DC School Boundary Redraw 2023-24

Updated April 2024 | The Isaacs Team 

Redrawing school boundaries and feeder patterns is always a contentious process.

How will parents and the market react in 2023-24, years in which the market is already adversely impacted by higher interest rates, the threat of recession, and elections?

Boundaries, Feeders & DC Real Estate

What is it, and how does it affect me?

Boundary redrawing is an effort to temper housing and related education inequality in the District. Boundaries determine where students feed into guaranteed public school placements based on where they live.

Boundary redrawing can also affect property values and reflect on neighborhoods’ desirability to home buyers and existing residents.

How does boundary redrawing work?

The DC Public Schools (DCPS) system

The DCPS system is primarily composed of neighborhood schools with specific geographic boundaries which include so-called ‘feeder patterns’ directing student populations from elementary to high school. By law, public school students have a right to attend (“by-right”) the K-12 schools in their boundary and feeder pattern. Charter schools are exempted. The official line is that this boundary process was supposed to balance enrollment at individual schools and create a more equitable public education system, but its hard to imagine that result given the economic-to-geographic makeup of the city. Unsurprisingly, some schools are overcrowded; others are wildly under-populated and great inequity exists in the quality of education.

Of the 116 DCPS facilities; 98 are considered “by-right” and 18 are citywide, and 72% of students use the common lottery each year to ensure entry to a charter or DCPS school outside their community.  Just 28% of students attend their “by-right” school.

Phil Mendelson is chair of the DC Council’s Committee of the Whole, which has oversight of public education, including DCPS and charters. DC Council voted to use the 2023 Budget Support Act to mandate a DC Public Schools (DCPS) boundary study. The Boundary & Student Assignment Study will prompt recommendations, which the city will adopt, modify or reject before they are to take effect for the 2025-2026 school year.

Per the DC Policy Center, in 2023, the District of Columbia will review address-based student assignments (boundary assignments) to determine which DCPS schools are ‘by-right,’ i.e. students automatically feed into those schools based on where they live. 2023 marks only the second instance since 1968 that DC will undertake such a review, which was also preformed in 2014.

The 2023 review:

  • Examines student assignments to schools by-right based on DCPS boundaries and feeder patterns
  • Evaluates adequate capacity in by-right DCPS facilities, including throughout grade bands
  • Searches for opportunities to create equitable access to high-quality DCPS schools

DC Schools Status 2021-22

As outlined in the State of DC Schools report by the DC Policy Center, years 2021-22 were focused on public schools transitioning back to in-person learning in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the end of the 2022 school year, 79% of DC students were still fully in virtual learning. Those who attended class in person only did so three days or less per week. The education system faced stagnant enrollment, declining learning outcomes, staffing shortages, and more student absenteeism. DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education currently lists the Chronic Absenteeism rate for K-12 at 48.13% for all students. You can view the breakdown by groups on their DC School Report Card page.

In the 2022-2023 school year, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) amended the accountability framework, focusing on outcomes for economically disadvantaged students, better measures of growth in learning during high school and for English learners, and strengthening measurement of five-year graduation rates and dual enrollment participation, among other changes. A proposed accountability framework removes the STAR rating that all schools currently receive as a singular calculation of school performance and replaces it with generated scores for student and school performance reported at the grade band and school levels.


Role of the DC Advisory Committee On Student Assignment

The Advisory Committee, chaired by the Deputy Mayor, is charged with developing recommendations addressing the three goals that will be presented to the Mayor via a public report, the Boundary Study. The Advisory Committee members will consider research, analysis, and public discussion and feedback to develop the policy recommendations. The Advisory Committee will:

  • Formulate guidelines and principles for public school assignment and choice policies and practices.
  • Review current citywide policies on attendance zones, feeder patterns, and school choice.
  • Listen to the community and incorporate community ideas, concerns, and questions into Committee discussions.
  • Develop recommendations and scenarios for attendance zones and feeder patterns.
  • Make recommendations for student assignment and choice policies to improve access to high-quality public schools.

The DME will present the finalized Boundary Study to the Mayor who will then identify the agencies to develop implementation plans for the approved recommendations.

