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Middle School Mayhem: Prospective Admissions Changes… And Their Consequences

When parents ask me why I’ve written a book called “Getting Into NYC Kindergarten,” and one called “Getting Into NYC High School,” but NOT one called “Getting Into NYC Middle School,” I explain it’s because the NYC middle school process is so convoluted and varies so much from district to district, I couldn’t write one cohesive book about it.

Earlier this month, a trio of proposals were floated that have the potential to directly affect public middle school admissions in 2018. (Applications, by the way, are due on December 1.)

Let’s break down what they are, below, and speculate on the consequences – and precedents – that might come out of each.

Removing Attendance From the Middle-School Admissions Rubric

What Is It: Currently, screened middle schools consider a student’s grades, test scores, and attendance record (sometimes alongside their own admissions exam, an interview, writing sample, or other portfolio items) when ranking students they wish to accept. This is then compared against the lists students make ranking schools. Now, a group of parents in Manhattan’s District 2 are lobbying to have attendance stricken from the rubric.

Who Will It Help: The Parents Council argues that looking at attendance hurts children in poverty and those without permanent housing, as their spotty record may keep them out of top-performing schools.

Who Will It Hurt: But what if the opposite is the case? What if seeing a child who lives in a shelter and/or is eligible for Free Lunch yet still manages to attend school regularly, is the kind of admirable commitment that boosts a candidate in a school’s eyes? The National Center for Education Statistics argues that attendance is an excellent predictor of a child’s ultimate school success. What if parents are more afraid that missed school days serve as a way to differentiate between children at the top of the rankings? When forced to choose between identical, high test scores and grades, the split decision often comes down to attendance. Getting rid of the attendance factor could make it easier for middle-class parents to hide their own children’s shortcomings, and end up doing nothing for those in poverty.

Precedent Set: Although the District 2 Education Council is scheduled to vote on the resolution in December, any result would be non-binding. Individual schools set their own standards. However, enough parental pressure could lead to a citywide overhaul of middle school admissions, especially in light of….

Department of Education Attempts To Take Over Admissions At Top-Performing School

What Is It: Medgar Evers College Preparatory School (a middle and high school) has a 95 percent four-year graduation rate, a 67 percent college readiness rate, and a 71 percent Free Lunch rate. It also selects its own students. Now the city wants to fold MECPS’s admissions into their centralized process, giving the DOE the opportunity to assign whichever students they see fit, regardless of the school’s wishes.

Who Will It Help: The DOE asserts their intervention will streamline the process, enforce the Mayor’s idea of what a diverse school should look like, and allow it to increase the number of students with special needs to better reflect the Crown Heights overall demographic.

Who Will It Hurt: Parents are furious, insisting that placing unprepared kids in an academically rigorous program will water down the curricula until all of MECPS’s current advantages for its majority Black students are lost.

Precedent Set: First, they came for the minority schools, and I didn’t speak up…. But if this coup is successful, what’s there to stop the DOE from taking over admissions at such coveted, middle-class institutions like The Center School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which is currently allowed to operate independently?

Closing a Failing School… And Transferring Students To Screened School It Shares A Building With

What Is It: PS 165’s Middle School reports that eight percent of students passed their state math exam. PS 165 shares a building with Mott Hall II, a screened middle school where 57 percent of students passed their state math exam. Mott Hall II is crowded and wants to expand. The city is proposing to close PS 165, giving Mott Hall II access to that space. And what will happen to the current students of PS 165? They’ll be moved to Mott Hall II!

Who Will It Help: Mott Hall II will get the room they’ve been clamoring for. PS 165 students won’t have to learn a new school address, and will, presumably, be placed in more challenging classes with a higher-scoring peer group. Everybody wins! Right?

Who Will It Hurt: Not according to some Mott Hall II parents, unhappy that spots their children had to compete for will now be simply given away to less qualified applicants. Will the PS 165 students need help catching up? And are Mott Hall II’s teachers up to the task? Instructional differentiation is difficult even when students come in with similar knowledge bases. My oldest son went to Stuyvesant, and there were still kids at the top and bottom of the class. Teachers who’ve worked almost exclusively in selective schools have minimal experience instructing students with wildly varying preparation, which could lead to all Mott Hall II middle schoolers not getting the Free and Appropriate Public Education they are entitled to.

Precedent Set: Mayor Bill de Blasio has been trying to get rid of Specialized and Screened Schools or, at least, make them look the way he believes they should look, from the day he took office. (Despite sending his own children to them; but, you know, it’s the Matt Damon defense.) Unable to change state or city law, could this be his back-door attempt to accomplish the same thing?

What do you think of the proposed changes and how they’ll affect your kids? Tell us in the Comments!

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