In the 11th hour: How do I rank my list?


First, apologies for the ALL CAPS and bold face. I am on my last nerve as I know you are. I love you guys. I want you to all get your heart's desire, but you all won't, and sometimes your heart's desire is not what may actually be best in the end. It is your right to complain about the stress and uncertainty (and everything else about the process), but don't do it to me (I can't do anything about it anyway). I am just the lady with the flash light. I am a pragmatist to my bones. When Armageddon comes, I don't see any point in shaking my fist at a vengeful God. I will not waste any time as I look for fresh water.
Hunker down, keep your heads, be kind to each other (including the unpopular schools and the professionals and children there) look for the goodness in your neighbors (and it is out there in EVERY SCHOOL) when the dark days come. Wow, I think I need a couple days off...

Dec. 1 is the deadline for middle and high school applications. This blog could be written for prek and kindergarten families as well because the ranking "strategy" is always the same.

This is very counter-intuitive. Many life saving practices are counter-intuitive. Turn into a skid. Put your oxygen mask on first. Swim parallel to the shore in a rip tide. RANK SCHOOLS IN THE ORDER THAT YOU LIKE THEM. Read and watch these to explain why the guys who designed this algorithm that got the Nobel.

There are a couple nuances that need to be understood.

#1. the middle schools in the region that I cover AND citywide programs (ICE, NEST, Twain...) and ALL high schools NEVER see how you ranked them (not now, not later - so how can they tell you that they only take kids who ranked them #1? They can't. That is hubris, or guesswork, or they poll every incoming student and I have NEVER heard of that happening- what a waste of time on their part, if they did!). Some middle schools districts in the city, like District 2 in Manhattan, do know how schools ranked you to some extent, but that should be going away shortly, we hope.

#2. This is not a linear process. It is a multilevel remixing. Each time the pool is remixed, it is refined. See the article and video above.

#3. Don't make a stupid list. Ranking schools that would never take you because you don't meet their geographic or academic priorities is foolish. You would have a list of schools that are wildly unlikely to rank you. Make a good deep and wide list of schools of many sizes with different admission criteria if you can. Pick schools that will be happy to rank you for geographic and academic reasons. If you have a couple of 'Hail Mary' passes on that list - that is your prerogative, but keep them to a minimum. Rank them in the order that you like them without fear of being disadvantaged for something you ranked lower, but manage your expectations.

#4. How a school has ranked you is UNKNOWABLE - so stop trying to figure it out. It doesn't help you anyway. The schools are not all ranking kids 1-1000 in order. When they do, sometimes it is by academic criteria. Sometimes it is by lottery. Sometimes schools are using a binary system (all these kids 'yes', all these kids 'no'). Some schools are saying, "we really want this group. We kinda want this group. We don't want this group." It is the city's general practice when there are more candidates within a category who are eligible, than there are seats available, like the kids in a binary system that get a 'yes' - then the computer can pick randomly from among that group. Their main mandate is fairness. They DO NOT want you to strategize.

#5. You can absolutely appeal for a preferred school if you received a placement from a school on your list. You are not disadvantaged in the appeal. Remember, appeals happen very late and are rarely given. The City does not want to incentivize you to make a small list. THIS APPLICATION IS YOUR MAIN CHANCE TO EXPRESS YOUR PREFERENCES. DON'T BLOW IT. If your list is too small, you only hurt yourself. If you can't find at least 10 high school programs where your child could do well (and I hope you can find 12) - THEN YOU ARE NOT LOOKING HARD ENOUGH AND YOU NEED TO GO BACK AND LOOK AGAIN. These schools will not be perfect schools by a long shot, but there are dozens of schools out there where your child could do well and distinguish themselves.
One thing about the appeals though - in middle school, where they are sometimes granted, the schools will look back to how they ranked you initially and if the computer made a mistake in the match and they have room, it may be granted. It is a local process and there is a tiny bit of room to move. In the high school process, which is huge, it is WAY more rigid and appeals are VERY rarely granted and usually saved for hardship cases (death in the family that ran the kid off the rails in 7th grade, police report, the school has an elevator or is near the chemo clinic - trust me you don't want to go be in those situations).

Your kids can do beautifully well at a whole number of different places. I meet fantastic, thoughtful, generous (they are giving their lives to your children), smart and wildly under appreciated teachers from all kinds of schools that many of you will not give a second look to. Teach your children that disappointment can be turned around if they don't let it crush them. Teach them that getting what they want doesn't mean that they are better than other people. Don't let them squander their opportunities wherever they appear.

Good luck and toast to variety and opportunity and grit.