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Officials debate the good and bad of school choice at hearing

A City Council hearing today on public school admissions policies became a debate on school choice as teachers union and city officials clashed on whether more choice had really helped more students.

Defending the current system, which was put in place seven years ago, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg pulled from his own experience of starting the Bronx Lab School, one of several small schools that replaced a Evander Childs High School, a large neighborhood school. Sternberg argued that because students can now apply to high schools all over the city, the fate of their education isn’t tied to the quality of a zoned high school. In his testimony he argued that having school choice is working for most students.

And for the coming year, 52 percent of rising ninth-graders were matched to their first-choice school, and 77 percent were matched to one of their top-three choices-more than triple the figure just six years ago. At the end of the main round, 86 percent of students had been matched to one of their top five choices. And while there is always room for progress, this represents a completely different universe of opportunities for students and a signature accomplishment of this Administration.

Teachers union officials countered that having school choice is great for the students who apply and get in to desirable schools, but every year there are thousands of students who aren’t matched with any school. This year there are about 6,500 of those students.

Vice President of Academic High Schools for the union, Leo Casey (testimony), said that the city’s emphasis on choice has also become a problem for schools that are too popular, as the city often refuses to cap enrollment.

Clearly, severe overcrowding remains a major problem in high schools around the city, most heavily in Queens (Flushing, Bayside, Van Buren, Cardozo, Francis Lewis), but also in parts of Brooklyn (Midwood, Madison, Murrow) and in the remaining high schools in the Bronx, such as Clinton. The DOE, however, keeps sending more and more students their way. The trailers continue to stack up outside these schools and classes continue to extend past 6pm as teachers struggle to accommodate the many thousands of students in each building. The explanation from OSEPO is that they simply honor students’ preferences, but this is clearly not the case across the board.

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