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Why NYC High School Admissions Will Be Very Different This Year: How Families Can Make It Better

New York City families who applied to private high schools this year were obliged to turn in their enrollment contracts — and put down a deposit on tuition — by noon of last Friday, March 12, 2021.

In previous years, NYC Specialized, Screened, Arts, Ed-Opt, P-Tech, and all other public high schools would also notify admissions around the middle of the month. (I remember my oldest son’s results coming out precisely on The Ides of March in 2013. Many Shakespeare jokes were made.)

But this year will be different.

This year, public high school results will not be released in March. This means that families will need to decide whether they will commit to a private school — and the financial sacrifice that requires — long before they know where their child was accepted for public school. 

Even if they change their mind down the line, most deposits are not refundable.

It’s a decision many working NYC parents can ill afford to make. But, with NYC high school buildings currently closed, and no clear plan for what might happen come September 2021, they feel like they have no choice.

To make matters even more complicated, this year, all public school high school results will not be posted at the same time.

According to the Department of Education (DOE), this year:

In the spring, when high school offers are ready, all New York City eighth grade students (and all ninth grade applicants) will get high school offer letters….

If you participated in Specialized High Schools admissions, you will also receive one or both of the following:

  • In April – For students who took the SHSAT: Your test score and up to one offer to a testing Specialized High School. If you get an offer, you don’t need to do anything to accept it.
  • Later in the spring – For students who auditioned for any LaGuardia High School programs: Up to one offer to each LaGuardia program you auditioned for.

(Sidenote: My math teacher husband likes to say, “Big is not a number.” In the same vein, “Spring,” “April” and “Later in the spring” are not dates.)

Because this is such a major change, I followed up to confirm with the High School Enrollment Department.

I was assured that: You are correct. We will be giving out SHSAT offers earlier than other offers this year.

On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. The Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is a standardized exam where students bubble and grid in answers. Results from the SHSAT could, theoretically, be available a few days after the last student sets down their pencil.

On the other hand, a rolling admissions approach turns what is usually one very stressful day for NYC 8th graders and their parents into multiple stressful days (not to mention all the stressful days in between).

But what if we could turn a negative into a positive? (You know me, I’m a Pollyanna!) 

Every year, about 70,000 NYC students apply for public high school. Of them, around 30,000 take the SHSAT, and, of those, roughly 5000 receive offers.

For the majority of the families I work with, an SHSAT school is their first choice. They only apply to other public schools as insurance in case they don’t make the cut. 

This year, since SHSAT results are scheduled to come out prior to those of other public schools, what if those who know they are definitely going to attend Stuyvesent, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and the rest, had the option of withdrawing their applications from the up to 13 (12 general and/or LaGuardia High School for the Arts) other public schools they also applied to?

This would free up spots they might have been assigned to at popular screened schools like Townsend Harris, Beacon, Millennium, Eleanor Roosevelt, Leon Goldstein, and many more to students who didn’t get into an SHSAT school.

In August of 2019, when announcing the end of Second Round high school admissions, to be replaced, instead, by waitlists, Mayor de Blasio promised, “It’s actually going to be simple to apply to schools for your kids for the first time in a long time.”

His then Chancellor Richard Carranza confirmed, “You’ll know your spot and if the seats do open up, you get an offer — it’s that simple.”

As with all NYC endeavours, the waitlists proved to be anything but simple, especially when parents noticed that their positions were mysteriously moving down instead of up.

You know what would make waitlists simpler? Minimizing waitlists.

You know a good way to minimize waitlists? By allowing students who’ve already picked the high school they’re going to attend in the fall to remove their name from consideration at other high schools.

Granted, some will still want to see where else they got in so they could compare their choices. That’s fine. 

But if even half of those who got an SHSAT offer withdrew themselves from consideration at other schools, that’s 2500 seats opening up for other kids.

And the benefits wouldn’t be limited to just those students.

As I wrote in April of 2019:

An anomaly turned up last week when the highly-coveted District 2 priority New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies (colloquially known as “Upper Lab,” or just “Lab”) unexpectedly offered placement to 144-150 (accounts vary) students who hadn’t been accepted during the First Round.

The DOE claimed a ranking error had been discovered, and these students were supposed to have been accepted in the first place. Considering that, according to the 2019 High School Directory (a guidance counselor acquaintance calls it “The Big Book Of Lies”), Lab is supposed to accept 90 General Education students and 13 students with special needs, for a total of 103 (about 200 offers when factoring in attrition), leaving out around 150 kids is a heck of a mistake to make! How did the school not notice that hardly anyone was registering?

The DOE insists their little snafu means nothing. One hundred fifty kids out of 70,000+ applying citywide is a blip on the radar! A rounding error! A drop in the bucket! (Insert your favorite cliche here!)

Except that those 150 kids don’t exist in a vacuum. If 150 kids who should have gotten a spot at Lab got seats elsewhere, that means 150 kids who should have gotten seats at those schools, didn’t. And then 150 kids who would have gotten seats at schools where they did, didn’t. And so on, and so on, and so on. It’s a classic butterfly effect.

Opening up any number of seats at high-demand schools would be a pay it forward karmic good for potentially tens of thousands of students.

And couldn’t we all use some good karma right now?

I floated the idea to the DOE, but have yet to hear back. What do you all think?

What do you think?

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