School selection process still a mess
Voices: School selection process still a mess
my view by neil demause
It’s springtime, and the streets are filled with the sound of parents of 4- and 5-year-olds freaking out. This is normal behavior for March, when city parents traditionally bum-rush the schools of their choices and try by hook or by crook (or, according to persistent urban legend, gift of cookies) to get their kids to the front of the line. This year, though, the stress level is up a notch, thanks to a new application process: Parents of pre-Ks (and next year, kindergarteners as well) must send a form off to a central office — oddly, in Pennsylvania — and will later be notified where they’re placed. As Schools Chancellor Joel Klein explained, the goal is to “replace the numerous rules and timelines with a single, simple, fair process.”
Fairer it may be — if nothing else, it’s hard to fit cookies into a P.O. Box. But simple? The form says kids will be admitted by a set priority list: siblings of existing students, then kids within a school’s zone and so on, until residents of New Zealand make up the back of the line. Sharp-eyed parents, however, will notice that they’re also asked to rank their top five schools. At last word, city officials said they’d first pick from the list of those ranking a school No. 1 — meaning our New Zealander could actually get in ahead of someone who lives across the street, if they ranked the school higher. Asked what would happen if a student ended up getting into none of their five choices, meanwhile, a schools spokesperson said he’d have to get back to me on that, then never did.
The new admission process for gifted-and-talented programs is shaping up to be similarly wacktastic: After testing kids in January — part of the new regime of standardized tests that the city is spending millions on while slashing budgets elsewhere — the Department of Education won’t decide until May where in each district the gifted and talented classes will be located. (Will there be buses? No one knows.) And that’s if they even know by then how many kids qualify for the program; last week, at least one school told parents that test results, originally due in March, now wouldn’t be in until May 16.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the New York City school system without some Keystone Kops bureaucracy. But if the chancellor’s new rules mean that June rolls around with parents still in limbo, it’s likely to be a long, hot summer.
Neil deMause is a Brooklyn-based journalist whose writings can be found at demause.net and fieldofschemes.com.
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