After two years of trying to get rid of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and railing against the lack of diversity in New York City Schools, on Thursday, August 15, 2019, the Mayor and School Chancellor finally unveiled the first change to the NYC High School admissions process in 16 years… which won’t affect either issue.
The changes, which go into effect immediately for students applying this fall, consist of generating a waitlist for students who were placed in anything but their first-choice public high school, in a manner identical to the way it currently works for those applying to public school Kindergarten. Students will be automatically wait-listed for all the schools they listed ahead of the one they got.
In addition, the Second Round of placements, where students unhappy with their First Round result have the opportunity to rank 12 more schools with open slots, has been eliminated.
According to Mayor de Blasio, “It’s actually going to be simple to apply to schools for your kids for the first time in a long time.”
Families will be able to see their child’s waitlist number and track it via the Parent Portal.
Chancellor Carranza promises, “You’ll know your spot and if the seats do open up, you get an offer — it’s that simple.”
But is anything in NYC school admissions ever really that simple?
Here are 10 questions that, as of press time, have yet to be adequately addressed:
1) Can students still be assigned to a school they didn’t rank?
In the past, it was possible for a student not to get into any of the 12 schools they listed and to receive a result of “No Match.” They would then go to Second Round and, if once again no desired school had a spot for them, they’d be placed in one that did.
In 2019, for the first time, students could be assigned to a school they didn’t rank during the First Round. Will that policy be continued?
2) Who will monitor the waitlists for integrity?
There are currently waitlists at the Kindergarten level. Anyone who tells you they follow a strict queue is lying – either to you, or to themselves. This has been confirmed by Department of Education employees, and by dozens of families I’ve counseled. Working the waitlist is a thing. If it happens at the elementary school level, it will happen at the middle and high school level.
3) Will waitlists be balanced for gender, race, Free Lunch status, IEP, etc.?
There is already a diversity in admissions initiative. Will it apply to the waitlists? Hunter College Elementary School (publically funded, though not a public school) separates their waitlist by gender. If a boy turns down a slot, an offer will be made to the next boy on the list. Will the same apply to the high school waitlist in order to admit the preferred number of minority students, Free Lunch students, those with IEPs, etc.?
4) Will there still be an appeals process?
The appeals process will still apply to those who claim travel, safety, medical hardships, and other disabilities. But what about the more nebulous categories parents (and their lawyers) have come up with, including the mother who claimed her child was really, really sad about his placement and deserved a do-over ahead of other students who may be merely bummed out?
5) Can you appeal to all 12 schools?
Previously, you could only appeal to 3 schools. Will the waitlist make all 12 fair game?
6) Will winning an appeal change your place on the waitlist?
Picture this scenario: Your child is #5 on your top choice school’s waitlist. Then you find out that a classmate, who was #55, got in ahead of her. Why? Because her family filed an appeal, while you followed the rules and patiently waited your turn. Will everyone need to appeal now in order to, at the very least, keep their spot on the waitlist from dropping?
7) Can you ask to be added to a waitlist of a school you didn’t rank?
You can ask to be added to the waitlist of a school you didn’t rank initially. That’s fine if it’s an unscreened school, but what if it’s a school that looks at grades and test scores? Will someone with higher grades and test scores who didn’t apply initially be placed ahead of someone with lower grades and test scores who did?
And what will this mean for Ed-Opt schools which strive to admit one-fourth of students with high state test scores, one-fourth with low state test scores, and the remaining half from the middle? Will someone who fits an undersubscribed category be placed ahead of someone from a category that’s already full?
8) What will that mean for schools with tests, interviews, auditions, etc.?
Students will only be added to waitlists of Screened and Art schools for which they meet the stated criteria. But what if it’s a school like Bard Early College, which has its own test, or Columbia Secondary School, which requires an interview, or Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, which calls for an audition? Will schools hold a second round for all those extra steps? How long will it go on?
9) How long will the waitlists be held?
The waitlists are scheduled to only be held until September of Freshman year. But since schools are funded based on how many students are registered, what’s to stop a principal from making an offer later on in the year if a space opens up in order not to lose that money?
In addition, most schools have a 10th grade entry point. Will your waitlist number from the previous year bear any weight or will you need to start the process all over again?
10) How will this affect families moving to NYC after placement offers are made?
If all of the above sounds confusing, rather than simple as promised, families are reassured that they “will be able to access in-person support at Family Welcome Centers.”
I am currently working with a dozen families that moved to NYC after the primary admissions cycle had closed. Their interactions with the in-person support at a Family Welcome Center has gone like this:
They make a list of schools they would like their child to attend.
They share it with the Family Welcome Center staff member.
The Staff Member says those schools have no open spots.
The family asks for a list of schools that do have open spots.
The Staff Member says that’s not how it works. They need to come back with another list, and they’ll tell them if those schools have spots.
They call me. We make a list of schools. I tell them to call the school directly.
Some schools do have spots and invite the child in for interview, etc..
Do we really think the new admissions process will make any of this truly easier?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments!