Tuesday, December 6, 2016

An Easy Quick Guide to School Choices (in Washington DC)

A friend of mine wanted to know more about the schools here in Washington DC and I decided to do a post series on it so it can help with the process not just for her but for everyone.
Whether you are in Washington DC or not, this can be a very helpful post for your in determining where you want to put your kids regardless of where you plan to live, move, etc. I started when my oldest was a very young child. It seemed from an actual incident while he was in Pre K that was very enlightening to me so I decided to always be in the know of what is going on with the school system around me. At the time, we were in California, so when we moved here, it was a new world to learn. Just as it is for you if you are figuring out for the first time what you want to do for your child's education.
An Easy Quick Guide to School Choices (in Washington DC), Washington DC Schools, DCPS, DCPCS, FPCSO, Choosing a school, Private Schools, Charter Schools, Public Charter Schools, Public School, Homeschooling, What is the difference between public school and charter school, An easy guide to help you choose your school, children, OSSE, children's education, be empowered as a parent, DC education system, Via Bella
What is the difference between a public and a charter school?
Public School (DCPS)
- Funded by tax money and OSSE
- Overseen by the DCPS board
- Same curriculum across the board
- Sometimes bigger size classrooms
- Free
Public Charter Schools (DCPCS)
- They have share holders as well as funding from the government
- Some are run by non profits and some are run by for profit companies
- They don't have the same curriculum across the board although the standards are just the same as public
- They are able to vary in their offerings of curriculum or focus (IE: a STEM school)
- They also answer to the charter school board as well OSSE
- They may or may not have testing that shows
- They are the in between of traditional public schools and private schools
Private School
- They cost money
- They are smaller
- Some are religious based
- Some are based on special needs
- The curriculum is less if not nil in terms of regulations federally
- Can be more expensive than college (unless funded a different way like a catholic school)
- Not required to provide special education or special needs of any kind or spectrum by law
- Outdoor based
- Can be DCPS or DCPCS or even private
- harder to get into
- try to flex the hard core requirements OSSE puts on them to the best they can to help kids
- multi grade level in one classroom
Home School
- In DC you have to register with the "state" to home school
- You have to teach to the core subjects of Language Arts, Math, Science, History, Art, and so forth.
- You must keep a record of what the kids do although don't have required check ins like MD
- Gives you a lot of freedom in choice of how to school your child
A great in between for home school and the public school system is the Friendship Public Charter School Online as the curriculum is powered by K12 and is top notch. They are still required to do all the testing kids do and are considered students of the DCPCS system. But there are flexible in it that you would also find in traditional homeschooling. They are currently K-8.
What are the options for schooling for a 3yo in DC?
Honestly, I know more about K-12 since my kids weren't in pre k. That being said, it doesn't mean I didn't try. I tried so hard to get them in. It can be very hard to get into a Pre K program. If you are looking at a public school, you need to ask them first what their expectations are for students. Some are full time, or five days a week for half a day. They require it for their funding. However, this could be changing and I didn't know it. I would personally call each school you are considering or when you go to EDFest ask. I assume that Public Charter schools would have more flexibility in this than the normal public schools.
What are co-ops?
Co Ops operate in the same way baby sitting co ops work. Or so to speak. They just add in the educational piece of it. For example, you can have one that everyone pays into and operates more like a tradition school but for home schoolers. It allows for freedom of choice in what they are learning and when. Some are one day a week. My friend uses this kind. She takes her three daughters over to do it. They even have day care of the baby. It's all day one day a week. Each parent takes a class on that they want to teach.
Other co ops are free but parents swap out either teaching subjects or helping with different tasks.
It really is dependent on the kind of co op you are looking for.
This is a great option for the more laid back yet you know they are gaining all the skills they need.
Other things to consider are groups that focus on learning that are parent led. One great example is something my friend started and we all pitch in to help with which The Outdoor Classroom in the DMV. (I will share the link in the comments). There are no events or get togethers really during the winter due to weather and due to the fact that most the outings are at parks around the DMV.

Are they all through the public school system or are there private ones?
All the ones that get funded through the Office of Education are mostly public or public charter. DC is very unique in the way they do their school system. Every school is different in their educational approach. The best way to know which one fits your families schedule and needs is to ask them if they do part time or full time pre K. I swear that I have heard of some that are part time, I just don't remember their names off the top of my head.

How do I find one that will work for our family?
What is the lottery?
Oh.... sigh... I am not a big fan of the lottery. It was designed to give children all around the district a fair shot at the education they wanted to receive in terms of style and diversity. It keeps schools more equalised then having the rich schools in one neighbourhood and the poor ones in another. You will have kids from all over the city at any one particular school in the district.
What are the dates I need to know and stay on top of?
They do vary but for the lottery you start applying after EdFest in December.
If you go to http://www.myschooldc.org/ they can help you but here are the dates real quick...
IMPORTANT DATES here in DC are...
EdFest - 10 Dec 2016
Applications open on DC lottery- 12 Dec 2016
Application Deadline for PK3-8 is March 1, 2017.
Application Deadline for 9-12 is February 1, 2017.
Lottery Results come out 31 March 2017
Enrollment Deadline is 1 May 2017 (if you can get chosen by a school and keep in mind that if you don't get a spot, you may get offered a spot at a wait listed school in the fall. It happened to us.)
You can read more about the lottery here.

There are feeder schools for each address in DC? How do I work mine out?
Yes, they are. They are your neighbourhood schools and you always have a right to them. However, this is the case for Kinder on up and I believe this are all traditional public schools. For Pre-K, each school has a limited number of spots. So you will need to enroll or inquire, which I suggest doing, this week or sometimes in December as you do the lottery system.
Your feeder schools will be given priority.

What does that mean for me if I want to start at age 3?
It means realistically that you can apply for a spot and not get it. That being said, there may be a spot somewhere that opens up even if the school you want isn't open. So just be open to this possibility. Also be open to paying for a school if you really need her in a Pk3. That being said, they are always expanding spots and classes somewhere in the city.

If I choose my feeder school do I still need to do the lottery or are you guaranteed a place in your local school?
You will still need to go through MySchoolDC but it shouldn't be an issue getting them in. Meaning that at the K level the local neighbourhood schools can't turn your child away. But you still have to do the online system. It's a new OSSE requirement. And a frustrating one in my opinion.I would personally do the Lottery and go to the school in person.
Also, side note, but ALWAYS keep copies of your applications so when you do get an accepted spot and they ask for an application (this happened to me several times over) than you have it in hand. This happened where I did MySchoolDC, to FPCSO, to K12 and to the people in person at the school. Because my kids do the online school, it definitely added a level of complication because it was the first year they tried (and failed) to sync all the systems. Now, it should be easy-peasy for any school. Ideally you do MySchoolDC and most of it is done. But every school is a little different.

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