Members of the Advisory Committee were recommended by education stakeholders and selected by the DME to reflect DC’s public school education system including ward of residence (taking the most recent 2022 redistricting into account) and enrollment preferences. These members are invested in their school communities and are committed to the success of the public education system and the future of our city. The DME considered the following criteria for the committee:

  • Public school involvement
  • Ward representation similar to the current public school population
  • Enrollment types similar to the current public school population
  • Diverse experiences and perspectives
  • Zoned school and citywide school representation
  • Expertise in relevant content areas

To see the list of committee members, please visit the DC Advisory Committee on Student Assignment and Boundaries 2023 page.

Per the DC Policy Center, in 2023, the District of Columbia will review address-based student assignments (boundary assignments) to determine which DCPS schools are ‘by-right,’ i.e. students automatically feed into those schools based on where they live. 2023 marks only the second instance since 1968 that DC will undertake such a review, which was also preformed in 2014.

The 2023 review:

  • Examines student assignments to schools by-right based on DCPS boundaries and feeder patterns
  • Evaluates adequate capacity in by-right DCPS facilities, including throughout grade bands
  • Searches for opportunities to create equitable access to high-quality DCPS schools

Why do DC residents oppose or champion boundary redraws?


Proximity, student population and resources.

Home values are also a factor. Redrawing school boundaries affects DC real estate values in a significant way. A big part of a home’s value is its location, and school assignments weigh heavily into that equation. Highly-rated schools draw buyers who pay significantly greater home prices than those of similar homes in neighborhoods with lower-rated schools, with values often exceeding $1,000,000.  These buyers count on greater appreciation to balance that investment out when they sell. Take away the school assignment or rating, and these homeowners could potentially lose tens of thousands of dollars or more in home appreciation value.

Some also say they oppose redrawing due to concerns over neighborhood safety and identity, and fears that reassignments could lower their school’s educational quality. Some low-income parents have reportedly been skeptical due to fears of their children being excluded or unwanted,  and of affluent families making their children feel inadequate by comparison.



Even the most jaded can appreciate that the promise of a good education being tied to one’s familial economic standing is unfair and a great disadvantage that carries forward in life.

As reported by The Brookings Institute, in the District of Columbia, the disparity between white and Black households is the most disproportionate in the region with median household income for white residents at $141,650., 3+ times higher than that of Black residents at $45,072.

Hand in hand with that, is the home value issue cited by the opposition. If there’s a distinct advantage in home values attached to certain school districts, why should one sector of the population benefit and not the other?

Is boundary redrawing a win-win proposition, or will inequities continue?

Which schools are--or should be--ripe for a boundary redraw?

As Jonetta Rose Barras reported in February for the DC Line:

Phil Mendelson said of Plummer Elementary in Ward 7 and Jackson-Reed in Ward 3: [Plummer has a] “catchment of 1,300 but only an enrollment of 300. Do we keep the boundaries?” And “Arguably the worst boundary in the city is Jackson-Reed High School.”

Formerly known as Wilson, and one of nine neighborhood high schools, Jackson-Reed’s current boundaries encompass Ward 3 but zigzag into other wards. Its boundaries are set to change this fall with the creation of a high school on MacArthur Boulevard (in Palisades, Upper NW at the former Georgetown Day School site).

Barras also wrote:

“Interestingly, neither Plummer nor Jackson-Reed is specifically identified in the School Attendance Zone Boundaries Amendment Act of 2022, which actually requires not just the forthcoming study but also an update every 10 years. The one this year is supposed to result in clear assignment to DCPS by-right schools and feeder pathways; adequate capacity in these DCPS schools; and equitable access to high-quality public schools.

Further, it is expected to establish boundaries for the new Foxhall elementary school in Ward 3 and a Euclid Street middle school in Ward 1, the latter of which may serve as a replacement for the shuttered Shaw Middle School; identify by-right schools for prekindergarten (PK3 and PK4); and assure equity and diversity in DCPS institutions.

Asserting via email to me a belief “that all DC students deserve a wonderful education in a great school, surrounded by loving, supportive educators,“ DC Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn called the study a “critical priority” for his office.

