Gifted & Talented · NYC high school · NYC middle school · NYC School Admissions

Waitlists Were Going To Make Getting Into NYC Schools Simpler (Spoiler: They Didn’t)

Almost a year ago, when announcing changes to New York City middle and high school admissions, Mayor Bill De Blasio promised that getting rid of appeals and putting in waitlists instead would make it “simple to apply to schools for your kids for the first time in a long time.”

School Chancellor Richard Carranza echoed, “You’ll know your spot and if the seats do open up, you get an offer — it’s that simple.”

At the time, I had 10 questions about how exactly the new waitlists would work. Now that we’ve been through one complete cycle of admissions for Universal Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted & Talented, Middle, and High School, I have some answers.

Or, rather, I have some examples. Here’s how the waitlists are working out headed into September 2020, in the words of parents who’ve been dealing with them (oh, and for all those who called the Department of Education and were told this was only happening to you… it’s not only happening to you):

Universal Pre-K

My son was #1 on the UPK waiting list for Imagine Learning Center in Brooklyn Heights.  We were excited because we basically have no other great choices. But when we logged onto My Schools, Tuesday (I believe), he had mysteriously moved to #2.  Very frustrating and weird!… Update!  The school director got it sorted out, and we have our #1 spot back. Phew. She told my husband that she thought that someone was trying to game the system by trying to say that they had a sibling at the school but does not.   

At Bayard Taylor-ps 158 we were originally number 34 and over time we are now 39. We have moved down in PS 343 from #8 to #13 and at PS 183 from #189 to #192.

We moved from 45 to 50 at PS 3, 121 to 125 at PS 11 and 4 to 5 at PS 33. We are in-district applicants for PS 3 and PS 11 and zoned for PS 33 (but not very interested in that school). I added us to the waitlist there after results came in, so prob am responsible for someone else’s waitlist number moving down.

I have two kids (Starting preK and K) and we moved into one of the less popular Park Slope school zones a couple of months ago, ps 282. I followed protocol and let both the zoned school and the currently enrolled school, as well as Family Welcome Center, know that my address changed. I noticed a couple of days ago that both my kids moved down on the waitlist as opposed to up. When I called the parent coordinator at the new zoned school, I got an update saying “waitlists are not open till June 26 and it is perhaps family welcome center who moved us down the list as there may be other families informed them of address change.” Which still doesn’t make sense as “we are in the zone.” Even if there are other families who moved into the zone after us, we would still not be pushed down on the list since I am also in the zone! We used to be 22, went down to 24 on K waitlist, and down to 40 from 31 in preK list!

General Ed Kindergarten

Our waitlist number at PS 199 was originally 44, but now it is 47. Our waitlist number at PS 9 was 77 and now it is 81. Our waitlist number at PS 75 Dual language program was 28, but now it is 31.  All of our other waitlist numbers have become lower.

He’s moved down the waitlist at ps 167 gen ed and ps 87 gen ed, just FYI. 

My son’s position in one of his general Ed choices had moved down as the g&t placements were released yesterday, but then the original number came back, either through a slot opening up or a correction, about an hour later.  He’s on the waitlist for 4 district 2 schools. This only occurred for one: ps 276/Battery Park City School.

Gifted & Talented (Grades K-3)

We noticed that our son’s G & T Waitlist number for PS 166 Richard Rogers has increased, originally at 33, then 34 and now today at 35. While we don’t expect a lot of people to decline their offer, it doesn’t make sense that he keeps losing spots. 

We were waitlisted position 3 at PS 163 and now we are in position 6.

We are moving the wrong way on the waitlists! On all of them!  We were number 4 for a spot at G&T in our district school and now we are number 5!

Number 16 from 14 for PS 11, went down to 57 for Lower Lab, now 59. Why is this happening?

My son was moved from number 15 to 16 for BSI. Meanwhile, I know someone who was number 11 and stayed number 11. Doesn’t make any sense. 

On Tuesday of this week PS 198 waitlist spot dropped from 22 to 21. Just checked now and it’s up to 23. 

We were originally listed at #15 at PS163 and now are #17

Our waitlist positions moved down. We were #22 at one school yesterday and today #24. Another school we were #58, today we are #62.

My daughter got waitlisted for NEST (12th) and Anderson (11th) but now I see her waitlist position for NEST is 14th. 

For our first grade G&T for in district, one of our choices the position on waitlist went down by one spot.

Yesterday between the first posting of results (followed by myschools being down altogether) and the second posting of results an hour or so later, my waitlist spot for Q300 moved from 13 to 14. 

