The mayor of Blasio during an educational announcement (Photo: Benjamin Kanter / Mayoral Photo Office)
Once again, students and families in New York City public schools are suffering a whiplash. Last year, the city took steps to improve fairness, transparency and accountability in high school admissions. Now, in the eleventh hour of the next admissions cycle, Mayor de Blasio has announced that he may reverse last year’s promise to eliminate geographic priorities for high schools.
No geographic priority can be restored – they prioritize admission to school for students who live in certain areas, favor well-to-do families, systematically prevent marginalized students from accessing well-endowed secondary schools, and reinforce segregation . Such exclusionary policies prevent access and opportunities to too many students.
New York City high school admissions cannot return to “pre-pandemic business as usual”, morally or practically. A return to the pre-pandemic status quo would mean a reinstallation of many of the most egregious policies that have been shown to fuel segregation in the city’s schools. This tragic misstep would come at a time when the global pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, further exposing the disproportionate and devastating impact of systemic racism on black and brown students and communities. Instead of backing down, New York City needs to prioritize equity and recovery in school admissions.
Our report, The next step, published by a coalition of lawyers, service providers and experts, presents recommendations to this effect. A central tenet of the report is that the city must adopt thoughtful and deliberate equity measures to desegregate schools: removing exclusionary measures such as geographic priorities alone will not be enough.
On the one hand, New York City must keep its promise to reform admission screens. Screens are another exclusionary policy, and more prevalent in New York City than anywhere else, that public schools use to select students based on a range of admission standards. Last year, the city pledged to suspend college screens, which in just one year has already made sought-after colleges much more accessible. We ask the mayor of Blasio to make last year’s “break” permanent on college screens.
The screens in high schools also need to be reformed. Before the pandemic, high schools used displays such as attendance, punctuality, grades, and state test scores (among other criteria such as tests and auditions) to judge whether eighth graders could attend. some public schools. The pandemic has forced the city to abandon many of these criteria, which research has shown to be unreliable, biased and unfair. The city’s next step must be to implement policies that make the process of assigning students to secondary schools fairer and more just.
We recommend that the city force schools to opt for screening and provide an educational rationale for using any screen. For example, using criteria such as grades or attendance, which were not reliably collected during the height of the pandemic, would be blatantly unfair and unfounded. All measures approved by the city must be reliable and transparent without systematically excluding historically marginalized students, such as those from low-income families, in temporary or disabled accommodation, and learners of English.
More importantly, the city should impose fair admission priorities for high schools across the city. Since the first “reserve” program implemented in 2012, schools in New York City have made progress in expanding the “Diversity in Admissions” initiative, which now includes more than 160 programs. This voluntary effort has increased “reserves” in admissions of children learning English, in the child welfare system, in temporary housing or from low-income families. While we applaud this step in the right direction, much more is needed. The city can use readily available socioeconomic and demographic indicators to level the playing field and give marginalized students the priority they need to access the appropriate high schools of their choice.
The city has the tools and data to increase equity in high school admissions. It just needs the political will and the moral courage to do it.
Nyah Berg is the executive director of NY Appleseed. Dora Galacatos is the Executive Director of the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham Law School. Laura B. Petty is the former Amanda Rose Laura Foundation Education Law Fellow, Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham Law School.