Tag Archives: Zoned High Schools

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.

Abolishing Zoned High Schools is Antithetical to Building Supportive Communities: All High Schools Should Be Zoned High Schools

The last class ended more than two hours earlier and there were hundreds of kids still in the large, zoned high school building. Teams were practicing in the gymnasium and on the field, cheer leaders and twirlers were chanting their slogans, clubs were meeting, teachers were tutoring students and meeting with each other.

“It’s like this every day, we have to throw them out of the building,” said the assistant principal.

I asked, “Why do they stay?”

The assistant principal smiled, “This is both a neighborhood school as well as an ed op (educational option) school, most of our kids come from the neighborhood, their brothers and sisters went here, sometimes their parents, we have teachers who went here as students, we’re an institution.”

In spite of a neighborhood zoned high school as an “institution” the Chancellor is planning to end all zoned high schools. The effect: if you live across the street from the school your chances of winning the high school application lottery would be the same as any other kid in the city.

The Bloomberg administration, in its waning days, is planning to begin the phase out of zoned high schools.

The admissions change, which could affect five schools by next year, will allow “zoned” high schools to offer priority rather than a guarantee to local kids.

In the longer term, the rule could have a significant impact in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn. Thousands of city high school students still attend one of the 28 neighborhood high schools.

Next fall, Lehman High School in the Bronx and Flushing and Newtown High Schools in Queens, which are cutting enrollment, will no longer guarantee admission, officials said.

At Long Island City and Martin Van Buren High Schools in Queens, the city has proposed adding new schools to the building — wiping out sufficient space to guarantee admissions to local kids, according to documents posted on the agency website. A vote is scheduled for the same Oct. 30 Panel for Educational Policy meeting where the rule change will be decided.

“Across the city, we want to create new high-performing options in areas where we see low demand, be it for a zoned school or otherwise,” said schools spokesman Devon Puglia.

The process of applying to high school is stressful for parents and students — and the rule change will only make it more so, admissions experts said.

“I would be worried if I were a parent that I might be closed out of the school,” said Pamela Wheaton, of InsideSchools.org at the New School. “A good zoned school offers something for everybody — for low achievers, for special needs, for high achievers.”

Ironically, at the same time the Department promotes opening more small high schools the very same Department released credit recovery data for the 11-12 and earlier school years.

… nearly 40 schools awarded between 5 percent and 31 percent of their credits to kids through makeup work in 2011-12, while close to three dozen gave between 5 percent and 46 percent of their credits that way the previous school year.

The NYS Education Department tracks College and Career Readiness as well as Graduation Rates. While 74% of students graduate in four years only 35% graduate College and Career Ready (at least grades of 75 on the ELA Regents and 80 on the Algebra Regents), and depressingly only 12% of Afro-American students, 16% of Hispanic students and 7% of English language learners graduate College and Career Ready.

The dogma of the Department: choice is the answer to improving student achievement; be it charter schools or small secondary schools, “starve” and close large high schools.

The Department “stacks the deck” against the zoned high schools.

Zoned high schools in some areas of the city have shrinking enrollments, in other areas large high schools are bursting at the seams. Stuffing struggling high schools with special education students assures lower graduation rates. Jackie Bennett on the Edwize blog site tracked Progress Report grades and percentages and categories of special education students here and here.

The Department assigns much larger percentages of the most challenged students into large, zoned high schools; once the Department “targets” a school it is not surprising that the number of applicants decreases.

A “dirty little secret:” very high failure rates in first period classes in high schools across the city. As students travel across the city by public transportation – 45 minutes, an hour, more than an hour, lateness to first period classes is endemic.

Creating communities means providing a wide range of educational and social services within a neighborhood; at the beginning of the Children First initiative the Department created ten Regions – each encompassing over 100 schools and a parallel structure, the Student Placement, Youth and Family Support Services – (See more at: http://www.edwize.org/the-death-of-spyfss-tweed-abandons-at-risk-children#sthash.xXONSuex.dpuf). In 2006 in one of many redesigns the Department decided to dissolve the structure that guided all student and family support services.

Building communities means that we must support students and attending neighborhood schools strengthens the ability to provide a wide range of support services.

All secondary school should have a zone that surrounds the school – if you live within walking distance of a secondary school you should be guaranteed a seat.

The Department is moving in a totally wrong direction, by scattering students all over the city they are fracturing communities.

Cities are composed of scores of “micro-cultures,” neighborhoods with barber shops and beauty parlors and Chinese take-outs and bodegas that cater to the neighborhood. The guy behind the counter may not know your name but he knows you like your coffee black. A neighbor may mention that your kid was rowdy, or if you get home from the hospital offer to shop for you. Kids know that other adults know your parents. Neighborhoods have strong internal bonds and the stronger the bonds the stronger the neighborhoods the better the chances that your kids will feel safe.

Encouraging, not discouraging, neighborhood schools should be a primary goal of the next mayor.