In 2019, Brooklyn’s District 15 unscreened all of their middle schools, meaning incoming 6th graders couldn’t be assessed for admission via grades, test scores, portfolios or interviews. All schools now had to accept students exclusively by lottery. Yes, even the arts schools.
Before any classes selected via this method had graduated, before any classes selected via this method had been assessed for effectiveness, before any classes had set foot inside their assigned schools, even before the city knew how many students would accept their offers, the initiative was pronounced a triumph. Various politicians (most of whose children attended screened schools), urged all districts to follow suit – so that other people’s children might benefit in a way their children had been deprived of. (If only these same politicians knew how to rank their middle school choices so that their children weren’t forced to attend the whites, wealthiest schools on their list!)
In 2021, they got their wish. Due to the Covid pandemic, New York City announced that no middle school could now screen for admissions. Yes, even the arts schools.
As a result, some middle schools that previously required an audition refused to take any new students for 2021. And a proportion of high-achieving kids placed in low-performing schools where only a fraction of pupils tested at grade level, left the traditional public school system for charter and private schools, or moved out of the city altogether.
The middle school unscreening of 2021 was only supposed to be a “pause.” Despite his eight years of bluster, as per usual, then-Mayor Bill De Blasio didn’t even have the courage to enshrine a policy he claimed to believe in wholeheartedly into law.
Parents had high hopes that new Mayor Eric Adams would rescind it. No such luck. The Adams administration kept unscreening in place for 2022 admissions. The only adjustment was that arts schools could hold auditions again.
From this change, we can presume that the Department of Education believes there are children who are naturally talented at a particular art form and/or that they’ve previously studied it outside of school. Basic classes won’t do. They need instruction calibrated to their current levels.
The argument that Mayor de Blasio used for getting rid of academic Gifted & Talented programs is that all children have gifts and talents, there is no such thing as being naturally academically advanced, and the only reason some test better than others is because they have been privileged enough to get prepped outside of school. This benefits those with the means to pay for such lessons, and thus creates inequity in admissions and a lack of diversity within programs.
So kids can be naturally talented in the arts but not in academics? It’s OK to get your child music and arts lessons outside of school, then ask that they be placed in classes appropriate for their level, but it’s not OK to do the same with math, English, science, etc… (I wrote here about how it cost me more to get my kids into a public screened arts school versus a screened academic one.)
Doesn’t that seem a wee bit hypocritical? Not to mention illogical?
The second change implemented for 2022 middle school admissions is that sibling priority will now be in effect.
Twins will be placed together (and thus have two shots at the lottery, raising their odds of getting into a school they love), and 5th graders with a sibling in 6th grade will be placed at the same school. However, that will not be the case with those who have siblings in 7th or 8th grade.
Because 7th and 8th graders were accepted via screens, thus their siblings are presumably nondiverse. 6th graders were accepted by lottery, so their siblings will be acceptably diverse. (Never forget that “diverse” NYC students are incapable of getting into academically selective programs on their own.) The set-aside will be phased in, so next year, the siblings of 7th graders will also have priority.
yes except siblings of 7th graders are excluded. If it was for diversity reasons well now my daughter's middle school has one less latinx student because her sister won't have priority.— natalia (@nataliaguarink) January 12, 2022
A mother who reached out to the DOE for clarification received the following reply:
Thank you for reaching out with your concerns. We know this has been an especially difficult time for students and families, and we are grateful for your engagement and advocacy. As you may be aware, a sibling priority was first piloted in District 15, following a community-driven districtwide diversity initiative the year before. To help preserve the goals of the diversity plan, sibling priority was phased in so that applicants with siblings in sixth grade (admitted through the random selection process) received a priority to their sibling’s school.
Similarly, we are now phasing in sibling priority across all DOE middle schools a year after the initial pause on academic screening: this allows for sibling priority to be implemented in an equitable manner. Many current students who are in seventh grade or older were admitted to their middle school based on their academic record, through the previous screening process. Implementing a priority for these students would give applicants access to a school based on their older sibling’s academic performance.
What’s particularly interesting here, is that the DOE does have a sibling priority for G&T elementary schools. Last year, when no test was given, siblings still received priority to all the top citywide and district G&T schools. This year, while district G&T programs may be converted to General Education classrooms, the five citywide schools will still need to fill their Kindergartens in some manner (or lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding). Odds are, those seats will be filled via lottery – with siblings, once again, receiving priority. How is this not giving “applicants access to a school based on their older sibling’s academic performance?”
Doesn’t that seem a wee bit hypocritical?
A mom wrote me to say, “When my friend shared the article I was ecstatic. We both work full time and currently drive between our elementary in Bensonhurst and middle school (dyker heights) every day. The ability to have both kids in one school was a “dream.” Then when I read that it does not apply to us, I was devastated. My husband and I have been active each year at my kids’ school, minimally as class parents, but also on the PTA, SLT or fundraising. If our kids end up in different middle schools we will then need to pick one school to support because we can’t split our time and effort. I am very frustrated and disappointed that they choose to exclude specific families from an opportunity that would be a life saver for many.”
Another mom agreed. “Priority should be extended to all siblings. Why should parents whose kids were admitted under screens have to commute kids to different schools? This seems inherently unfair. Why not have a policy that allows ALL siblings to commute together?”
While a third confirmed, “I strongly disagree that this be phased in and only applicable this year for kids with siblings in 6th grade. Just because a sibling in 7th grade earned their spot through academic screening, it should not mean for this one year that the sibling/ family not be given the same opportunity for their children to attend school together when that opportunity will be offered going forward to those who initially enter a school through lottery. If sibling priority is being introduced, which it should, all younger siblings should be given the opportunity to join their older siblings in middle school, especially if it is a neighborhood school.”
How do you feel about the latest changes to middle school admissions? Tell us in the Comments below!