We were #69 on the TAG waitlist and now we are #70. I have no clue what happened or why. I’m seriously disappointed with this process. My son got a 99 on the test and he deserves a G&T seat. I’m sure many other families feel this way. Also I’m annoyed this “diversity” priority at Anderson included only district 6 below 178th with no explanation as to why they excluded the rest of district 6.

Hoping to send our son to NEST+m. My daughter is already there so he gets sibling preference. On Monday he was listed as number 1 in the sibling preference category, by Tuesday he went down to 2, and today (Thursday) he went down to number 3. Could it have been that a student that had left has asked to come back? Or could it be that someone that got their score late got a 99? My son got a 98, so technically there could be siblings with 99 before him. But I don’t understand why they are being added afterwards? 

Middle School

Each year the DOE gives extra seats to the schools in case some kid(s) don’t show up in September. But the schools fill these seats at the very beginning of the admissions season, instead. A DOE representative told me that even if a seat frees up now, there is no guarantee the school will pay attention to the waitlist because they already have the extra seats filled. So, what is the point of this waitlist? It would make sense if the DOE would allocate extra seats after the first round of admissions so the schools could choose kids from the waitlist to fill these extra seats. But, as it is designed now – with a July deadline and no extra seats – it is totally ineffective. (Read more, here.)

High School

Chalkbeat reported back in May:

Thorpe’s son was No. 19 on the waitlist at his first choice, Bard High School Early College Queens — part of a new system launched this admissions cycle that automatically adds students to waitlists at schools they listed on their applications but didn’t get into. Then something odd happened: Her son’s position moved from 19 to 21, eventually falling to 31. “As we’re checking the waitlist and he keeps moving further back, I’m like, ‘How can you move back on a waiting list?’” said Thorpe, whose family lives in St. Albans, Queens. “It just doesn’t make sense.”…. “The way they explained the waitlists to a lot of parents, it was just confusing,” said Rob, a Brooklyn parent whose son dropped more than 20 positions on a waitlist….In general, students who initially applied to a school but didn’t get in and are automatically added to its waitlist should be ranked ahead of students who add themselves later on, officials said. But there are exceptions.

When I asked the Department of Education for clarification, the official response I received read:

If parents have questions they can call P311, or email, or depending on their student’s grade band.

 Additionally, our website offers information on waitlists and position shifts. You can find that here:

So, that was super helpful.

Let’s see what we can figure out ourselves.

First things first, for UPK and General Ed Kindergarten, if a family moves into the zone and adds themselves to the waitlist, they will be placed ahead of anyone out of zone. The same goes for new district students being placed ahead of out of district students. That’s not the fairest thing in the world, but at least it has some logic.

It gets trickier with G&T. Siblings have first priority. So here is one scenario: Two siblings apply for a G&T school. In the first round, both siblings are waitlisted as non-siblings. But, if one sibling gets in off the waitlist, the other sibling now becomes a sibling applicant, and their priority changes to leap ahead of all non-siblings. Also not exactly fair, but understandable.

Where it really gets unfair is if a student who didn’t initially rank a school then adds themselves to the waitlist, and their score is, say, a 98. They then get placed ahead of all the 97s and below who ranked the school in the initial round. A punishment for those who committed to the school early on, and a reward for those who weren’t interested initially, only adding it when they had no better options.

With middle and high schools, the same applies to a student who is in a higher priority group due to income, address, IEP, grades, etc… A priority group student who didn’t like the school enough to rank it on the first round leap-frogs over students who did list it on the first round. The priority group students get two chances at admission. They can list 12 choices for first round then, if they don’t get in somewhere they like, they can jump the queue on as many other schools as available, knocking down kids who ranked the school in the first round.

It’s the same with General Education Kindergarten. A family can not list their zoned school, opting to take their chances with 12 out of zone schools they prefer more. Then, once they’re safely waitlisted at those schools, they can add themselves to their zoned school waitlist and move ahead of all the out of zone families who liked the school enough to list it in their first round. Those who are using it as a safety are prioritized over those who’ve wanted to be there from the start!

Is this system fair? Let us know what you think in the Comments!

What do you think?

One thought on “Waitlists Were Going To Make Getting Into NYC Schools Simpler (Spoiler: They Didn’t)

  1. This is a fair application of the basic logic that you are not punished in priority for wanting something else more. And how terrible would it be if that weren’t the rule? Having to decide between a long shot city wide spot and district level sure thing as your top choice would be a nightmare. Some families can express their entire set of preferences with 12 slots by the deadline, some cannot, and the rule stands regardless. Your spot on the list is not determined by the school’s spot on your own list. Fair.

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