The information about middle school placements this week may wipe the g&t aggravation off the front pages for a couple days. There is a lot of fear and loathing around the ms choice process. Let me lay it out for you.
In suburbia, you have a zoned middle school and that is where your child will attend. We here in NYC have district-wide middle school choice. Some very few people will also have a zoned school associated with their address, but that doesn't mean that you don't get to participate. Middle school is 6,7 and 8th grade.
In the fall of 5th grade parents and students tour the middle schools in their districts and occasionally a few random city-wide choices outside their districts. They rank the district choices on an application. Then their first 2 choices (along with any city-wide choices) will call their kids in for an additional assessment; an interview, group activity, essay, audition to gather more information beyond the kid's transcript. Most of these schools as well as the other schools farther down your list are 'screening' by attendance and punctuality from 4th grade (because the process happens so early in the 5th grade year, there isn't data available), then behaviour on the 4th grade report card, then grades and test scores. I like that right up front, the schools want kids who are nice and can get to school on time. Isn't that what we all want from our colleagues?
Your list of ranked schools goes into the DoE computer and the the schools' screened list goes in and they do the "medical school match" that those guys won the Nobel Prize in Economics for last year. In theory (and often in practice) you will be placed at the school that you have ranked the highest that wants you. If you have a zoned school and rank it on your application you have a seat there unless you get a school that you have ranked higher on your application. There are also the city-wide options in play, most of which you apply to separately and are placed at separately. There are also charter schools that choose their students randomly by lottery. You could come out of this with a couple options to choose from if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, you can appeal.
The common wisdom (I call it the common ignorance) is that NYC middle schools are all awful and everyone moves to Westchester at 6th grade. I don't see it. There are many strong schools and everyone I know either moves at k or sticks it out - in for a penny, in for a pound. There is definitely a bottleneck of options at middle school - they are hard years for everyone; kids parents and teachers. It is also crucial which district schools that you have in play. Some districts have a wealth of strong schools, some have few, some have many k-8th grade programs. It is not out of the question to do some convoluted gymnastics to get access to the schools you like. There is a loophole in this process as well - when you live in one district but your child attends school in another, you have the choice of schools from both districts at middle school.
It is also a time when families who have been loving public elementary, consider private middle school. The common ignorance is that if you haven't gotten in by k you are screwed for life. It has been the practice for most of the independent schools (private ongoing schools like Packer, Brooklyn Friends, Berkeley Carroll, Poly Prep, Brooklyn Heights Montessori) to add seats at 6th grade in anticipation of talented public school students entering at that time. Their middle schools often begin at 5th grade, but they add the seats at 6th because that is when the kids come to them. There are a bunch of new programs that will have seats for you at 6th grade (International School of Brooklyn, Greene Hill, Brooklyn Waldorf, etc.). There are also the Catholic and Jewish programs...(catching my breath).
So, in conclusion, it is not easy but there are more good options out there every day. You can do this! Remember, you and all your neighbors are so obsessed with school issues that you are READING THIS BLOG! You will not let the ball drop. There have been generations of happy, well educated and employed people who were raised in Brooklyn - logic (and I) will tell you that there must be options.