In Era of High School Choice, One District Retains Elite Status

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Upper West Side parents Barbara Reiser (left) and Tanya Khotin believe their children are shut out of selective high schools downtown in District 2 (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

While Mayor Michael Bloomberg expanded the number of high schools, and trumpeted the benefits of school choice, he allowed an affluent and successful school district to keep its barriers to entry. Some of the city's most desirable high schools give priority to students in District 2, which includes the Upper East Side and parts of downtown Manhattan.

Parents across the city who are looking for academically rigorous high schools said they are attracted to District 2 schools like Baruch College Campus High School and Eleanor Roosevelt High School but they know their children are unlikely to get in because of where they live or, more accurately, where they don't.

Look at the chart of some of the city's most desirable high schools, and how many of them give priority to District 2 students.

School NameBoroughAvg. English ProficiencyAvg. Math ProficiencyNumber of Applicants in 2013Spots open to 9th GradersWho gets priority?
Townsend Harris High School Queens 3.78 4.2 5471 270 Students throughout the city
Bard High School Early College Manhattan 3.59 4.01 3060 150 Students throughout the city
Bard High School Early College, Queens
Queens 3.56 4.07 2209 150 Students throughout the city
Baccalaureate School for Global Education Queens 3.52 3.9 1762 81 Students throughout the city; priority to Queens
Scholars' Academy Queens 3.52 3.92 952 108 Students throughout the city; priority to continuing 8th graders
Eleanor Roosevelt High School Manhattan 3.49 3.92 5733 125 Students in District 2
Beacon High School Manhattan 3.44 3.78 5459 300 Students throughout the city
New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math High School Manhattan 3.38 3.9 2633 160 Students throughout the city
Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School Queens 3.35 3.59 1987 108 Queens Districts 28-29
Millennium High School Manhattan 3.35 3.7 4161 150 Students in Districts 1 or 2
Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences Brooklyn 3.34 3.83 4742 306 Students throughout the city
N.Y.C. Lab School for Collaborative Studies Manhattan 3.28 3.69 3459 136 Students in District 2
Columbia Secondary School Manhattan 3.27 3.68 1486 96 Students throughout the city
Millennium Brooklyn High School
Brooklyn 3.24 3.64 1152 135 Brooklyn residents
Baruch College Campus High School Manhattan 3.24 3.73 7461 111 Students in District 2
NYC iSchool Manhattan 3.2 3.48 1486 118 Students throughout the city
Benjamin Banneker Academy Brooklyn 3.18 3.48 4310 240 Students in Districts 13, 14, 15, or 16 in Brooklyn
Brooklyn College Academy Brooklyn 3.18 3.5 2331 125 Brooklyn residents
N.Y.C. Museum School Manhattan 3.18 3.58 2590 126 Students in District 2
Medgar Evers College Preparatory School Brooklyn 3.17 3.59 3091 232 Students throughout the city
The Queens School of Inquiry Queens 3.14 3.53 524 81 Queens residents
School of the Future High School Manhattan 3.14 3.38 1210 108 Students in District 2

(Data taken from Department of Education's 2013 Progress Reports and High School Admissions Directory)

Parents Tanya Khotin and Barbara Reiser live in neighboring District 3 in Manhattan. Speaking recently outside of Baruch on East 25th Street, they noted the small school received more than 7,400 applications for about 100 ninth-grade seats.

"As an academically screened school with fantastic graduation rates, college enrollment and other criteria, they’re able to fill their 120 seats with students in District 2, and cannot offer the same kind of access to equally qualified kids from outside of District 2," said Khotin.

"What is the justification to have one area of the city have one rule and another area of the city does not?" added Reiser.

WNYC's Schoolbook looked at the most academically competitive high schools, not including the specialized high schools which rely on a single admissions test. Most give equal access to kids all over the city, including the prestigious Beacon High School in District 3. District 2 is an exception. It gives priority to local residents for its screened schools, such as the Lab School for Collaborative Studies.

Other districts give some degree of priority to borough residents for some of their high schools, but these aren't considered nearly as academic or sought-after.

Bloomberg administration officials called District 2 priority a "legacy issue," and said they've worked to open more schools throughout Manhattan that are open to all students. In fact, District 2 has 68 high schools - most of which are open to all, said Shino Takinawa, president of the District 2 Community Education Council.

Although she's sympathetic to the parents in other districts, she  said opening the six selective schools to all would create an even more elite environment.

"It would make it impossible for really anyone to get in except for the really cream of the crop top students," she said, adding that other districts should fight for better schools the way District 2 did over the last few decades.


Comments [19]

Leo from District 2

Tanya Khotin is pretty wealthy. Yet she wants to complain. If education is that important for your children why don't you send them to private school.

