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DC Schools

There are four main school options, or types in the District of Columbia:

(1) Childcare Programs and Preschools

Childcare programs provide education and care for young children in a center or a residential home. Many facilities offer schedules to meet families’ needs including daycare, extended care, and before and after care. Programs are classified by the age of the children in their care.

  • Infant Care: birth to two years old
  • Preschool: three to five years old
  • Childcare: over five years old

Preschools must meet the same license requirements as any other childcare facility and receive accreditation from the National Association for Education of Young Children. Some programs follow a model, such as Montessori or Waldorf. But most emphasize play for very young children, rather than academics.

The DC Department of Health licenses DC childcare facilities. The DC Department of Human Services, Early Care and Education Administration (ECEA) provides support for and collaborates with other public and private child and family advocacy organizations to formulate an effective continuum of services and care for District children 5 years of age and younger. ECEA also provides access to before and after school services for eligible children up to age 12. In addition, the ECEA manages scholarship programs for national accreditation of centers and homes. The administration provides a scholarship program for individuals seeking professional early childhood development credentials.

(2) Private Schools

There are two types – private and independent.

Private Schools:
Private schools provide an alternative to public education. Private schools include grades ranging from pre-K to 12 and rely on tuition payments and funds from non-public sources such as religious organizations, endowments, grants, and charitable donations. Since these schools do not rely on public tax dollars for funding, they have the option to select from among students who apply for admission. Private schools may be coed or single sex. About 25 percent of the elementary and secondary schools in the United States are private.

Independent Schools:
Independent schools are private, nonprofit schools that are governed by elected boards of trustees. The Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington (AISGW) services and accredits a network of 84 non-profit independent schools in the Washington metropolitan area. The AIGW member schools agree to practice nondiscriminatory policies. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Secondary Schools provides information on the meaning of accreditation, accreditation standards, and the importance of secondary school accreditation.

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) provides an overview of the accreditation process for independent schools, including standards of accreditation and the role of the accrediting associations. NAIS describes how school accreditation may help in selecting a school.

(3) Public Charter Schools

Public charter schools, funded by the public according to the number of students they register, are independent public schools open to all students. The “charter” that establishes a school is a contract that states the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, assessment methods, and means of measuring success.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are not restricted to ward boundary assignments. Parents and students may actively select any charter school in the District. Charter schools are publicly funded and may not charge tuition to District residents. Charters are free from some regulations, but they may not discriminate in their admissions requirements.

Charter schools exercise increased control in return for accountability for academic results and fiscal practices. In the District of Columbia, two boards grant charters and oversee public charter schools: the DC Board of Education and the DC Public Charter School Board.

(4) Public Schools

The District of Columbia Public Schools System (DCPS) is the State Education Agency for special education services and all other federal education programs. DCPS operates under the DC Board of Education , which establishes the policies for the schools, hires and evaluates the Superintendent, and monitors federal grant distribution. Public schools are free to the public, open to all District residents, and financially supported by District tax dollars. Public schools may not discriminate in their admissions process. The DCPS includes primary schools (kindergarten to sixth grade), junior high schools (seventh to eighth grade), and secondary schools (ninth to twelfth grades). The DCPS offers alternative instruction through vocational programs, before and after school programs, and special education programs. The DCPS also offers specialized curricula through highly competitive Magnet schools. Students must attend schools within their ward boundary. To enroll in a public school outside of the boundary assignment, students must follow Out-of-Boundary enrollment procedures.

The Mayor ensures that public schools in the District are held accountable for students’ achievements according to the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed by Congress in 2002. DCPS addresses the problem of low educational performance through school reform including the gains made by Transformation schools, expanding parental options, and improvements in school environment and curricula.

DC Neighborhoods
DC Public Schools
Find your local school
FOCUS – Charter Schools
DC Government’s Education Center
Fight for Children

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