Right now the NYC high school process is in full swing. Close to 80,000 or so eighth graders from all five boroughs can choose from over 400 schools with over 700 programs.
Talk about choices.
But the process, which is inherently daunting due to its size and scope, is confusing and unwieldy. A variety of admissions methods - variables within those according to individual schools - further complicates things. Without a cohesive communications system in place to share information with families, and the lack of citywide structure and/or guidelines when it comes to guidance, too often families are left in the dark. And, as recently reported at Chalkbeat, even at DOE sponsored citywide high school fair, not everyone was sharing factual information with families, nor were schools necessarily following the admissions processes they are supposed to.
It's not that the DOE isn't trying. They recently launched an events calendar on their website, noting open houses, tours, and information sessions all over the city. But, the listings aren't complete, the information isn't always correct, and nowhere is there a disclaimer that families should double check with schools themselves and check back as more information becomes available. While they have been emailing reminders about the process itself, this is the third time I've been notified about registering for the specialized high school test. At the moment my son is already in his sophomore year. And this year they introduced the NYC School Finder, which allows families to search the DOE's comprehensive annual High School Directory online by a variety of criteria. It's in beta phase and hopefully the kinks, like the ability to only search one topic at a time, will be worked out moving forward. That, along with incorrect information posted both online and in the printed High School Directory will hopefully be rectified.
Last June the city set aside 15 million dollars to change the demographics in the specialized high schools, hoping to increase numbers of underrepresented minorities. They've also voted to change the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT) with seemingly little research or testing, and the Mayor is still pushing to change the test only admissions policy altogether.
All this money and effort for eight schools. That's .02% of all the high schools in the city.
Making sure students have a fair shot at earning a specialized high school seat is a worthy goal. But so is making sure every student in the city is served as well. Last year 8%, around 6000 kids, didn't get placed in the city's main application round and were shunted into round 2, with far fewer viable options. As if the stress and uncertainly of the entire process wasn't enough, all those families were left panicking their children wouldn't find good fit schools.
It seems obvious the DOE should make streamlining the high school admissions process one of their top priorities. With cohesive and standardized information shared in a timely fashion from both the DOE and middle school guidance counselors, oversight and training when it comes to fairs and events, online information that is vetted, with reminders to parents to double check and schools to actively participate in sharing, this challenging process could be less burdensome to all involved.
Applying to high school shouldn't have to be the complicated, frustrating drama it too often is today. NYC families deserve better.