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More students given transfers, but many are left in weak schools

Far more New York City students were offered pathways out of low-performing schools this year under a new policy that gave priority to students who wanted to leave schools that are being closed.

But few students who were eligible to transfer even tried, and most students who did apply were told they must stay at their original school.

Of the 150,000 students eligible for transfers this year under the city’s Public School Choice program, about 10,000 applied to be placed at another school. Of those who applied, about 4,190, or 41 percent, were given offers. Their approval rate was more than twice as high as last year, when only about 16 percent of applicants were offered seats in different schools.

But the proportion of eligible students who applied for transfers fell from 7.7 percent to 6.7 percent, despite the Department of Education’s promise to advertise the transfer option aggressively.

“There’s some deeper thing happening in terms of barriers and people understanding the process and their rights and making the decision to apply,” said Emma Hulse, a community organizer with the New Settlement Parent Action Committee who helped parents fill out transfer applications.

This year, responding to criticism about its school closure process, the city introduced a new policy that prioritized students at schools that the Department of Education is phasing out. Previously, the city’s policy was that current students had to stay at the school until they graduated.

Students in phase-out schools did fare better than students in other schools that the state considers low-performing. About 12 percent of transfer applications this year came from students attending a phase-out school, according to the department, but those students received about 15 percent of transfer offers — meaning that about half of all students in phase-out schools who applied to transfer were given permission to.

Still, the gap between the number of students who applied for transfers – 10,127 — and who received offers — 4,194 — is significant. A Department of Education official said some families had diminished their chances of receiving a transfer offer by selecting only one or two choices for alternate schools, rather than selecting a wide array of options. The official could not say what percentage of applicants checked one to two options or many options.

Magatte Ndiaye, a parent of a P.S. 64 third-grader who we wrote about in a previous story about transfer options, said she chose at least seven different schools and bubbled in the “all other schools” option, which means she’d agree to any school the city wanted to place her daughter in. Her daughter was not given a single transfer offer.

“That means you want to keep my child in the school that’s failing … at least give me one chance,” Ndiaye said. “They can’t tell me they have nothing in all of the city of New York.”

Student placement depends on how many seats are available at the school he or she wants to transfer to. Priority is given to “lowest-performing and lowest-income” students, as defined under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires districts to create ways for children to leave schools that are failing. If there are more applicants than seats available at a particular school, students are picked at random for the available seats.

Hulse, who helped Ndiaye and 24 other parents fill out their transfer applications, said she’s spoken with 10 parents so far, of whom seven received at least one transfer option. She said while she’s happy that the city dramatically increased the number of students who were offered transfers, she noted that only 1,200 students at phase-out schools applied for a transfer when there are 16,000 students at schools that will be in the process of phasing out this fall.

She added that she would ask Department of Education officials to consider what it would be like to have their children jump through hoops such as charter school lotteries and transfer application processes and still end up with a low-performing zoned school as their only option.

“Think about what it feels like to those families who applied to 20 to 30 schools and are still stuck in a school that’s failing,” Hulse said.

Full data about transfer applicants and offers is below.

NYC Public School Choice Applicants and Offers | Create infographics