2020


EdFEST is December 14th at the DC Armory and school lottery applications for 2020-2021 open on the 16th. EdFEST is an annual public school fair where families can check out various public and charter schools in one place. There are over 100 DC public and charter schools that offer Pre-K, we’ve got to whittle that down to 12, the number of lottery choices.  Here’s our general strategy, subject to change, for the 2020 DC schools lottery.

Location, Location, Location

DC school exterior
This charter is closer to our home than our in-boundary school

Yes, DC has school choice so Junior doesn’t have to necessarily go to our in-boundary school. But parents have to “play the lottery” for Pre-K, short of a few exceptions, kids aren’t guaranteed a seat. Our in-boundary school is decent, and PARCC scores for African-American males have improved but I want to examine our options. Location plays a major part in what those options are. We have several schools that offer Pre-K3 within walking distance.

Because Junior will be 3, we will need to get him to school, and only one of us drives a car. So our limits are within walking or stroller distance with a 3-year-old or along our commuting routes. That makes 20-30 schools an option. I would have to buy a bike that could accommodate him (I currently use Capital Bikeshare) if we got into a school outside of our walking area but along my route. If we got a school along my husband’s route, the problem there could be with pick up and drop off. Currently, he drops off and I pick up. His route is in the opposite direction of mine. If we got a school on his route he’d be responsible for both drop off and pick up, and it would be a problem if he got sick or had early morning work obligations.

For logistical reasons, location is a major consideration for our family. 

Academics & Programs

I’ve been playing with the Detailed 2018-19, 2017-18, and 2016-17 PARCC and MSAA Performance Results Excel sheet to figure out where African-American males exceed and are passing in decent numbers. Black boys don’t necessarily flourish at the highly sought after, high ranking schools. After reading The Diverse Schools Dilemma, I was inspired to tease out the test data for African-American boys. Junior is bi-racial but there are so few bi-racial boys at one school, there is no data for them.

I think I’m pretty generous in interpreting test data. I am mainly looking at 3rd and 5th-grade math scores, then comparing one year versus the past two years. I’d prefer a school where over half of the African-American male students are approaching (Level 3) or exceeding (Level 5) expectations. I have a greater preference where some percentage of black male students are in the Level 5 category.

Then there are schools with no test data. There are several Pre-K to Kindergarten schools. Third grade is where the earliest test scores appear. Also Pre-K to K schools don’t have stars in the 5 STAR framework. Some of these schools feed into other schools with test score and STAR information, so those feeder schools would be a consideration.

In the same category as academics is teaching style or program. There are Montessori schools and dual-language schools within our realm of possibilities. I love the Montessori philosophy. I’m also very keen on dual language schools. However, I don’t know if Junior is well suited for those programs, for him a structured environment is less stressful.

Before and After School Care

My husband and I both work. There is a particular time when we are expected to be at work. I mentioned previously, Junior would be 3-years-old so one of us will need to take him to school. Most schools start around eight-something, so if we got into a school close to the house and kept our current hours, my husband would be dropping him off. If before care is available, I might be able to drop Junior off. It isn’t necessarily clear if some schools have before care, and this is where attending EdFEST would be helpful. It seems all the Pre-K schools have after care, and the prices vary depending on the school and who is administering the program.


Safety is a catchall for a variety of concerns. It can range from neighborhood crime to traffic to a school’s efforts to combat inappropriate behavior. For us, there is a highly sought after school within a healthy walk from our house. Unfortunately, getting there requires crossing a few dangerous intersections. The academic performance of the school’s African-American male students doesn’t seem to make it worth the trek.

Our Lottery Strategy

We will probably divide our twelve choices into three categories: wish list, acceptable, and safety. Sort of like applying to college, we’ll have the schools that we really want for Junior, followed by schools like his in-boundary school, then schools that have a history of low waitlists but are acceptable.

In the wish list category is a school in our neighborhood that really should not be our #1 choice. Its test scores are non-existent or low for black boys. It ranks high because it is in our neighborhood and has an attractive program. But it’s one of those hard to get into schools with 30 some odd seats with a waitlist of 400-500+. Our second choice is the school closest to the house and has good and great scores for AfAm boys. Next would be a Montesorri school and a dual language school.

In the middle category would be our in-boundary school and other neighborhood schools. We’ve already gotten a hint of the social benefits of going to our in-boundary school. There are several kids on our street attending the in-boundary school. Local businesses hold fundraisers for the school. This would make play-dates very easy.

The last category would be safety schools. I don’t want to pay a mortgage’s worth of daycare anymore. These would be schools with a low waiting list in a tolerable location.

So that’s our strategy. It might change after EdFEST. Your strategy may differ based on your family’s needs and values.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your strategy/insight! Location AND Before/After Care are big priorities for us as well. The EC specific scores (specifically the emotional support score) are also high on my priority list. Do you plan to re-configure your spreadsheets when the new data comes out this month?

  2. Hi Chelsey,
    Thanks. I hope the various posts we here at City Moms have put out about a very local topic, DC schools and the lottery, have helped parents.
    And thanks again for telling me when new data comes. Hopefully it will be in Excel or Google Sheets format.

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