He said that as part of an “initial community engagement,” he and his team have reached out to “residents, families, and stakeholders on the upcoming process and to share our vision and priorities for ensuring a robust, comprehensive, and transparent process.” He claimed his office has held “26 meetings and events.”

A spokesperson later provided a list that wasn’t as diverse as Kihn initially suggested. The persons with whom the DME met seemed to be the usual suspects with an overabundance of organizations and individuals connected to charter schools, although charters do not have by-right neighborhood institutions. The spokesperson declined to tell me how much the office expects to pay an outside consultant to do the work. “The budget will be shared publicly after [the contract] is awarded,” he said.”

MacArthur Blvd High

In-Boundary Students: MacArthur is the new in-boundary neighborhood school for all students living in the Hardy Middle School boundary and is the destination high school for all students attending Hardy or one of Hardy’s feeder elementary schools.  Students currently attending Hardy or those who live in-boundary will have a guaranteed right to attend MacArthur and can directly enroll beginning March 31, 2023. A My School DC application is not required. To find your in-boundary school, visit enrolldcps.dc.gov/node/41.

How School Boundaries Affect Real Estate Values

Housing prices increase and homes sell faster in school districts with higher performance scores.

Many factors influence DC home buyers, including location and neighborhood amenities and characteristics.

School Quality

For families, the quality of the school district is a significant consideration. A Realtor.com article states:

  • 78% of home buyers in their preferred school district gave up home features to purchase there
  • The most common compromises include garages, large backyards, and updated kitchens
  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents say good schools were important to their search

Today’s seller’s market is forcing buyers to make compromises, but new survey data shows buyers remain steadfast in their desire for their preferred good school districts. In fact, they are willing to give up two of their most desired home features — a garage and updated kitchen — to get into the right school district they want.”

According to the 2023 NAR Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends report, 30% of buyers aged 33-42 listed the “quality of the school district” as a top factor when choosing their neighborhood. Presumably, those with students enrolled in private schools find public school districts a lesser concern.

‘Desirable’ school districts are deemed those with high test scores, AP and IB programs, Magnet schools such as DC’s School Without Walls, higher attendance + graduation rates and low student-teacher ratios. School pyramids offering excellent libraries, sports teams + facilities, science & technology resources, and arts programs + facilities are also in high demand. Other important factors to parents and pupils are music programs, bilingual programs, diversity, and after-school programs. Newer facilities and those with security features may also be more desirable. Transportation is also an important consideration for parents and students.

Takeaway: The programs, facilities and academic performance of schools in a district directly affect home values. Top schools attract more buyers, and the increase in demand puts upward pressure on home prices.

Secondary school-related factors that influence real estate values:


A working paper by authors at the National Bureau of Economic Research on school funding and spending infers that school spending also increases property values:

“Overall, a $1.00 increase in per pupil state aid increases aggregate per pupil housing values by about $20.00, indicating that potential residents value education expenditure.”

But this also depends on how efficiently districts spend their funding. As noted by the authors, households with greater income can afford to consider a wider range of schooling and housing options, so school spending in districts populated by wealthier residents may be more efficient. Also, the degree of external competition that a school district faces (from having many neighboring districts), or the district’s size may also affect the efficiency of school spending.

Charter Schools

An increasingly popular education option in DC, public charter schools are run by nonprofits, under agreements approved by the DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), while traditional public schools are run by the chancellor of DC Public Schools. Like public schools, public charter schools are publicly funded and tuition-free, but enrollment is a separate process, managed via My School DC application. According to the D.C. Public Charter School Board, 45,000+ students are enrolled in the District’s 135 charter schools–a whopping 48% of public school students attend a charter school. Charter schools are open to all DC students, so school district boudaries are irrelevant with this option.

Population And Demographics

As the DC Policy Center reports, the District has lost population but gained households in recent years, and its household growth has predominantly been driven by singles aged 25 to 34, living by themselves. By 2021, single-person households constituted 48% of all households in DC, up from 42% in 2015. During this period, the share of households with multiple related people declined from 45% to 40%.


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