View Full Version : All NYC As Best Middle Schools Compete for Best Performers, Students May Be Left Behind

07-25-2011, 09:31 AM
From the N.Y. Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/25/nyregion/at-best-schools-competing-for-best-performers-students-may-be-left-behind.html) by Michael Winerip:

Mary Otero was not going to make the same mistake with her 11-year-old, Aaliyah, that she had made with her two grown children. They had both gone to Dewey — the neighborhood school, Charles O. Dewey Intermediate School 136 in Brooklyn — and it was all downhill after that.

She worried that enrolling her daughter in a low-performing middle school like Dewey would relegate Aaliyah to a low-performing high school and then — well, both her older children had dropped out.

So last year when Aaliyah started fifth grade at Public School 24, Ms. Otero, a freelance graphic artist and a single mother, practically memorized the Education Department’s guide to middle schools. She attended the middle school fair for her district, District 15, and visited schools considered to be among the best.

Parents are supposed to rank their choices for the district lottery, but the guidebook is vague about what each school is looking for. Every school listing, under “Selection criteria,” says the same thing: “Review of grades and test scores.”

It is the guidance counselors who tell the parents how things really work. On both the state reading and math tests, the most selective schools generally want a raw score of at least 660 each — the equivalent of a 3 out of a top score of 4. Aaliyah was close; she had a 649 and 664.

Ms. Otero toured Middle School 51, one of the most coveted schools. “I heard the way they spoke,” she recalled. “Everyone was learning, sitting down, paying attention to the teacher.”

She also visited New Voices School of Academic and Creative Arts, which requires an audition. Aaliyah has never had a music lesson, but the family owns a guitar. “I’m just learning,” Aaliyah said. “I watch this TV channel — they have guitars, and I see where they put their fingers.” Asked how her audition went, she said, “A little messed up.”

Ms. Otero’s first choice for Aaliyah was M.S. 51, then New Voices; she listed Dewey last.

In mid-May, acceptance letters went out.

“Dewey,” Ms. Otero said. “A complete waste of my time. She could have gone straight into Dewey.”

Ms. Otero appealed.

Long before the Bloomberg administration, districts offered school choice. But in recent years the process has intensified. The reform movement has created an educational marketplace that presses schools to compete for students. This is good for the students selected for the strongest schools but not so good for children left behind and grouped as the weakest.

From 80 to 90 percent of pupils get one of their first three choices, according to an Education Department spokesman. But the better the test scores, the more in demand a child is, and the better the odds.

Christina Fuentes, the P.S. 24 principal, worries that children are being segregated by achievement, with students who earn 3s and 4s heading to one set of schools, and those with 1s and 2s to what is left over.

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