Home > Uncategorized > My Son-in-Law’s Description of the NYC High School Application Process Underscores Requirement for Parent Engagement

My Son-in-Law’s Description of the NYC High School Application Process Underscores Requirement for Parent Engagement

November 11, 2018
My Grandson, Evan, is in eighth grade in NYC. This means he is in the throes of applying to high schools in that city, a process that requires much more parent engagement than applying for college, and a process that is much more involved than applying to college because there is no common application form. My son-in-law who has been fully engaged in the process took the time to provide a written synopsis of the process for his sister who lives in Colorado and was mystified by the fact that her nephew had to “apply for high school”. I know from my daughter’s sharing of her experiences on Facebook that most people in the country are unaware of how “choice” plays out in NYC… and when they see what parents are required to do they are astonished. Here’s my son-in-law’s overview in italics with some notations I’ve inserted in bold green and some phrases I’ve emphasized underlined in bold.
In NYC there are 8 “specialized” public high schools that are all very good schools and are spread across the 5 boroughs, some huge (Brooklyn Tech is the largest high school in the US with almost 6000 students) some relatively small (400-500 students). What these have in common is that admission is 100% based on a single 3-hour test–the SHSAT. Evan took that test a couple of weeks ago, and on the test form submitted our ranking of the 8 schools. Next spring the board of ed will run their algorithm on the test scores. Person with the highest score will be offered a spot at their #1 choice, then the next highest scoring person will be placed at their #1 choice, etc., until one or more schools fill all their spots, and some people start getting their 2nd choice, etc.. At the end of this process when each of the 8 schools have awarded all their slots, you can retroactively see a minimum “cutoff” score for each school. Evan took about 3 sample SHSAT tests, and his scores on two of them would likely be above the cutoff for at least a couple of these schools, so we’ll see in the spring whether he did well on the actual test. Of course the large majority of kids who take the test don’t get an offer from one of these schools. To summarize: one test determines whether a child qualifies to attend a “specialized” public school and not all children who take the test get into any school of their choice. 

Meanwhile, there are over 200 other public high schools in NYC, at least two dozen of which are also very good. These good schools are all “screened” schools, meaning they look at kids’ 7th grade report cards and state test scores and attendance records (and a few add their own admission test, essay, and/or interview into the mix) and rank applicants accordingly. Some of them also give preference based on what borough or neighborhood you live in, while some of them judge kids without considering where in the city they live. All NYC 8th graders have to submit a ranked preference list of 12 of these (non-specialized) high schools, regardless of whether they also took the SHSAT for the specialized schools.So the open houses I mentioned were a mix of specialized and non-specialized schools to help us submit the two lists of ranked schools. It’s a grueling process, and every kid comes home from school with a paper copy of this giant directory of schools to pore through:

To summarize: my son-in-law and daughter need to become familiar with all 200 high schools in the city to make an informed choice and, having done that background work, need to schedule visits to open houses to both determine and demonstrate their interest in the “screened” schools… and they need to have monitored my grandson’s work and attendance for the years leading up to 8th grade. 
The deadline for submitting Evan’s list is Dec. 3… Basically Evan has a shot at qualifying for Brooklyn Tech, which due to having the most slots generally has close to the lowest cutoff score for the specialized schools. And we have at least 8 smaller, boutique-y non-specialized schools to rank (mostly in Manhattan with one or two in Brooklyn) that we’d be very pleased with, as well as a couple of large Brooklyn “safety schools” that are more comparable to his middle school.. Of all the 20 schools ranked on the two lists, only one is in walking distance from our apt, and most are 20-80 minute subway rides away.  To summarize: there is no such thing as a neighborhood high school in Brooklyn. 
After all this hubbub, nothing much more will happen until March, when we’ll get a letter telling us: 1) SHSAT score 2) specialized school offer (if any) 3) regular school offer (if any). It is possible to end up with a choice to make between offers at a specialized school and a non-specialized school. It’s not impossible that when all is said and done he’ll be walking to that nearby school (Brooklyn Millennium HS), which is relatively young but very impressive. It’s also possible that he’ll be one of the hundreds of city kids going to really engaging schools butspending over 2 hours a day total on the subway to get there and back. Almost-worst case is that he’ll end up in a fine but ego-bruising safety school like his middle school. Worst-worst case is that he wouldn’t get into any of the schools ranked on either list, and would be arbitrarily placed in some other school that didn’t fill up during the first round of applications–… but I think its unlikely. To summarize: a young man who has a good attendance record, done well in his school work, and will presumably do well on the SHSAT, COULD end up not getting into any schools of his choice and may possibly have to settle for a school that is way down on his list of choices. 
The real bottom line in all of this is that the 10% of homeless children in NYC schools are highly unlikely to complete this daunting process…. nor are many of the 74% of the NYC students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.  It requires one resource that those parents lack: time. If a parent is looking for a place to sleep or looking for a better paying job they are unlikely to have the time to perform the kind of analysis my daughter and son-in-law did or the time to visit schools with their child that both my daughter and son-in-law devoted.
According to the Princeton Review, “Out of more than 28,000 students who took the SHSAT in 2016, only about 18% were offered a seat at a Specialized High School.” What the Princeton Review DIDN’T report and what has been underreported in the mainstream media and underemphasized by the “reformers” is this fact: there are roughly 75,000 students in the 8th grade cohort, which means that only 37% of the cohort took the test to qualify for the eight specialized schools and only 6.7% will get into one of those schools. How can “reformers” tout choice when only 37% of the children are taking the test that enables them to HAVE a choice and only 6.7% of those children will attend one of the “top schools” in the city?
I am grateful that my grandson has two parents who are willing and able to take the time to do the in depth research necessary to make an informed choice on his behalf. I wish those who espouse “choice” would realize that making a choice for schooling is inherently inequitable and unfair and stop insisting that it is a civil rights issue or a means of leveling the playing field for students. If “reformers” wanted to level the playing field they would advocate for fair housing, decent wages, and enough money to support the children in all schools in New York City…. and my Grandson might need to apply to a small group of schools that provide specialized programs for gifted and talented students but be confident that if he failed to gain acceptance there would be a high school within walking distance that would provide him with a robust, high quality college preparatory curriculum and a wide range of activities to participate in.
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