If you’re rolling the dice in the magnet school lottery, your chances of getting a freshman into Metropolitan Business Academy are about 1 in 7. Angling for a seat for a 3-year-old at Davis Street School? If you don’t live nearby, forget it.
Those results emerged in the new magnet school brochures released last week. Applications are due Feb. 15; the lottery takes place on March 12.
For the first time, the school district revealed the hard numbers behind the heartbreak of the city’s annual lottery to get into magnet and charter schools.
Most parents walk away disappointed: A whopping 9,333 local and suburban students applied for 2,677 open seats at 29 charter and magnet schools covering grades pre-K to 12.
Parents complained they were going into the lottery blind—with no inkling of the odds they faced at a given school. Knowing those odds is key, parents argued, because students can pick only three top choices for schools. If they don’t get one of their top three choices, they’ll be sent to a neighborhood school. (If there are too many applicants for available seats in neighborhood schools, there’s a separate lottery; click here and here to read about that.)
At the request of a parent group led by Eliza Halsey and Tim Holahan, the school district last week included in the magnet brochures a school-by-school, grade-by-grade breakdown of how many families applied for open seats.
The Independent crunched numbers and came up with the odds of getting into each school as a New Haven and suburban kid.
Click here for an Independent analysis of key years of entry: pre-K, kindergarten, 5th and 9th grade.
Click here to see the full data from the school district. It’s split up into two tabs: seats reserved for New Haven residents and those reserved for suburban applicants. You can also see the data for each school on the magnet school website.
Keep in mind that the odds vary every year. The number of open seats fluctuates based on: how many kids pre-enroll for kindergarten; how many leave the school; how many get held back. And the competition varies as schools rise in popularity, and based on how many applicants have siblings there in a given year.
But the data from last year’s lottery provides strategic advice on which schools may be safer bet—and which are a lost cause—especially for parents applying to schools across town, where they have no neighborhood preference.
Fair Haven mom Joan Bosson-Heenan (pictured), who struck out on the magnet lottery three times, called the data “a huge step in the right direction.” She first applied to the lottery three years ago as a newcomer to the city. Based on location (near work and home) and reputation as excellent schools, she applied to Benjamin Jepson and John C. Daniels for her 3-year-old, Sam.
She struck out at both schools—three years in a row. Daniels gives preference to neighborhood kids. Bosson-Heenan didn’t know just how many there would be.
“I had no idea that he didn’t have a chance,” she said.
Data from last year show the kind of odds she was up against at the popular magnet school. Last year, 189 New Haven 3-year-olds scrambled for 20 pre-K spots at Daniels. Only 11 percent got in overall. There were so many kids from the neighborhood—29—that the chances of getting in from across town were slim to none. Before a kid like Sam could get in, the school would give first dibs to 12 kids who already had siblings there. Odds were similarly steep for suburban applicants: 18 percent of them were granted one of 20 seats.
Four-year-olds rolling the dice had worse luck: There were no open spots for city kids at Daniels last year—nor Barnard, Beecher, Brennan/Rogers, Conte, or MicroSociety.
For kindergarten, Daniels opened up 10 spots for city kids and five for suburban ones. Only 4 percent of New Haven kids got in. Students like Sam, who had no sibling or neighborhood preference, sat no higher than 35th on the wait-list.
Daniels, a middle-performing, Tier II school, fits a pattern among the 10 schools that offer pre-K for both 3- and 4-year-olds. Competition is fierce for 3-year-olds: most schools admit fewer than 15 percent of New Haven kids. At every school except Jepson, so many people applied that there was no chance of getting in from outside the neighborhood. Competition was equally fierce among suburban applicants, who get dibs on half of the seats. (Why? To keep state funding—read about that here.)
The data hold strategic advice: Don’t wait until your kid is 4 to apply. Only a handful of schools had openings in pre-K for 4-year-olds—Davis, Jepson, King/Robinson, Mauro/Sheridan and Ross/Woodward. The odds of getting in without living nearby, or having a sibling there, were minimal.
Deputy schools chief Garth Harries said the data aims to empower parents with more information as they apply. He said a student’s chances of getting in are just one factor in the application.
“Families should factor a lot of things into where they apply,” advised Harries, including a school’s theme, location, and culture.
“The most important part of the strategy is to research a wide variety of schools”—including neighborhood schools—“and make sure the school you apply to, you’d be happy to go to.”
