Should Cathie Black Revamp NYC High School Admissions Process?

The interviews, tryouts and discussions about which high schools to rank in what order are over in our household, so I've been wondering lately why my 13-year-old continues to nervously tug on his hair and why his friends avoid all conversations about high school.

I blame post-traumatic stress, an outgrowth of the public high school admissions process in New York City. It's one of the more taxing aspects of life here for parents, and it clearly takes its toll on kids.

"There's nothing we can do until February," I said, reminding him that we won't get any answers until February 11 when he finds out if he gets into one of the nine specialized high schools. "Why not enjoy the rest of eighth-grade?"

"I just hate this," he blurted out. "Everybody's still stressed out about it. Kids, teachers, guidance counselors, all the people who have to do all that interviewing. Why don't they change it? Or have more good high schools that everybody can go to?"

It's a good question. Now is as good a time as any to think about whether the high school "match" system created by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Elizabeth Sciabarra, who founded the Office of Student Enrollment and recently stepped down, should survive. Incoming Schools Chancellor Cathie Black sent her own children to private boarding school, so she has no idea about what it's like to navigate admissions here and try to find the best fit for your child.

Parents and students, what do you think? Should she revamp the system?

For the record, I'm grateful for the choices offered in New York City's 1,600 public schools, although most parents who go through high school admissions wish the best weren't so difficult to get into. For example, Townsend Harris in Queens got nearly 3,000 first-choice applicants for just 300 spots last year.

We've been pleasantly surprised at the variety of offerings we've seen, from the intense specialized high schools to highly popular selective schools. There are some really interesting options, like the New York Harbor School, which just moved to Governor's Island.

When it came to selecting and ranking 12 of them, though, we had to stop at seven -- even though there are more than 400 high schools in the city. Supply still does not meet demand.

Since we started looking at high schools, I've been most focused on what the search process does to parents, noting that it becomes practically a full-time job. It's hard on middle-school teachers because visiting high schools and taking tours means students are missing hours and hours of class. Guidance counselors have the time-consuming task of helping kids and parents think about and rank choices.

Klein says New York City has "the nation's premier high school choice system," and there are plenty of people who believe Sciabarra improved the way students and schools were matched in the past. But one troubling fact remains year after year - between 6,000 and 8,000 students annually are not matched to a school at all.

I find that totally unacceptable. Anyone with an opinion on the subject is invited to tell incoming Chancellor Cathie Black what he or she thinks of the high school admissions process in New York City.

How should it be changed? Or should it remain as is?