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theschoolboards
05-09-2011, 08:07 AM
From N.Y. Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/nyregion/in-applying-for-high-school-some-8th-graders-find-a-maze.html) by Liz Robbins:
On the last day in March, when most eighth graders in New York City learned where they would be going to high school in the fall, Radcliffe Saddler watched the majority of his classmates rip open thin envelopes and celebrate.

Some students opened thick envelopes just as he did and started crying. Radcliffe, an honors student at Isaac Bildersee Middle School in Canarsie, Brooklyn, was determined to hold in his emotions until he got home.

His trip involved the usual two city buses and took 45 minutes. When he walked into his family’s small apartment in East Flatbush, he showed his mother the letter saying he had not gotten into any of the nine schools he had applied to. Then he ducked into his room and cried.

“I felt like I never worked hard enough,” Radcliffe, 14, said softly a few days later. “To see other people get in, I feel like I did something wrong.”

He may have felt like it, but he was not alone. The Department of Education’s dizzying, byzantine system for students to select a public high school left a total of 8,239 — about 10 percent of the city’s eighth graders — shut out of all their choices, and their parents feeling inadequate, frustrated and angry.

They were told to ponder “What next?” — with just two weeks to research and apply to a new set of schools — even as the bitter question “Why?” still lingered.

The answer is more complicated than the toughest word problem in any high school math class.

In 2004, in an attempt to create more choices for parents beyond the large neighborhood high schools that were seen as dumping grounds, and while trying to make the process more equitable, the Education Department instituted an elaborate process to match students and schools.

Eighth graders are asked to apply to up to 12 schools in order of preference; high schools then rank applicants without seeing where the students ranked them. (This does not include the nine specialized high schools that require separate entrance exams or auditions.)

In some cases, the borough or the district where a student lives gives residents priority. Thirty percent of the city’s schools — usually the most coveted and, therefore, the most competitive to get in — use a screening process with their own criteria: seventh-grade standardized test scores, grades and attendance, plus open-house visits, essays or exams.

A computer then compares the two rankings, using the same algorithm developed to match medical residents with hospitals.

This year, of the 78,747 students who applied, the computer matched 83 percent to one of their top five choices. An additional 7 percent were matched to schools lower on their lists. The rest, like Radcliffe, were unmatched. Over the past three years, officials said, there has been a slight but steady increase in the number of unmatched students, up from 8 percent last year and 7 percent in 2009.

One new variable this year was the department’s publishing of graduation rates in school descriptions, which caused a surge in applications to the best schools, said Robert Sanft, the chief executive of the Office of Student Enrollment. The competition at many of those top schools meant long-to-impossible odds. Baruch College Campus High School, with a 100 percent graduation rate, received the most applications from across the city: 7,606 for 120 seats, giving it an acceptance rate of about 1.6 percent (Harvard, by contrast, accepted 6.2 percent of its applicants.)

But geography was a significant factor for Baruch, especially for those who, like Radcliffe, applied from outside Manhattan. According to Baruch’s principal, Alicia Perez-Katz, the school, created for Manhattan’s District 2, has not accepted out-of-district students in many years, a fact not mentioned in the Education Department’s school profile.

Mr. Sanft said there was no one answer to why so many of the city’s children were unmatched. “It could be a combination of factors,” he said, “listing too few choices, overconfidence at reaching the choices for which they might not have qualified, the information available based on their record.”

Despite hosting admissions fairs and offering application guidelines in the encyclopedic 534-page high school directory, which includes 647 programs at 394 schools, plus the nine specialized schools, the department has acknowledged it needs to make its information more accessible to parents. Claudette Saddler, Radcliffe’s mother, said she had been overwhelmed by the process.

“This is like a big maze and you are the little creatures just walking around,” Ms. Saddler said. “It’s like, ‘Somebody please help me.’ I thought it would be simpler for the parents.”

read more>> (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/nyregion/in-applying-for-high-school-some-8th-graders-find-a-maze.html)