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The New York Times calls high school admissions ‘broken.’ Here is Chalkbeat’s in-depth look at why that’s true

At 9:30 in the morning, the line to get into the fair already snaked around the corner.
Parents and students lined up to learn more about their high school options at an informational fair in 2016.
Monica Disare/Chalkbeat

The New York Times released a deep dive into the city’s high school admissions system on Friday entitled “The Broken Promises of Choice in New York City Schools.”

Chalkbeat spent the fall uncovering several stories about the high school admissions process, from competitive open houses to a dysfunctional high school fair and extreme academic sorting in schools. As New York City’s high school admissions system sparks a new conversation, here’s a look at our past reporting.

“Every high school figures out some way to limit their population” explained Eric Nadelstern, a professor at Teacher’s College. New York City’s school system consists of over 400 high schools, which are populated through the city’s high school choice process. In theory, the process allows students to rank their top 12 schools, and makes all schools available to any student regardless of where they live.

In reality, the high school admissions process in New York is a labyrinth of policies and paperwork. At some schools, dozens of students compete for one seat. In other cases, schools that have supposedly “unscreened” admissions policies use surveys that could help them filter students during the application process. Even more alarming: Many schools ignore the Department of Education-mandated policy of priority enrollment for students who attend high school fairs and open houses.

Here’s our reporting on a few of the biggest obstacles facing low-income students in high school admissions:

New York City’s high school fair could help simplify the admissions process. Instead, it adds to the confusion.

“Chalkbeat spent two days at the fair this September and found school representatives who were unaware of the fair’s intended role in admissions and were, in turn, misinforming families. And the Department of Education does little to monitor whether schools are following the rules.”

Open houses and closed doors: How the first step toward high school can become a stumbling block

“A Chalkbeat survey of 50 high schools spread over the five boroughs found that only 26 of the schools had listed information sessions on the calendar this year, despite the fact that schools were asked to submit the dates by July 14.”

In New York City’s dysfunctional high school admissions system, even ‘unscreened’ schools have tools to sort students

“It’s no surprise that the schools would push the boundaries. The entire structure of the high school admissions system, which allows scores of schools to screen applicants and pools most of the lower-performing students in unscreened schools, creates the temptation.”

Students at the citywide high school fair at Brooklyn Technical High School.
Students at the citywide high school fair at Brooklyn Technical High School.
Monica Disare

For many students meeting New York City’s high school application deadline, it’s already too late.

“The system is notoriously difficult to navigate, particularly for students who live in low-income areas and have less help moving through the process. Some schools have geographic priority, some have academic requirements, and others ask students to provide information beyond what is actually needed.”

Bringing open houses in-house: How one middle school took high school admissions into its own hands.

“When she asked them if they attended high school open houses — a crucial step in gaining priority status at many schools — the answer was too often, ‘Oh no, Miss, I didn’t have a way to get there.’”

Great Divide: How extreme academic segregation isolates students in New York City’s high schools

“A small percentage of schools drain off the top students, leaving the majority of schools with very few students entering on grade-level. A Chalkbeat analysis found that over half the students who took and passed the eighth-grade state math exam in 2015 wound up clustered in less than 8 percent of city high schools. The same was true for those who passed the English exam. Meanwhile, nearly 165 of the city’s roughly 440 high schools had five or fewer ninth-graders who took and passed the state math test in 2015.”

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