Breaking the Chains of Chance


The Broken Lottery: Why School Choice Should Prioritize Parents Over Chance

The Admission Lottery System for school choice, while aiming to create fairness, often misses the mark, especially when it comes to giving Nevada parents control over their children’s education and ensuring stability in students’ academic lives.  

For millions of American families, the start of a new school year represents a stressful gauntlet through the admission lottery system, which governs many public and charter school enrollments. While promoted as an equitable way to give all students an equal shot at their school of choice, the reality is this random selection process strips parents of control over one of the most important decisions regarding their child’s future. 

The Downside of the Lottery System

The flaws with admission lotteries start with the lack of parental choice. In Washington, DC parents enter a school lottery, and “for many of those families, lottery day is a difficult reminder that while the city’s public education options are improving, there are still far too few well-regarded schools to meet demand.[1]” For parents invested in customizing their child’s educational experience, being forced to enter a lottery pool is incredibly disempowering. 

Lotteries also deprive students of educational stability and continuity. According to a 2017 study, students forced to change schools because of losing an admission lottery experienced significantly more detrimental behavioral issues and poorer academic performance compared to their consistently enrolled peers. The randomized disruptions can derail children profoundly shaped by their learning environments. 

Nevada’s admission lottery system strips parents of their choice for their child’s education.

There are alternative models which can address both parental choice and student consistency in school admissions. Some districts, like those in Denver, Colorado, use a system called managed open enrollment. This allows families to rank their preferred schools while also considering factors like neighborhood demographics[2] . This way, families in underserved areas get priority for high-quality schools, and more affluent families still have options. It strikes a balance between equity and choice.  

Alternatives to the Lottery System

Another approach is controlled choice, used in places like Cambridge, Massachusetts. This system lets families choose from groups of schools that focus on different educational philosophies and approaches[3]. For example, you could pick a school cluster that emphasizes project-based learning, arts integration, or dual-language immersion. This allows you to find a school that matches your values and your child’s learning style.  

Time to Prioritize Parental Choice

By moving away from the random lottery system, these alternatives recognize that every child is unique and needs a unique educational environment to thrive. As the Citizens League once proclaimed, “Parents should be the ones to decide what is the best education for their child, not a number drawn randomly out of a hat.”[4]

It’s time to rethink how we handle school admissions. Instead of a broken lottery system that takes away your ability to choose and disrupts your child’s learning, we should adopt models that empower families and promote stability. By prioritizing parental choice and addressing individual student needs, we can create a more fair and effective educational system for all children in Nevada.

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[1] Vega, Caitlin. “Time to End Discriminatory School Enrollment Lotteries.” Fordham Institute, 13 Apr. 2022.

[2] “Student Enrollment Guides.” Denver Public Schools. 

[3] Ableidinger, Joseph. “Controlled Choice: A New Avenue for Integrated Urban Education.” Citizens League, 7 Nov. 2019.

[4] Ibid.