admissions · Finding the Right School · School Choice

This Change Could Make Getting Into High School Easier For NYC Kids!

When I give my “Getting Into NYC High School” workshops to parents and community groups around the city, I warn families that “getting Into NYC high school makes getting into NYC Kindergarten feel like puppies and kittens in a warm basket.”

(I don’t even invoke getting into NYC middle school, which manages to combine the worst parts of Kindergarten and high school admissions.)

For 2020, the NYC Department of Education made a major change to their high school admissions process. They got rid of Second Round applications and instituted a waitlist instead.

When the alteration was first announced in August 2019, I had many questions about how exactly it would work. (See said many questions here.)

Few of them have been answered since September 2020 high school placements came out last month. (I get it, they’re very busy right now. I don’t blame them. But these are points that should have been clarified months ago. Before everyone got so busy.)

Families now have a waitlist number for each school that they can monitor changes to in real time. (Though not a single family I’m working with has yet to get The Call.) Due to Screened Schools fielding varying admissions criteria and priorities, that number could move up… but it could also move down, if a student considered more qualified suddenly adds themselves to the list. One of the, in my opinion, most unfair changes to the process.

Since Specialized high schools don’t keep waitlists — they overaccept based on previous years’ attrition rates (sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t) — families who are hoping for admission to a Screened, Arts, Ed Opt, or Unscreened high school are gambling that a student who was offered admission to both a Specialized and an unspecialized high school will choose the former, and free up a slot in the latter. 

To put it more simply, a child who was accepted to say, Bronx Science, LaGuardia School of the Arts, and Millennium High School can only, ultimately, attend one school. So if they opt for Bronx Science or LaGuardia (both Specialized Schools), that will allow a waitlisted student to move up to the now open slot at Millenium.

It doesn’t work the other way, however. A student who chooses Millenium does not open a slot for another student at Bronx Science or LaGuardia.

Confusing, isn’t it? (Why do you think I do my workshops?)

Stressful, isn’t it? Waitlists can take months to clear, leaving families in limbo throughout the spring and summer.


I think so.

Especially when NYC high school admissions could be streamlined in a single step: 

Instead of asking students to rank their Specialized high school choices on one form, apply to LaGuardia directly, and list all of their other choices on yet another form, why not combine the three lists into one?

Such a change would allow more students to get in on the first round and save everybody the agony of waiting, not to mention the sting of rejection from their dream schools.

If the DOE really wanted to make all our lives easier, they could even add charter schools to the mix. High-performing networks like KIPP, Democracy Prep, Harlem Village Academies and more currently have an independent admissions process. Which means some lucky student might get an offer from a Specialized school, LaGuardia, another public school, and more than one charter school.

While another student gets placed in a public high school they didn’t even rank. (Yes, that CAN happen. Don’t believe the playground gossip that says they MUST give you one of the schools on your list.)

A single common application would make the entire process easier and substantially raise the odds of a child getting into a school they wanted. You could keep the waitlists but shrink them considerably. (Whether or not parents can or should trust a waitlist is another story, according to this DOE employee.)

Granted, combining Specialized and non-Specialized high school admissions isn’t as simple as Mayor DeBlasio passing an edict. (We’re not talking about how he could change admissions to and diversify all of the Screened schools if he wanted to.) But it can be done. And without going to Albany to ask for changes. (They’re very busy right now, too.) 

It would mean merging the three lists as they stand now at the local, not the state level. It wouldn’t be easy. But getting into NYC high school is already not easy. This would at least make it less painful for families. You know, families? The ones you claim you are doing all of this for in the first place?

Is this a move you’d support? Tell us why or why not in the Comments!

What do you think?

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