NYC High Schools Need a Better Admissions Method: Why Not Try This?

New York City public high schools are constantly changing their admission procedures. For instance, Beacon High School, which used to have an interview, doesn’t anymore. Frank McCourt High School got rid of their group activity that they used to sort students. School of the Future stopped asking for portfolios this year. These schools are putting more weight on grades, test scores, and attendance. I hope that’s an admissions approach that doesn’t truly reflect what a school is and what they are looking for in a student.

When you’re interviewing for a programming job, you’re asked to write code. When you audition for a dance company or show, you have to learn and perform a combination. But when you want to apply to a good school, you just show them your grades and test scores from your current school?

Something clearly isn’t right. Software companies want programmers who can program quickly and effectively, so they ask applicants to demonstrate that capability to decide whether to hire them. When auditioning as a dancer, whoever is judging is looking for three things: how quickly the dancer picks up the combination, how well they perform it, and their attitude (so as not to hire someone with whom it is unpleasant to work), all factors that are critical to one’s success in that career. When you apply to a school, they simply look at transcripts and test scores. These qualities only demonstrate that a student performed well in the setting where they were being graded.

This methodology indicates that all a school wants are students who perform well. They don’t care how terrible any of their past teachers were, how much tutoring they needed, or how much the student already knew about a subject before taking a class. They don’t care if a student is studious and a hard worker, if they’re disruptive in class, or if they are easy to teach. They only care that their students will perform well, so that the school looks good.

In an audition or interview, you have to directly demonstrate the skills that are needed from you. In a school environment, you might think that the necessary skills would be the ability to learn quickly, cooperate with other students, and use one’s knowledge effectively, but schools don’t search for students with these qualities. Why? Because if they did, they would be forced to do more work to become more effective schools.

That isn’t how schools should work. Schools should try to teach students as much as possible, not simply find students who are already doing well and put them in a room together. The fact that this is how schools operate shows that they understand they add very little value for students.  A good school makes low-performing students perform well. If a school makes well-performing students perform well, is it really adding any value?

A better way for schools to determine which students they can serve best would be to put them in the kind of environment they would experience at that school and see how they fare. They could be given a lesson on a subject none of them have prior experience with, and then tested. (If that is similar to how the school operates). Or, they could be given small group projects to work on and scored on cooperation as well as the quality of the project, if the school prefers students who thrive in that type of environment.

When I was interviewed at Columbia Secondary School, I was asked to come up with, in a few minutes, as many ways as possible to move a large boulder off a road. Then, I was asked which method I thought was best and why. This would give me the impression that Columbia Secondary is a school where quick creativity and logical selection of ideas is critical. Maybe that is the case, maybe it isn’t, but the questions schools ask should be related to what they want to select for in students.

What do you think?

One thought on “NYC High Schools Need a Better Admissions Method: Why Not Try This?

  1. Your theory then places students who are generally more gregarious at an advantage over those who are more reserved. Or kids that think better on their feet over those who may have to work harder than others to come up with the answer, but are willing to put in the extra time. Grades and attendance are relevant. It is great to have an interview as well, but to discount hard work over many years of school and to now suggest that it is more important to see how one child interacts with an interviewer doesn’t make sense to me. My experience in job interviews is that employers are very interested in how you performed at your last job. If you had unexplained attendance issues or poor job performance, that is most absolutely a factor, just as much as whether you impress the interview with your charm and quick thinking. I am guessing many of us tend to be biased by our own children’s strengths and weaknesses. One of my kids is really uncomfortable in interviews but is bright and industrious. So for him, schools requiring interviews were not at the top of our list.

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