Opinion

Adams: NYC Parents Have Been Riding a Middle and High School Admissions Roller-Coaster. But They May Be in for a Smoother Ride Ahead

By Alina Adams | March 17, 2022

NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks (right) and Mayor Eric Adams (left) at Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx on Jan. 3. (Getty Images)

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Eric Adams entered the New York City mayor’s office in January claiming to be a fan of accelerated education. Unlike his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, Adams promised more opportunities for students to access advanced level work, starting with elementary school gifted-and-talented programs and going up through middle school honors programs and screened and specialized high schools. He appointed like-minded David Banks as his schools chancellor.

Before leaving office, de Blasio had made middle school admissions a lottery, lowered the academic bar for high school admissions to the point where it became virtually a lottery and pulled the plug on G&T in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Some NYC parents were desperately hoping Adams-Banks would reverse those decisions.

The team’s first course of action was to announce that middle school admissions would remain unscreened for another year, except for arts schools. Rising sixth graders would get priority for admission to their sibling’s middle school — but only if the sibling was currently in sixth grade, not seventh or eighth. The rationale was that current sixth graders had not been screened, so admitting their siblings would increase diversity. For high schools, Adams-Banks went even further than de Blasio had, implementing an admissions rubric that gave students with all A’s no advantage over students with B’s — or even some C’s.

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Parents were furious. 

Middle and high school applications were set to close March 1. Parents organized to voice their opposition to the sibling policy, as well as to the watered-down academic screening. In the turmoil, high school application deadlines were pushed back to March 11, with the tease that there might be some more changes coming, so stay tuned!

On March 9, city education officials announced they had changed their minds about the middle school sibling policy (a week after applications closed). Now all siblings would receive priority. 

As for the high schools, Banks said, after listening to parent concerns, “No changes will be made to the grading scale for applying to screened high school programs for this fall. … We can’t afford to make changes again. It’ll just throw the system into chaos.”

So, at the eleventh hour, NYC decided that … they shouldn’t be making changes at the eleventh hour. 

This roller-coaster ride left families furious, frustrated and with even less faith in the system that had already driven 120,000 students from its public schools, an exodus that began even before the pandemic.

Those hoping Adams would reverse the trends of the de Blasio years were sorely disappointed with his initial performance. 

So what does this mean for accelerated education in NYC moving forward?

The fact that the Adams administration listened to parent concerns regarding the middle school sibling policy, and heeded calls to make students’ lottery numbers available to families before, rather than after, applications were submitted suggests officials are open to feedback in a way the de Blasio administration was not. Emails and calls from parents actually worked, and likely will continue working.

Furthermore, Banks’ decision not to change high school admissions at the last minute can be seen as a positive sign for gifted-and-talented admissions 2022. Citywide G&T schools Anderson, NEST+M, TAG, Brooklyn School of Inquiry and the 30th Avenue School, as well as some standalone district programs like Lower Lab, have to fill their incoming kindergarten class or risk losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, which could damage the schools as a whole.

Banks promised he would have information about how families could apply to G&T “in the next couple of days.” This was more than a couple of days ago. But, once again, the clock is ticking. And, if we go by past performance, it’s very likely that, once again, Banks will not make any changes. Odds are good he’ll continue last year’s G&T application process. Which was a mess … but at least it happened.

It’s too late to implement something new, and Adams-Banks have shown themselves open to keeping the status quo in the short term, even while being capable of implementing changes for the long term. This could be good news down the line, as long as parents keep making their voices heard.

Alina Adams is a New York Times best-selling romance and mystery writer, the author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten and Getting Into NYC High School, a blogger at New York School Talk and mother of three. She believes you can’t have true school choice until all parents know all their school choices — and how to get them. Visit her website, www.NYCSchoolSecrets.com.

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