fall is the season of misinformation and conspiracies

It is becoming common practice during the NYC High School admissions process (and in District 15, also at the middle school level) for schools to widely and openly advise students to rank their school #1 on the application to gain a placement to that school. This is a blind match. The schools never know how a student has ranked them and it is in the student's best interest to rank schools in order of their true preference without being disadvantaged. When the schools advise families to rank them #1, they are giving misleading and frustrating advice that takes the student's power away and advantages the school.

Families should listen to the good advice given by the DoE to rank schools in preference order. Students will NOT be disadvantaged for popular schools. But families don't want to believe a city agency - they want to believe what they think is 'inside information' from the schools. It is causing families to consider ranking schools in inappropriate order or not ranking schools at all because they think that they will be out of the running.

I am so furious about this that I have drawn up a petition that I am going to send to the Director of High School Enrollment. Please sign it here.

Why do they say this stuff? Perhaps...

  • Misunderstanding how the algorithm works- everyone, including the schools assume that you get an advantage for ranking the school first. The "advantage" is that you like it best, and the city is trying to give you what you want, but listing a school first doesn't give you more juice.
  • Misunderstanding the difference between what the schools say and what parents hear. What they say: "if you love us, you should put us first". What parents hear: "You need to put us first to get in."
  • Hubris. "We are SO popular, and we assume that everyone puts us first, so you won't get a shot unless you also put us first." The schools never know how you rank them during the process. We don't know exactly how much the schools know about how the kids who attend ranked them afterward, (my guess is very little). I believe that they are just guessing that everyone put them first, whether they did or not.


Recently, on a tour of "High School A" (large popular school) a parent was told by a school official that the DoE takes some smart and high achieving kids and puts them in a lower choice, less desirable school, to pump up that school and bring in smarts kids to make the school higher performing. Could that be true, can the doe actually pass over a true top match to put a high performing kid in a "mediocre school?" If so we're forced not to put down the "2nd tier" choices in fear that our kids get placed there by default??

This is a FOIL question that needs investigative journalism on the order of Woodward and Bernstein and if they find nothing, families will still believe that it is happening. This is what I see, but I can't give you 100% iron clad proof. Thousands of high achieving kids (the vast majority) each year get into their top placements. A couple kids don't (too few ranked schools, too few large schools, a bad grade, too many absences, too many D2 schools on their list if they are from Brklyn, too many lottery schools and all of the above...if they share their lists with me, I usually know why they didn't get a placement). These kids are the exception that prove the conspiracy. Those kids may then come to that large school (it is big and sometimes has a little wiggle room) to find a seat on appeal and that school thinks that it must be an embedded booby trap rather than bad luck. Just a guess.

Lets just go with the conspiracy for a moment:

If that is true, it is not wide spread because the vast numbers of high performers are getting into the schools that they want (in the past the city has said that around 50% of kids get their top 2 choices, around 85% getting one of their top 5). If you don't rank a wide number of schools, you are likely going to get screwed without any conspiracy. There are enough strong college bound programs that you can easily find 10 (in the HS process) without having any "second tier" on your list (you may not like them for one reason or another, but there are plenty of "first tier" schools out there).

Other than the scenario listed above, how in God's name does this school "know" that the City would do something like that? This is NOT the kind of Neutron bomb that the city would 'share' with schools. Educators can have conspiracy theories too. This us a huge system and occasionally people have bad luck. The City has instituted the new "Guidance Transfer" (A-101, Summary of Changes) to assist kids who get an inappropriate placement.

The City's next step in improving this process is getting all the rogue school tour guides/counselors/principals on board. This misinformation is driving parents (and me) insane!