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All High Schools Are Equal… Some High Schools Are More Equal Than Others: NYC Admissions 2022

Earlier this month we looked at the changes – and hypocrisy – of this year’s Middle School admissions process.

This week, we turn our gaze towards New York City public High School admissions for 2022.

The application went live on Thursday, January 27, 2022 and is due by Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

Specialized High Schools don’t go on this form. Those should have been ranked when your student sat for the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) last fall. In addition, students audition for and are accepted into the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, separately.

This year, like last, students will – save a few exceptions – audition remotely, sending in videos and other supplementary materials. The same materials which are required for LaGuardia can also be submitted to the following 25 Arts high schools. Although these other high schools, unlike LaGuardia, are to be ranked on the general application form.

Got that? 

Good.

Because it gets more complicated. 

In previous years, Screened High Schools were allowed to look at grades, state test scores, attendance, and additional criteria like their own exams, portfolios of creative work, group projects, and interviews. They would assign different percentage values to different elements, then rank all applicants in order of preference. Students would rank their schools in order of preference, and a matching algorithm based on John Nash’s Game Theory would strive to give both their highest available common option.

In 2021, some schools stuck to the above method, while some “batch-ranked.” They took all students who met a certain criteria in grades, test scores, interviews, etc… (how much emphasis was placed on each element was up to individual schools) and put them into a lottery, so that a student with an aggregate score of 99, say, had no tactical advantage over a student with an aggregate score of 85. As I tell parents, “Don’t worry if your kids are smart, all kids are smart. Worry if your kid is lucky. That’s more important in NYC school admissions.”

All the schools had to do then was present their rubric to the Department of Education (DOE) in order to make their process transparent. 

This year, the DOE decided that wasn’t good enough. They’ve come up with their own rubric, employing a combination of 7th and 8th grade grades in English, Math, Social Studies, and Science — no other factors accepted. Based on those, applicants will be sorted into four tiers, and then each student’s individual lottery number will be used within those tiers for placement. Complete details, here. (There is also a Diversity Initiative, wherein some schools set a certain percentage of their seats aside for students who qualify for Free or Reduced Price Lunch.)

The reasoning was that just like it’s unfair for SHSAT schools to prioritize students based on how well they scored on a test, it’s unfair for schools to prioritize students based on their grades.

Since when were schools about things like test scores and grades?

Test scores and grades are inequitable, unfair and, most importantly, biased.

By standardizing ranking across all screened public schools the DOE was completely taking bias out of the admissions process. Everyone would be treated the same. High achievers would have little advantage over lower achievers. And no school could manipulate the process to admit precisely the students they wanted, rather than the ones the DOE prescribed they should want.

Because that would be cheating. (The same way that studying for the SHSAT is cheating – unless the cheating is supervised by the DOE itself. Prepping for Arts auditions is OK, though. Still keeping up? This is a very nuanced process!)

Except….

Well, you see, all schools are equal. But some schools are more equal than others.

All Screened schools must turn over their admissions process to the DOE.

Except for the Bard High School Early College Schools in Manhattan and Queens. They can still give their own assessment, asking for a Humanities Writing Prompt, a STEM Writing Prompt and a video explaining why you are ready to start taking college classes in 11th grade.

Bard’s argument when asking for an exemption from the standardized application process was that their school offers a joint high school diploma and an Associate’s college degree. (Spoiler: It’s an Associate’s degree which is recognized by precisely one college – Bard — and no other. SUNY and CUNY will accept some of the credits earned, but in a manner no different than taking Advanced Placement courses at other schools. Bard grossly oversells itself.) As a result of their accelerated program, Bard has to make certain that any incoming student is up for the academic challenge. So they should be allowed to rank their own applicants.

Approved!

And then there are the Consortium Schools. Five public high schools which did not make the high academic standard argument that Bard used. They proudly agree that academic standards are inequitable, unfair and biased.

The Consortium Schools, which include East Side Community School, Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE), School of the Future High School, Beacon High School, and University Heights Secondary School boast that “instead of taking tests, our students demonstrate their skills in practical terms: they design experiments, make presentations, write reports, and defend their work to outside experts.”

And because using academic standards to admit students is inherently inequitable, unfair and biased, the Consortium Schools asked for and received permission to rank students using not those reactionary metrics, but their own, which includes two writing prompts, one of which asks: What do you think you have to offer a school community like this?

Let us never forget: It’s not about what schools have to offer students. It’s about what students have to offer schools. That’s what really matters.

So letting schools admit students based on their SHSAT score is inherently unfair to those who don’t do well on tests. Letting schools admit students based on grades — starting from the highest and going down to the lowest — is inherently unfair to those who don’t earn high grades.

It’s also terrible for diversity. Did you know that Stuyvesant, an SHSAT school, is 18% white, when only 8% of the overall public school system is? Did you know that Millenium, a school that was formerly allowed to rank their students on their own, is 25% white?

The best way to even out those numbers is to have the DOE take over all admissions.

Except at Bard Queens, which is 28% white.

And Beacon High School, which is 38% white. 

And Bard Manhattan, which is 39% white.

And School of the Future, which is 41% white.

And ICE, which is 44% white.

These numbers were not imposed on them, like at the SHSAT schools, where they are forced to accept strictly by test score. These numbers are what the schools came up with when they were given free reign to select their own students via a process which included face to face interviews, and even after they implemented diversity initiatives.

But, at least these schools aren’t 71% Asian, like Stuyvesant, or 55% Asian like Millenium. That’s where the real diversity problem in NYC lies. After all, like ex-Chancellor Richard Carranza said, we wouldn’t want any one group thinking they “own” admissions to these schools. Especially when their proportion in the general population is so much lower. 

That’s why the DOE created this standardized admissions process which mitigates the influence of high grades (because it’s impossible for Black and Hispanic students to achieve high grades) and other selection bias via subjective factors like portfolios and interviews (not counting Arts auditions). In the name of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Except for the above seven schools. They’re doing fine just the way they are, black box subjective admissions and all.

Because all schools are equal. But some schools are more equal than others.

What do you think of the high school admissions changes for 2022? Tell us in the Comments!

(Workshop to help parents rank their middle and high school choices on February 10, 2022. RSVP, here.)

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