School Choice

What Happened The Last Time NYC Took Over School Admissions (Hint: Not What They Said Would Happen)

On April 6, 2018, I published a post called Cynthia Nixon on Education: Look At What She Did, Not What She Says. In it, I called out the gubernatorial candidate for standing with Mayor de Blasio on removing the screening process from New York City’s top performing public schools, and with the teachers unions on how unzoned charter schools contribute to segregation, even as she sent her own children to Gifted & Talented programs, as well as the ultra-selective Center School.

On May 6, 2018, The New York Post quoted me as part of their coverage of how The Center School would be exempt from District 3’s controversial new plan to set aside 25 percent of seats in highly-ranked middle schools for students who scored either a 2 (below proficient) or a 1 (well below proficient) on the NY State English Language Arts (ELA) and Math exams.

Soon after, The Daily News, Patch, NYC Public Voice, and others ran a version of:

“They have their completely own, independent rubric which they don’t have to release or justify,” Alina Adams, an education consultant, told the Post. “Nobody knows how kids get into that school.”

Chalkbeat used my words too in their May 7, 2018 write-up about how the Center School, after all the negative publicity,  would be joining the diversity initiative!

Based on how often my name appeared in articles criticizing The Center School being allowed to choose their own students while others have to jump through Department of Education (DOE) hoops, the natural assumption is that I am all for a more centralized admissions process.

That isn’t necessarily the case.

That’s because I witnessed the last time the DOE decided they could do a better job bringing racial and socioeconomic diversity to NYC schools by taking over the admissions process.

During Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s second term, Chancellor Joel Klein decided it wasn’t fair that different districts and individual schools had varying criteria for elementary school Gifted & Talented admissions. Kids were getting into schools in one neighborhood who wouldn’t have qualified in another, and some areas had so many options that seats were going unfilled, while others didn’t have any at all.

Mr. Klein moved to standardize admissions, citywide. All children would now need to take the same test, and all would need to get the same minimum cut-off scores in order to be offered placement.

This would make everything much fairer, Mr. Klein promised.

So how did it work out?

Well, multiple districts lost multiple programs.

And, in specific instances, a school like PS 163 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (where, coincidentally, Nixon sent her daughter), went from having one of the most diverse G&T programs to one where The New York Times was shocked to find primarily White and Asian children, as opposed to the Black and Hispanic students in General Ed.

And then there’s the tale of The Talented and Gifted School For Young Scholars. Located on 240 East 109th Street, at the turn of this century, TAG was a majority Black and Hispanic school which selected its own students from its own neighborhood (and didn’t feel a pressing need to sit them next to White children to improve their achievement). But then, on the annual state tests, TAG students scored 100 percent proficient in ELA and 100 percent in Math, the only school to do so, ahead of vaunted citywide schools like Anderson and NEST+M.

“Oh-oh,” I clearly remember saying to my husband. “A school of minority kids from Harlem outperforming NYC’s accelerated curriculum darlings without standards being magnanimously  lowered for them? No way will the city allow this to stand.”

Sure enough, TAG was soon swept up in the standardization dragnet. It was made a citywide school, and students were assigned based on test scores and lottery.

Now, TAG is ranked #3 in NYC by test scores.

And its student body is 39 percent Asian, 19 percent Black, 17 percent Hispanic, 15 percent White, and 10 percent Other. (As we all know, according to the Mayor, majority Asian is not diverse. Starting in 2019, TAG will set aside 40 percent of incoming Kindergarten seats for those who qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch. Except that, currently, 50 percent of the student body already does….)

Now there is yet another plan on the table to integrate NYC schools by getting rid of any kind of screening methods whatsoever (you can read the very latest iteration, here).

But at the center of them all is the conviction that if we just let the Department of Ed handle admissions, instead of individual schools or districts or, God forbid, silly, hysterical, inexpert parents, everything will work out better and fairer, and everyone will benefit.

Except, as the above proves, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Who do you think should be a factor in NYC school admissions? Tell us in the Comments!


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