Views of public school assignment in New York

A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to New York City and was fascinated by differing attitudes among her friends who send their children to public school. Of course, this is just one person’s view of one small slice of a huge system, but I thought her observations were interesting enough that I asked to post them here:

I had some interesting conversations with parents about school enrollment in NY. Apparently it is by district–[Friend’s] district is primarily Black/Latino and considered to be low-achieving so she applied for [child] to a school in another district. At first they said it was full up, but later in the year a spot opened up in the school they wanted. [Younger sibling] will be able to go there, too, because of sibling preference. [Friend] said that people either move to a “good” district or use someone else’s address or rent an apartment to get a spot. They apparently don’t have to show any further proof of address or even use the same address once they have gotten into a school, so this kind of practice doesn’t really seem to be discouraged or considered cheating. Another parent just got her 5th grader into a high-achieving middle school but they had to submit special test scores, grades, letters of recommendation, and have an interview–this is public middle school! I wonder if I got it wrong, but I think she said there were 5,000 applications for 40 spots for this school (math and science focus)–not sure if the district thing applies to middle school.

It was interesting to probe her attitude about students whose parents are unable or ill-equipped to negotiate this process. She said, “Well, there are some kids who can manage to get in even if their parents can’t help them out.” I was speechless but managed to say, “Not many!” Basically the idea of giving students who are disadvantaged an extra leg up didn’t really seem to be on the radar. I was afraid of asking her how the NY schools are addressing the achievement gap for fear that she would say, “The what?”

It wasn’t so much this particular person that shocked me but the idea that the NY schools could have such a different set of values, such as no explicit effort to desegregate or level the field for kids with fewer resources. I can’t really believe that’s true, so there must be multiple systems operating so that the efforts to address the achievement gap really are off the radar for white, middle class families. Makes me wonder what kind of advocacy by parents exists in NYC. I notice that PPS has chapters in Buffalo and Syracuse but not in NYC.

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