The city’s online calendar for high school open houses is still riddled with missing dates, after a third deadline passed for schools to submit their information.
A Chalkbeat analysis of 50 schools chosen at random found 34 schools had dates posted to the list as of Friday afternoon. That marks a major improvement from where the list stood earlier in September, when Chalkbeat reported on a host of barriers that students face in finding, attending, and snagging seats at competitive open houses. Still, it leaves families without a fully reliable resource to find open house dates, even as several of those dates have already passed.
The Department of Education said Chalkbeat’s analysis ignored the fact that schools may continue adding information sessions in the months to come.
“We’re committed to making this process easier for families, however, this is an incomplete analysis that doesn’t take into account schools’ potential participation in [citywide and] borough high school fairs or that they may organize information sessions or post dates for them in the remaining two months before high school applications are due,” said education department spokesman Will Mantell.
All of the schools in Chalkbeat’s sample were “limited unscreened,” which means open house attendance is a factor in admissions. These schools are not allowed to consider grades or test scores when admitting students, so signing in at an open house or at a high school fair is the only way for students to get a leg up.
Finding out the dates and times of open houses has traditionally been a daunting challenge for families. Without a reliable online calendar, they have been forced to visit a hodgepodge of websites or call individual schools to figure out when they are hosting open houses.
It took a “solid week of full-time work” for interns to put together a calendar of the dates, said Rhea Wong, executive director of Breakthrough New York, a program that helps low-income students through the high school admissions process. The system, she said, benefits those who have the time, energy and wherewithal to track down the elusive dates.
The Department of Education’s online calendar could help level the playing field for families. But repeated checking by Chalkbeat has confirmed critics’ complaints — that the list remains incomplete.
On the first day of school, a random sample of 50 “limited unscreened” schools yielded only 19 on the calendar, even though the original deadline for submitting dates was July 14. The deadline for submitting dates got pushed back to Sept. 9, and then once again to Sept. 16. One week past the last deadline, a different list of 50 random schools yielded 34.
While city officials confirmed that 34 of the 50 schools are currently on the online calendar, they also pointed out that one school in Chalkbeat’s sample is a transfer school, which takes students who have fallen behind in high school and do not go through the same admissions process.
Even the events that are on the list are not easily searchable. The database exists as both a large Excel spreadsheet and a scrolling list on the Department of Education’s website. Thus far, the city has not included open house information as part of its new School Finder tool, created to help students more easily search for schools.
Many of the schools in Chalkbeat’s sample were found by checking the list several times, using different variations of names, looking up school numbers, and cross-referencing the list with the city’s Excel spreadsheet. (Some schools were on one list but not the other.)
This is not the first year the online calendar has existed. The resource has not been well-known to many advocates, but it is in its third year. A Google Calendar version was first used last year.
Before there was an online calendar, some schools submitted their open house dates for the Department of Education’s printed High School Directory, which is given to seventh-grade students before they leave for the summer. Notifying families of these dates in advance is important, particularly since many of the open houses are held during the day on weekdays, requiring parents to take time off work.
In their response, Department of Education officials highlighted some of the changes they have made to the process so far.
“We’ve taken significant steps to share information about the high school search and admissions process – including introducing a Google Calendar for information sessions that is now in its second year; rolling out NYC School Finder earlier this month; and increasing access to translated materials on the high school enrollment process,” Mantell said. “We continue to reach out directly to schools and work with superintendents to support schools in posting and updating their information.”