Struggling Students Tend to Apply to Weaker High Schools

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New York City's high school application process is meant to provide eighth graders with a range of options, based on the idea that students can attend any high school in the city regardless of borough or district lines. But most students tend to prefer schools closer to home, according to a new study, and low-achieving students in particular attend less selective, low-performing schools in their neighborhoods.

The study, released Thursday by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University, looked at students entering ninth grade between 2007 and 2011. More than half of students, regardless of their academic performance, matched to their first choice school. But lower-achieving students -- those who received low scores on their seventh grade math and English tests -- tended to rank low-performing schools as their first choice despite the recent increase in school options available to students.

"The reason for that is largely, I think, because geographically there is still a higher concentration of low-performing schools in those low-income communities than in other communities," said James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance.

Lower-achieving students in the study's sample tended to be poorer than students who were higher-achieving. They were also more likely to be black and Latino. About one third of low-achieving students in the sample received special education services and more than 20 percent were English language learners.

The study considered schools to be low- or high-performing based on graduation rates and the city's school progress reports.

The trend of low-achieving students opting for low-performing schools has the potential to segregate low- and high-achieving students in different schools, according to the report.

"I think it's a question that this study isn't able to answer given the data that we have," said Kemple, "but I think from a policy perspective needs to be confronted."

The full study can be read here.