Magnet School Lottery Odds Revealed

Melissa Bailey PhotoIf 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.

Middle School

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.

High School

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.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoThat’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.

New Haven Independent analysis

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

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posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on January 9, 2013  9:41am

Thanks so much to Eliza Halsey and Tim Holahan for pressuring the NHPS to release this information, and thanks to the Independent for analyzing it. This is the kind of information that should be regularly available, in clear and easily understood form, on the NHPS website. It’s astonishing that the public schools have not released the data until now.

It seems to me that the data are encouraging: there are many parents who want their kids in New Haven schools—provided it’s what they perceive as one of the good schools—than there are spots in those schools. So now there is a challenge for those parents (and for all of us): how can we transform additional schools so they are all up to our standards?

Ultimately, all children should have a good school within walking distance. That, I think, is the gold standard. We don’t want to split up siblings; we don’t want like the wasted money, the excess pollution, and the lost hours of children’s sleep that busing causes. There will always be children who will want to travel across town for the school that’s the right fit. But what we need are excellent neighborhood-based schools. These data are yet another reminder of what we have to strive for.

posted by: gallant_gallstone on January 9, 2013  10:56am

I know these lottery odds are based on last year’s applications and acceptances. I wonder how the applications will change based on this knowledge.

Will people apply to Davis in great numbers if there is so little (historical) chance of getting in?

posted by: anonymous on January 9, 2013  11:04am

It’s astonishing that NHPS has been asking young parents to apply to programs that they have a 0% chance of getting into, pretty much across-the-board.

The folks in power, e.g., NHPS administrators, know better, as they are privy to the insider information. Therefore, this has been a charade to give the people in power even more of an advantage.

Whoever is in charge at NHPS should resign.

posted by: streever on January 9, 2013  11:33am

I’m with Oppenheimer and Anonymous. It is disturbing that this data has been withheld for so long, especially as we’ve added so many “data gurus”.

posted by: Long Time NH Resident on January 9, 2013  12:14pm

@ anonymous

Be careful who you make comments about you may——censored and rejected by moderators——————-

Its like the real lottery if you don’t play you cant’—censored for content

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on January 9, 2013  12:21pm

So what it seems to boil down to, with all the neighborhood preferences, is that some schools are essentially souped-up neighborhood schools (with “magnet” features) and the rest of the schools are plain old neighborhood schools.  I’m with Mr. Oppenheimer:  isn’t it time to drop the whole silly, expensive, “magnet” lottery charade and do the obviously right thing—JUST MAKE ALL THE SCHOOLS BETTER.

posted by: Melissa Bailey on January 9, 2013  1:02pm

By popular demand, I added the kindergarten info to the story.

Click here for the full NHI analysis.

posted by: gallant_gallstone on January 9, 2013  2:13pm


Magnet schools get extra money from the state. If the city stops its magnet program, all of those schools lose the funding for the special programs and extra staff that make them more desirable.

Perhaps the city should increase the number of magnet schools to meet the high demand from district, and out of district, families.

posted by: David S Baker on January 9, 2013  2:53pm

I wish we would drop the word lottery from the school selection dictionary.  Lottery implies that it is random and fair. I have seen who’s kids are getting in and where; there seems to be very little that is random.

posted by: New Haven Fan on January 9, 2013  3:27pm

Congratulations on this story.  I’m pretty new to town, and I suffered through this opaque, incomprehensible process last year with a 3 year old. If I had had this information then I would have been much better off.  Kudos to parents for putting the pressure on the District, the District for releasing the data, and the Independent and Melissa Bailey for this terrific piece of journalism.

Now, let’s figure out how to get more high quality schools for kids, because the obvious conclusion of this piece is that the odds of anyone getting in to a good school are long.

posted by: CreatingUrgency on January 9, 2013  4:56pm

I don’t know why the city doesn’t push the fact that Hillhouse AND Cross are both magnet schools.

posted by: swatty on January 9, 2013  5:16pm

2 questions:

1) where’s Hooker in this mix?

2) How many k classes are there at Amistad? IE 80 kids so I assume it’s 3 classes of 26/27 each?

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on January 9, 2013  8:16pm

@swatty: Hooker is not a magnet school.
@David S Baker: I have plenty of criticisms of the lottery program, but I don’t believe it is rigged. That’s quite a charge. Do you have any substantiation? I too see who is getting into school—my child’s magnet school, anyway—and it is neighborhood kids and siblings, just as the district says. Are you aware of people who have bypassed the rules altogether? If so, you should privately tell Melissa Bailey of this news site so she can investigate. HOWEVER, there is one shady way that some people work connections. If spaces open up in September or October, it has been the case (and was once explained to me as being the case by a NHPS employee) that the spots do NOT automatically get offered to whoever was next on the list, but rather get offered at the discretion of the superintendent. In fact, years ago, one Westville family with a child at Hooker, across town, told me that’s exactly how it happened. That’s not a lottery issue, exactly, but it can mask corruption nonetheless. All vigilant parents should ask how a spot would get apportioned if a student moves in late August or September and a spot opens up, at a magnet or neighborhood school. I’d be eager to hear what the answer is…

posted by: David S Baker on January 10, 2013  10:44am


WHOOOOA there, buddy.

I’m not trying to imply it’s “rigged”, tho after re-reading my post I can see why you came to that conclusion. (I was texting my comment which makes me truncate my ideas.) I saying that the process hardly qualifies as a lottery.  It’s not as if the entire pool of applicants writes their names on bingo balls and we have a nun call them off in front of the whole town.  That MIGHT be considered universally fair and transparent, tho unweildy. 

People get in based on locations, need, etc.  I know lots of parents in the area and see where the kids end up and some times they have to drive them all the way accross town.  (Not fair in my book.)  It’s based on tons of criteria, not just chance and the lottery portion is just a small part of it, but always seems to end up in the title of every story about school placement which makes me nutz.

posted by: anonymous on January 10, 2013  11:44am

Mark, if what you say is true, then that is totally and completely corrupt.

Someone should investigate the veracity of that story. I’ve heard it from parents, too.