NYC Seeks Fairer Admissions Process for Selective Schools

New York City is overhauling the way it admits students in hundreds of middle and high schools in a sweeping change aimed at reducing discrimination against minority students in the country’s largest school district.

Admissions for middle schools will be based on a lottery system, rather than on academic criteria like grades, test scores and attendance, for the 2021-2022 school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

New York also will permanently eliminate geographic priorities for high schools over the next two years, he said. The changes will affect how nearly a quarter of the city’s 1,800 schools admit students. The changes won’t impact admissions at specialized high schools.

“The changes will improve justice and fairness,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio said the move comes in response to a pandemic that has made it difficult for many students to attend school and keep up their grades. Tens of thousands of students in New York City still don’t have computers or broadband access to attend virtual classes, for example.

Education advocates have long pushed for changes to the city’s admission policies, which they say discriminate against Black, Latino and other minority students.

New York City public schools remain some of the most segregated in the country, according to a report from the New York City Council. In New York City public schools, three quarters of Black and Hispanic students attend a school with less than 10% White students. Additionally, 34.3% of White students attend a school with more than 50% White students.

One contributing factor to those disparities are the admissions and attendance criteria that New York City schools have relied on.

“It’s an action for this year, but it has a lot of implications for the future,” de Blasio said. “Unfortunately screens have had the impact of not giving everyone equal opportunity.”

New York City’s main teachers union praised the decision. But some advocacy groups said the moves didn’t go far enough.

“De Blasio’s new admission process falls flat in addressing inequality,” said Maria Bautista, campaigns director for the Alliance for Quality Education, a parents advocacy group.

Parents may not know about the lottery, and the policy doesn’t address “decades of inequality,” she said.

Bautista also faulted the mayor for not ending high school screening policies, and for for inequities in the city’s Gifted and Talented programs.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the pandemic made it clear that there isn’t enough reliable data on student performance at the younger age at which students enter middle school. He said the New York Department of Education will explore how to make more permanent changes after the pandemic.

The screens have locked out kids from schools, Carranza said. “This will make it simpler and fairer as a process for families to apply to schools of their choice.”

De Blasio said he’ll be working to persuade the state legislature to scrap admissions tests for specialized high schools in the future, but more systemic changes to the school system are likely to take years to implement.

“The admissions process to get into specialized high schools is broken,” he said. “By the time I leave the mayoralty, I think we’ll put schools on a different course.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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