Panel Paper: In Pursuit of Opportunity: Giving at-Risk Students Preference in a Unified Lottery for Public Schools

Friday, November 9, 2018
Tyler - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Aaron P. Parrott and Catherine Peretti, My School DC

We investigate the extent to which the unified lottery for traditional and public charter schools in Washington, DC—serving over 20,000 applicants per year—can be used as a tool to improve lottery outcomes for applicants that are at-risk of academic failure. Seats available at high-performing schools are a finite resource. These schools are typically highly demanded and fill many available seats according to preference rules used by the unified lottery. The potential for lottery preferences that prioritize at-risk students to socioeconomically diversify school populations is limited because the lottery only places new students. The strongest preference contemplated in this analysis, giving at-risk students the top priority out of all applicant groups, would improve lottery outcomes for 8.2% of the 7,432 applicants identified as at-risk. As the preference weakens, a smaller percentage of at-risk applicants will have improved lottery outcomes. We document the extent to which giving an advantage to at-risk students through different strengths of lottery preferences disadvantages other applicants’ lottery results. Overall, outcomes depend on the strength of the preference and a local education agency’s decision-making to give a preference that will displace other applicants without that advantage.