Home > Uncategorized > NYC Tracking System in the Spotlight… and It Is NOT a Pretty Picture

NYC Tracking System in the Spotlight… and It Is NOT a Pretty Picture

June 18, 2018

Over the past several days, numbers articles have appeared in the NY media praising or assailing Mayor Bill De Blasio’s call to expand the number of minority students in NYC’s elite schools by de-emphasizing the SHSAT tests that serve as the de facto sole metric for admission. Today’s NYTimes features an article by Winnie Hu and Elizabeth Harris that brings to light the fact that the kind of screening the exists to gain entry to the elite high schools permeates the entire city school system…. and that screening underpins the re-segregation that is taking place in that city and across the nation. Titled “A Shadow System of Tracking by School Feeds Segregation, Mss. Wu and Harris’ article opens with these startling paragraphs:

No other city in the country screens students for as many schools as New York— a startling fact all but lost in the furor that has erupted over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent proposal to change the admissions process for the city’s handful of elite high schools.

One in five middle and high schools in New York, the nation’s largest school district, now choose all of their students based on factors like grades or state test scores. That intensifies an already raw debate about equity, representation and opportunity that has raged since Mr. de Blasio proposed scrapping the one-day test now required to gain entry into New York’s eight elite high schools. Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in many of the most selective screened middle and high schools, just as they are in the specialized high schools.

I’ve witnessed this screening mechanism as a grandparent of a NYC seventh grader. My grandson is one of the 20% of middle schoolers whose parents “chose” a school for him, a process that was arguably more daunting than applying for college since there is no common application form and one of the factors for admission to a de facto selective middle school is a parents willingness and ability to attend evening orientation sessions for each school a child is considering. This phenomenon is described in the article, using one parent’s experience as a proxy for thousands of parents cross the city:

Edwin Franco, a father of two girls who lives in the Bronx, said that too many selective schools cherry pick the best students — and deprive everyone else of opportunities. “They’re almost like a factory,” he said. “They’re churning out high-performing kids who are doing great while the rest of the kids are trying to figure it out on their own because they don’t have the same resources.”

….And now as many coveted middle schools screen, the competition has moved down to that level as well. Mr. Franco attended neighborhood schools in Washington Heights, and he only went through a selection process for high school. Both his daughters have already been through screening for middle schools.

“As a parent, I’m seeing the same level of intensity to get into middle school,” he said. “That’s what baffles me, middle schools are just as competitive as high schools.”

Mss. Wu and Harris provide a “history” of this tend toward screening, attributing its acceleration to the Bloomberg administration when all eighth grade students were compelled to “choose” their high school and the high schools marketed their programs in an effort to entice parents to select them:

Students rank up to 12 choices, and then get matched to one school by a special algorithm. The idea was to allow students to escape failing neighborhood schools and apply anywhere they chose.

…But as students increasingly chose their schools, the system evolved so that many schools became the ones choosing the students.

The number of high schools that admitted students only through academic screening — including the specialized high school exam, other tests and grades, or auditions — has more than tripled to 112 schools in 2017 from 29 schools in 1997, according to an analysis by Sean P. Corcoran, an associate professor of economics and education policy at New York University. Screening requirements vary from school to school, but the most sought-after schools often require at least a 90 average.

“You’ve set up a system of competition among high schools in which the easiest way for a principal to win is to select the students who are best prepared,” Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said. “Certainly having that market-based ideology — without guidelines for equity — appears to have accelerated the growth of screening.

From my perspective, even if Mayor De Blasio’s effort to limit the use of standardized test scores fails in the NYS legislature as appears to be the case for THIS session, by raising this topic now he could conceivably make the commodification of schools a campaign issue in 2018… and THAT would be a tremendous public service. The more parents understand the inter-relationship between choice and screening and the consequences of screening, the more likely it is that public schools might abandon the practice of sorting and selecting and replace it with funds to improve all public schools.

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