DOE Shift to Desegregate School System

Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza (Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office)

By Nicollette Samuels

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) will implement new admissions processes for middle and high schools in the new school year in an effort to advance diversity in certain schools and districts.

On December 18 Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza announced changes to NYC public schools’ admissions process starting in the 2021-2022 academic year, by removing screening and district priority on Friday.

Middle schools will eliminate using screening methods for admissions for the upcoming school year. This means that students will be able to apply to middle school without their grades, attendance, standardized test scores, behavioral evaluations, etc., factoring into their acceptance. Currently, 196 middle schools  use this criterion to determine a student’s admission. However, next school year if a school has more applicants than seats, they will use a lottery system to admit students. The DOE will use this year-long experiment to evaluate its success and potential to end academic segregation, based on available data of applicants in 2022-2023.

High schools plan to permanently eradicate district priorities this year and all geographic priorities next year, allowing  students to attend any high school of their choice regardless of where they live. Around 250 high schools have some type of geographic priority in place, such as a borough-based priority, hindering students from getting the opportunity to attend some of the city’s top schools based on their zip code. The DOE will start to phase out these priorities with the 48 high schools that use district priorities in the first year.

“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed longstanding inequities in our City’s public schools,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Now, as we rebuild our city, we are expanding opportunities for all public-school students and doubling down on our mission to provide a quality education for all, regardless of a child’s zip code.”

Despite these changes, high schools are still susceptible to academic screening and will use 2018-2019 state tests, the previous years’ grades, and school-established criteria for the upcoming school year. District priority is also still in place for middle schools that currently have it, as many parents have expressed that they want their children to go to schools close to their homes.

The mayor convened the School Diversity Advisory Group, which released a report in 2019 stating. “Exclusionary admissions practices, such as selective school screens, and enrollment processes associated with G&T programs, are a part of New York City’s legacy of opposition to school integration.” The report goes on to explain that these processes not only segregate but put low-income students at a disadvantage.

Community advocates like the student-led coalition Teens Take Charge, who are fighting for educational equity across the city, were not impressed by this announcement. They believe that although this news is being presented as a step in the right direction, this is no time for a celebration. They claim that these new implementations for the 2021-2022 school year will create even less diversity than before, which is the opposite of what they are intended to do.  The organization expressed its view via Facebook, “Traditionally, screened high schools sort applicants based on 7th grade state test scores & grades. But for the students applying in the spring of 2021, High Schools will now sort them based on their 6th grade test scores & grades. SIXTH GRADE. Eleven year olds. Data that none of them could have possibly predicted would factor into a High School admissions decision 3 years down the road. This is outrageous. And the DOE’s own data shows how harmful this will be.”

In November, Teens Take Charge filed a federal lawsuit against the DOE arguing that admission screens result in a segregated school system and violate students’ rights under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. According to the DOE, there are 1,126,501 students in the NYC school system and 82.3 percent are students of color. However, of the 30 most academically screened high schools, 27 are majority White and Asian, the coalition claims. Teens Take Charge say that their lawsuit is on behalf of the Black, Latinx, and under-represented Asian students who have or will be discriminated against by the city’s “racist, classist High School admissions Hunger Games.”


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