Picking a High School: The Anarchy of School Choice and Building Communities

Eighth graders families in New York City will soon be absorbed in picking a high school from over 400 school choices.

The Borough High School Fairs will take place on October 18 & 19. Speak with school representatives and learn more about high schools in your borough.

The deadline for Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and LaGuardia audition registration is Tuesday, October 21st. Please speak to your guidance counselor or visit a Borough Enrollment Office to register!

High School applications are now available through school guidance counselors. Applications are due back by Tuesday, December 2nd.

The online High School Directory and the encyclopedia size print version is overwhelming you can check out a one-page attempt to clarify the process here.

The entire process is part of the Bloomberg-Klein choice initiative – to provide a wide range of school choices for every family, charter or public, and at the high school level access 700 programs in 400 schools.

Prior to the Bloomberg era the city had a mix of large comprehensive high schools and small schools – some were called alternative high schools with roots in the sixties and others replacing schools closed in the nineties and early 2000s.

Large comprehensive high schools had geographic zones and, in addition, many had what were called education option programs that were open to all students. For example Midwood High School has a Bio-Medical Program with academic standards; eighth graders can apply to the program. Other ed op programs were open to all students without preconditions. A school opened a fixed number of seats – the school chose half the students; the computer randomly chose the remainder, and the students reflected a range of abilities based on state test scores.

With the exception of the few remaining zoned schools, the 400 small high schools are unzoned. A few score of schools are “screened” schools – the schools utilize a combination of middle school grades, state test scores and attendance and punctuality to select students, the remainder are “limited, unscreened,” the computer spins and chooses students. Arts schools can require a portfolio or exhibition in addition to academic requirements.

Families can select up to 12 schools, if a zoned school is selected the student, if not assigned other choices, will be assigned to the zoned school. If a student does not select a zoned school the algorithm selects student.

If a student lives a block from a school, s/he must “compete” with all other students who apply to the school regardless of address.

The High School Directory provides information provided by the school as well as some data about the school. The only other source of information is Inside Schools (http://insideschools.org/), a website associated with the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, the site provides more data and in a comment section allows prospective parents/students to both read other comments and ask questions – extremely useful. (See Comments from Columbia Secondary)

The system, in my judgment, has a fatal flaw, the system discourages neighborhood schools. It is difficult to build school cultures when students travel to the school from across the city. It is commonplace to travel by bus or subway or both, traveling and hour or more, lateness is endemic, after school programs are not available to students who trek across the city.

The Center for NYC Affairs report,
Building Blocks for Better Schools: How the Next Mayor Can Prepare New York’s Students for College and Careers, recommends,

Strengthen the remaining traditional zoned neighborhood schools and create new structures to connect all schools—neighborhood, magnet and charters alike—within given geographic areas.

All unscreened high schools should have a geographic zone; families should have the option of attending a school near their home and/or applying to any other school.

School culture is at the core of school effectiveness, and, students who live in scores of zip codes across the city mitigate against building strong school cultures.

The Bloomberg-Klein guys created a market-driven, competitive school system, low test scores led to school closings and high test scores guaranteed success. The result has been that schools located in high poverty zip codes have been closed and students “encouraged” to flee neighborhood schools. While high school graduation rates have risen college and career readiness rates for black and Hispanic student hover around an astounding 15% and community college six-year completion rate are equally appalling.

A core strategy for improving schools and reducing poverty is creating coordinated services – chasing students out of their neighborhood is antithetical to building communities.

Let’s facilitate families who want to educate their children in their community and, at the same time, allow parents any other school choice – let’s create zones for every unscreened school.

3 responses to “Picking a High School: The Anarchy of School Choice and Building Communities

  1. This choice crap is utterly ridiculous.

    I’m so glad I never lived in Bloomberg’s New York. I wonder how many teens, who are just being overwhelmed with a flood of hormones, really know what they want to do with the rest if their life at 18. I didn’t know until I was halfway through college after serving several years in the U.S. Marines and fighting in Vietnam, and even then, I couldn’t find a job in the field of my major, a BA in journalism, and ended up in middle management for a large corporate owned truck company for a few years before switching to education to teach in the public schools. I was 30 by the time I was teaching in a field that was never any of my choices as a teen. In fact, the only choice I thought about as a teen was to be rich—without knowing how to do it—because I was born to poverty.

    In addition, you have a WordPress Blog and somewhere in your dashboard there is a way to activate buttons that will allow readers to Tweet your posts, and, for instance, share on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.

    There a good chance that there will be a How To video on YouTube to guide you to activate those choices if you want to do that.

    If those options were activated, it would offer a chance for your blog posts to attract a wider audience through those social media sites.

    Just a suggestions.


  2. I just went to an open house at one of the selective enrollment high schools in Chicago with my two 7th grade daughters. There were lines around the block waiting for hours from 8am 3pm. The freshman class will be about 500 students who score above the about 97th percentile on an entrance exam and on 8th grade NWEA tests and get straight A’s in 7th grade. There were thousands of people in line to see this one school. It’s a fine school, but this process is absurd. There are similar open houses and even tougher entrance requirements for some of the other selective high schools.

    Only two of the selective schools are on the South or West side where there are large concentrations of black students… there are ten selective high schools in the city.

    I teach in a neighborhood high school… which is open enrollment any kid from the neighborhood… and if there is space left, it’s open to students who want to go there from other neighborhoods. Sadly, top students from the neighborhood where I teach are siphoned off to the selective schools, and many who have the more motivated parents are siphoned off to charter schools which have serious marketing budgets (despite not doing any better than neighborhood school for the most part.)

    It’s all part of stratifying and segregating the schools and the city. Sad that this is what passes for “education reform” these days.


  3. In NYC the entire process is electronic, except for the Art schools …the eight elite high schools utilize a common admissions exam … (Specialized High School Admissions Test) and the numerous other lesser screened schools utilize state tests scores and/or grades … for all other schools a computer spins and assigns students … needless to say the exam and screened schools are segregated by race and class … the new mayoral administration will probably recommendation changes later in the school year … a hot, divisive issue …


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s