Feb. 08 2014 12:00 AM
RockawayParent from Rockaway Beach

Students in these districts already have a geographic advantage--they're within a reasonable commute to every one of the top schools as well as many other competitive schools in Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx. Yet students who live further out in the boroughs have few advantages when it comes to competitive schools close to home, such as Scholars, Bronx Science, or Goldstein. Further muddying the waters is the fact that when there is a "home town" advantage, it reflects borough, not commute. For students here in the Rockaways, the A train (or, for now, ferry) commute to lower Manhattan is a far easier commute than taking multiple busses to a competitive school in Northern Queens.

Nov. 26 2013 01:57 PM

As long as there is District 2 priority all other qualified students have less chance of an appropriate high school seat. Qualifications--not school districts--should guide admission to screened schools.

Nov. 23 2013 08:42 PM
NYC Parent from NYC

The inequity of the District 2 priority in high school admissions was raised with the Bloomberg Administration in 2003, at the very outset of the new high school "choice" system. At that time, Chancellor Klein's spokesperson said that the Administration would review the policy, but nothing happened. It was raised again by parents after Beacon High School dropped its priority to District 3 students, and again the Bloomberg Administration did nothing. A cross-section of parents, educators, community residents, and other members of the District 3 community then undertook an extensive, multi-year effort to develop a new high school in District 3, with the full support and participation of City Council member Gale Brewer. When the task force was done with its work, having developed Frank McCourt High School, the Administration refused to grant priority to District 3 students -- and even refused to grant priority to several uptown districts, insisting that admissions be citywide. In the face of the evidence that there would be no new district priorities granted, and that pre-existing priorities outside of District 2 were being eliminated, parents asked again for the District 2 priority to be lifted after that -- again, no change. DOE's statement in this story that it retained the priority after "listening to families" rings hollow in the face of all of this evidence that "families" outside of District 2 would very much like to see the District 2 priority lifted. Equity in access to non-specialized high schools is essential, and it must go hand in hand with developing more strong non-specialized high school options. Will the new Administration listen?

Nov. 22 2013 04:58 PM
NYC Mom from Manhattan

Thanks for covering this issue. The priority that D2 students have when applying to Eleanor Roosevelt, Baruch, and the other highly regarded schools creates a very inequitable imbalance in what is supposed to be a citywide high school selection process.

Not long ago Mr. Marc Sternberg, who until recently was Senior Deputy Chancellor for Strategy and Policy of the Department of Education, was quoted as saying, "This administration inherited an unequal system-–where zip code often determined a child’s fate, . . . Today, because of our nationally recognized high school admissions process, every student has the freedom to apply to any school throughout the city.”

While it is true that every student in the city is free to apply to the highly regarded D2 schools, it is also true that zip code still determines a child's fate.

Nov. 22 2013 03:51 PM
Lisa from brooklyn

Quest to Learn is another D2 priority school. A teacher told me on a recent tour that it would be virtually impossible for a student outside of Brooklyn to get in and said it's even difficult to get in from other districts in Manhattan. Seems unfair that D2 students have free choice to gain admissions in other districts, yet also get a unique advantage over their own district, but other NYC residents don't get the same preference (and access to same quality of these schools).

Nov. 21 2013 02:04 PM
R from Manhattan

My understanding is that the policy is that these high schools give D2 students priority over out-of-district students. Up until recently, it was a relatively benign policy. It is only now that the population of qualified D2 students has exceeded the number of seats in these schools that it has the effect of eliminating access to out-of-district students.

So yes, this policy is worth revisiting. But changing it is a band aid on the gaping wound that is the dearth of high quality public high schools in the whole city.

Nov. 21 2013 02:02 PM

Kudos Barbara et al for raising this issue, which is something that galled us every time we went through the high school process (three times, most recently this past year). If Beacon ever had a D3 priority, which I don't recall, it did not apply to my very highly qualified D3 students, none of whom got in to Beacon. I think there should be a leel playing field and that all the City high schools should apply the same admission criteria to everyone!

Nov. 21 2013 06:56 AM

More to the point than the chart showing D2 priority in the mix of citywide schools, would be showing the list of D3 priority, which would be zero.

Nov. 20 2013 06:15 PM
Michael K

It's my impression that the district 2 priority has been perpetuated by the politicians who wanted to cull favor with this key powerful constituency. It's not necessarily the DOE itself, but the "management" - Bloomberg, Quinn, Silver, and you have to add Liu who,as Comptroller, conducted an audit in the last school year, saying that admissions were arbitrary. See this article - Coincidentally, this audit was underway when lots of District 2 schools became more strict in their procedures. I hope the new set of politicians will be able to rethink this issue. It will be tough.

Nov. 20 2013 05:37 PM
D3 parent from Manhattan

We want equity in admissions to non-specialized high schools for all students. For example, students travel to Beacon on the Upper West Side from Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, and we want all kids to have the same opportunity to compete for screened non-specialized high schools, if they're a good academic fit and are willing to travel there.

