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.
(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.