Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story, The Lottery, is considered a classic of slow-building horror. A small town holds a lottery every year to decide which citizen will be ritually stoned in order to insure a good harvest. Everyone goes uncomplainingly along in the name of tradition, and, despite a few scattered grumbles, nobody outright says it’s a bad idea, until the scapegoat is selected and suddenly, as she’s surrounded by the mob, the designated victim cries out, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right!”
With all due respect to Ms. Jackson, her story’s got nothing on the horror faced by New York City families annually, thanks to the education lottery.
Imagine if you will…. (spooky Twilight Zone music)….
Parents who believe their child will learn and thrive, both academically and emotionally, in a progressive educational environment. They do their research and apply to a variety of unzoned public schools, like Manhattan School for Children, Central Park East 1 and 2, etc…. But, because there are many more applicants than available spaces, their child’s fate comes down to… a lottery.
Parents who believe their child will learn and thrive, both academically and emotionally, in a rigorous, traditional educational environment. They do their research and apply to a variety of high-scoring charter schools like KIPP or the Success Academies…. But, because there are many more applicants than available spaces, their child’s fate comes down to… a lottery.
Parents who believe their child will learn and thrive, both academically and emotionally, in an accelerated educational environment. They do their research, follow the Department of Education’s (DOE) procedures, receive a qualifying score and apply to a variety of Gifted & Talented programs like Anderson, NEST+M, etc…. But, because there are many more applicants than available spaces, their child’s fate comes down to… a lottery.
Well, you get the gist.
Now, a reasonably-minded person might suggest that, in the face of such high demand for G&T, progressive, and charter schools, the city might authorize creating more of them. Or, in the face of demand for Honors middle schools and specialized/screened high schools, they might expand successful existing programs.
But I warned you at the onset: This is a horror story. Don’t expect a happy ending.
Instead of giving NYC families more of the kinds of schools they’ve demonstrated an interest in, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza would rather pit us against each other in a battle of limited options. After all, scarcity is the ultimate sales tool. How will parents believe their schools are good if they aren’t forced to fight for them? More importantly, how will you keep them quiet and uncomplaining if you can’t convince the lucky ones to be grateful for what they’ve got, and make the unlucky ones terrified that rocking the boat might limit them from becoming one of the lucky ones down the line? If a good education isn’t a zero-sum game with clearly defined winners and losers, how will you demonstrate its value?
The current argument for changing admissions to specialized high schools and possibly screened high schools, as well, is the (in my opinion, misguided) belief that it’s the schools, their curriculum, their teachers, their administration, that are responsible for producing the excellent students who graduate from them. Advocates of scrapping exam-only admission and replacing it with grades, test scores, and spots reserved for the top 7 percent from every public middle school, insist that students who otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut deserve access to the advantages conferred by attending an SHSAT school.
In April, when Cynthia Nixon first announced her candidacy for governor, I mentioned that her kids had gone to the selective Center School, and that she’d attended Hunter High School. My post led to a reassessment of The Center School’s admission policies. Earlier, I’d taken a deep dive into Hunter’s highly-secret admissions practices. Last week, Chalkbeat did the same.
Hunter College Elementary and High Schools select students based on their own rubric. For Kindergarten, it includes an IQ test, followed by an assessment for those who scored above a certain (unrevealed) cut-off. For high school, you need to be invited to take the test based on 5th grade state test scores, then sit for a math and English multiple-choice portion, the high-scorers from which get their essay read. (Learn more, here.)
About 3,000 Manhattan-dwelling 4 year olds compete for 50 seats at the Kindergarten level. About 2,000 6th graders from across NYC compete for the 150 high school spots. And, what do you know, Hunter is even more white and even less poor than the much villainized specialized high schools!
So now it’s time for another of my modest proposals:
If we agree with the narrative that it’s the schools that make the students, and not vice-versa, why not subject Hunter to the same rules that govern DOE schools (after all, Cynthia Nixon calls herself a proud NYC public school graduate in her campaign video), and make them accept all their students… by lottery?
That way, kids who otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut will receive access to the advantages conferred by attending this highly-vaunted school (right, Mr. Carranza?).
If, at least until all families are able to get the education they want, all children are accepted to all schools, including Hunter, based strictly on a random draw, then parents will finally get to see if the value-add is coming from the city’s schools, the teachers, the administration… or from somewhere else? And make their attendance decisions accordingly.
But is The Lottery – and its consequences – too scary of a prospect for the DOE?