Photo by Allan Foster.
School District 3, which covers the Upper West Side, is likely to change the way it admits students to middle school starting in the fall of 2019. Community Education Council 3 (CEC3), which acts as a parent advisory board for the district, and Superintendent Ilene Altschul want to hear what parents think of the changes.
Middle school admission is a stressful process for many parents. As it stands now, students rank schools based on their preferences and schools rank the children, and then the schools and children are matched up. In District 3, schools can see where the students ranked them, and some will only offer admission to students who rank them in the top spot. That makes the process of ranking schools particularly tricky, as some parents try to game the system so their child gets admitted to a their favored school. It also leads to segregation, critics charge, in part because wealthier parents are better able to improve their odds.
Most districts in the city, in fact, have already adopted a “blind ranking” policy where schools can’t see how students ranked them. This policy will become standard citywide starting in Fall 2019, so it will impact you if you have a kid who is currently in fourth grade or below.
In addition, District 3 is considering another policy designed to make middle schools more integrated by ability — and potentially by race and class. Superintendent Ilene Altschul has floated a plan that would make sure that at least 10% of each middle school’s incoming sixth grade class scored a 1 (well below proficient) on their fourth grade English Language Arts and Math tests, and 15% scored a 2 (below proficient). The scores on the two tests would be averaged.
Demanding more academic diversity is preferable to creating racial or socioeconomic quotas, says Kristen Berger, the head of the middle school committee at CEC3. Choosing students based on race or income could lead to student bodies that are too segregated based on academic performance, leading to a few schools with a large proportion of high-needs students, she notes. In addition, diversifying schools by ability would also diversify them based on race and income, she predicts.
These policies are already being hotly debated — some expect blind ranking to make schools less diverse not more, for instance. Minutes from a meeting earlier this month are linked here and the middle school committee homepage is here. “This change is being decided in a couple of months and now there is really a panic,” Berger said.
Over the next couple of months, the city will finalize these rules, and the district wants to hear from parents. CEC3 doesn’t have a vote on the changes, but will offer recommendations. Below, we’ve listed the upcoming meetings people can attend. You can also email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.