Hunter College HS, just like the Specialized high schools, does provide equal access to all students in the city. Everybody is screened using only one criteria - the test.

As Beth Fertig noted in a story on specialized high schools, the zip codes from which most kids attend are more aligned with the culture/priorities of the parents rather than their financial status and ability to pay for tutoring.

Nov. 20 2013 01:49 PM

Thanks, Beth for giving public exposure to the D2 High School preference swindle - something I've been railing about for several years. What is missing, however, is the racially discriminatory impact of the D2 preference policy. Thus, schools like Eleanor Roosevelt (ironically, Eva Moskowitz's crowning achievement in the City Council) has one of the lowest percentages of Blacks & Hispanic children of any non-SHSAT High School in NYC.

Indeed, the D2 triumverate of ElRo, Baruch and Lab have considerably lower proportions of Black & Hispanic students than comparable Manhattan schools such as Bard or Beacon (and even Millennium which - unlike the other three - includes a large swath of the Lower East Side in its catchment area). Interestingly, another "screened" D2 High School, Manhattan Village Academy (open to Manhattan residents), is located approx. one-half mile away form Baruch. Yet, the proportion of Black & Hispanic students there is about 85%,

I was once told by a high level DoE administrator (name disclosed on request) that we in Brownstone Brooklyn had no reason to complain since, after all, we "have Benjamin Banneker" (this was before Brooklyn Millennium was started). FWIW, Benjamin Banneker has an explicitly Afro-centric curriculum with a student body reflecting that orientation. Suffice it to say, it is not "diverse".

Speaking with the educrat in question was as if I was living in 1960's Birmingham. That's NOT to say that the respective school administrations are racist; but rather that the DoE's conscious admissions POLICIES clearly are.
As the foregoing comparisons illustrate, "separate but equal" is STILL not valid. The DoE's continued adherence to that doctrine must end and SOON.

Nov. 20 2013 01:47 PM
Karen from Ditmas Park

Do they want these restrictions removed entirely, or just tweaked to address their apparently very local complaint? Because my very qualified Brooklyn kids would LOVE the chance to apply to the Lab School et al and I know many more who feel the same way.

Nov. 20 2013 12:21 PM
Donna Carlin from Manhattan

I believe that Beacon used to be a District 3 priority school and that priority was removed for D3 children. Why wasn't that considered a legacy issue too?

Nov. 20 2013 11:55 AM
Bruce William Smith from Irvine, California

If a jurisdiction is going to have magnet schools with selective admissions, they should be open to students from as wide an area as possible, from throughout the state if boarding can be arranged. If Chicago's Whitney Young High School had been located in District 2, the teenaged Michelle Obama would have been shut out by her parents' inability to afford the local rents, and our White House would very possibly have different occupants today. The state should look into this matter, which smacks of injustice. A better admissions process for New York's selective high schools throughout the state should prioritize achieved grades, state test scores, and application essays.

Nov. 20 2013 10:54 AM
John from Queens

I'm not surprised. I'm sure if they looked Hunter College High School (which doesn't admit at the HS level, but JHS) , they would probably find the same trend to be true.

Queens and Brooklyn have some neighborhoods that give priority to locals, but they're also inconvenient to those not in the area (i.e. the new Maspeth High School).

It's the students outside of districts 1 and 2 that need more competitive, non-test schools. Generally those residents have the money to prep for the SHSAT

Nov. 20 2013 09:59 AM
Adeel Usman from Harlem :(

If the one of the most powerful Mayors of NYC decided District 2 is untouchable than what can the New Mayor do?!

If you want your child in a Elite HS than start your campaign in the 4th grade.

Nov. 20 2013 09:30 AM
Patrick Sullivan

Both the reporter and the DOE press office should have addressed the fact that the new Success Academy High Schools were approved to be opened in Board of Ed buildings with not only the district preference but also require students to have entered a feeder Success school by 2nd grade. So limited-access high schools are not a "legacy" issue but a core Bloomberg DOE policy for new high schools.

Nov. 20 2013 08:55 AM
Ann from NYC

I wish Ms. Fertig had delved into the "legacy status" issue. This 'reason' is spouted so often by DOE and this administration without any effort to back it up with an explanation of what it means - why was the legacy not revisited when high school process went citywide? Is it a law? No. 'Grandfathered in' said Walcott at one Town Hall meeting. What is so set in stone about this D2 policy that it resists the citywide process that everyone else has to follow? Was it immune to changes made during Bloomberg's tenure because D2 contains so many of the city's most privileged (voters)? Does the district have any incentive to change itself - definitely not, and I can't see Silver or Quinn even allowing the conversation to happen.

So glad to see this covered. It used to be that even though D2 kids had priority, the better schools in D2 took many many students from elsewhere; last year they suddenly stopped without notice or explanation - even those D2 schools didn't know why the non-D2 kids they ranked did not get in.

Nov. 20 2013 08:50 AM

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