Manhattan Parents Press DOE on Middle-School Selection

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An image from the website of the NYC Lab Middle School. While some of the schools list their application criteria on their website, there is an overall lack of information on how much weight the schools give to each of the criteria, and how they rank the applications they receive, the CEC says.

DOE

An image from the website of the NYC Lab Middle School. While some of the schools list their application criteria on their website, there is an overall lack of information on how much weight the schools give to each of the criteria, and how they rank the applications they receive, the CEC says.

With the deadline for middle-school admissions looming on December 1, a group of parent advocates from District 2 in Manhattan has filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the Department of Education, asking the DOE to release data on how exactly the schools rank and select their applicants.

The effort to compel the DOE to release the information is part of a years’ long effort by the Community Education Council of District 2 to turn what is often an opaque, confusing and infuriating process into one of greater fairness and greater transparency, CEC members say.

The problem with the middle school admissions process, says Eric Goldberg, chair of CEC’s zoning committee, is that among the 19 middle schools in District 2, school administrators use selection processes including computerized lotteries, student interviews, test scores portfolios and tours as a way to prioritize applicants. “We create all this stress and anxiety and work for our students, all for what?” wonders Goldberg. “Schools should not be picking the students. The students should be picking the school.”

While some of the schools list their application criteria on their website, there is an overall lack of information on how much weight the schools give to each of the criteria, and how they rank the applications they receive, says Goldberg: “The school sees where [the students] list them, and they use that information to inform who they select for the school. It is the least student-centered concept I can think of.”

The CEC’s November 14 FOIL request lists 15 schools (three have two middle school programs) that the CECD2 wants the admissions rubric on, including:

East Side Middle School (M114M)
Salk School of Science (M255M)
Clinton School for Writers & Artists (M260S)
NYC Lab Middle School (M312M)
Hudson River Middle School (M289S)
Lower Manhattan Community Middle School (M896S)
School of the Future (M413S)
Simon Baruch Middle School (M104N)
Manhattan Academy of Technology (M126M)
Sun Yat Sen Middle School (M131N)
Robert F. Wagner Middle School (M167N)
Yorkville East Middle School (M177S)
American Sign Language School (M347M)
Professional Performing Arts School (M408M)
Life Sciences Middle School (M655S)

“We are requesting the rubrics used for admissions decision making by the above listed schools and NOT rubrics for individual applicants,” notes CEC President Shino Tanikawa in her November 14 letter.  “We understand such rubrics have been submitted by all screened schools to the NYC Department of Education over a year ago and that the schools will be using these rubrics in making their admissions decisions for the 2016-2017 academic year,” writes Tanikawa.

With approximately 2,500 fifth graders in the district applying to middle schools this year, the process is highly competitive and confusing, and unfairly so, says the CEC. There are 300 more fifth graders in the district applying for middle school for next year than there were three years ago, which has only served to heighten the anxiety among students and parents over the application process. The district stretches from Battery Park City to the Upper East Side and includes Tribeca, Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Flatiron, Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen and Chinatown.

“In a choice system where the stakes are so high, where you rank your preference, the schools do not share how they make admissions decisions,” says Goldberg, pointing out that none of the middle schools are specialized schools. “If they care about the students and the process they should be sharing this information. All these schools are supposed to be schools that serve all the students in the community.” None, he adds, are gifted and talented schools.

The DOE did not respond to several requests for comment.