Amistad Academy, a charter school run by Achievement First, drew the most applicants for kindergarten, with 528 New Haven families vying for 80 spots. Its sister school, Elm City College Prep, drew the next-highest number, with 307 students angling for 57 spots. Both schools accept only New Haven residents.
With 15 and 19 percent acceptance rates, the charter kindergartens were not the most competitive to get into, however—popular magnet schools earned that distinction. Davis Street School admitted just 4 percent of families applying for 10 spots; applicants from outside the neighborhood had virtually no chance of getting in.
See the NHI analysis for the nitty-gritty.
Students entering the lottery after kindergarten have fewer options: most K-8 schools in the lottery have few available seats after kindergarten. The popular Davis Street School, for example, had no open seats in grades 2 to 6 at the time of the lottery in March. (More spots may open up over the summer.)
Fifth grade may be the best bet, especially at the city’s two charter middle schools. Four schools offered more than 10 seats in the 5th grade: Achievement First’s two New Haven middle schools, Amistad Academy and Elm City College Prep; Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School, the city’s only 5-8 school; and Brennan/Rogers, a West Rock turnaround school that just recently became a magnet.
Competition was fierce for the Achievement First schools, with 7 percent and 16 percent of New Haven kids getting into the 5th grade. Betsy Ross accepted all New Haven applicants. Brennan/Rogers had less than half the applicants it needed to fill 24 open seats.
Competition remains stiff at the city’s high schools—each school admitted an average of 20 percent of applicants for ninth grade. With 454 families scrambling for 68 open freshman year seats, Metropolitan Business Academy was the hardest high school to get into of the eight magnet schools and one charter school participating.
That’s not counting Amistad Academy High School, a charter run by Achievement First. While the charter group’s elementary and middle schools participate in the lottery, the high school does not: Its high school seats are reserved for kids who already attend Achievement First’s three feeder middle schools, two in New Haven and one in Bridgeport.
ACES’s Education Center for the Arts (ECA), a half-day, honors charter high school, accepts students in a competitive, merit-based process; that school also does not participate in the magnet lottery.
Of the high schools in the lottery, Hill Regional Career High School drew the most applicants: 588 students jockeyed for a seat in the freshman class. Eighteen percent got in, making it the second-most competitive high school. Cooperative Arts and Humanity High School drew 545 applicants; 19 percent got in.
Four years after its creation, the city’s new Engineering and Science University Magnet School drew regional attention: 75 families wrangled for six seats in the freshman class. Competition was less fierce for New Haven kids: 1 in 4 got in.
Common Ground, the environmental-themed charter school, admitted 35 percent of city kids. Common Ground does suburban applicants, who comprise 30 percent of the student body. However, suburban kids are admitted through a separate lottery run by the school.
High School in the Community (HSC) was the only high school that failed to draw enough suburban applicants to fill available seats: Only 57 suburban kids applied for 73 seats in the first-year (aka “freshman”) class. The magnet school has suffered from dwindling performance and enrollment in recent years; it reached the brink of closure before being overhauled as a turnaround school this fall.
Magnet high schools do not give preference to kids who live nearby. Students who strike out in the lottery get sent to one of two comprehensive high schools, depending on where they live—Wilbur Cross or James Hillhouse. Students who are zoned for one may switch to the other through the magnet lottery.
As the new brochures went out, parent leader Eliza Halsey welcomed the increased transparency and the board’s responsiveness to parents’ concerns. She raised an important question: What about next year? The number of open seats fluctuates, especially in the pre-K classrooms, and parents want to know what their options are in the upcoming lottery.
Harries said the district is aware of the concern. The district is launching the annual process of determining the number of open seats in each grade and school. However, he said he didn’t know if that information would be available before the Feb. 15 magnet application deadline.
Meanwhile, he urged parents to cast a wide exploratory net.
“We have a lot of schools,” he said. “We hope they consider their choices broadly.”
Parents interested in entering this year’s lottery are invited to a New Haven Magnet Fair on Wednesday, Jan. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Floyd Little Athletic Center next to Hillhouse High School at 480 Sherman Parkway. The Interdistrict Magnet School Fair (for schools accepting suburban kids) takes place from 12 to 2 p.m. on Jan. 12 at Hill Regional Career High School, 140 Legion Ave.file name