Thursday, May 1

Middle School Muddle: When one search ends, another begins

Searching for schools is fact of life in New York City, one that requires patience, stamina, resilience. At times you need the skills of an investigative reporter, along with the endurance of a long-distance runner.

If you are considering private school, you need many of those qualities as well, along with at least $25,000 grand a year to spend on tuition.

In the city, it's not unusual for parents spend enormous amounts of time thinking about schools and researching options. The truly obsessed may begin their search preconception, or at least around the time they begin investigating that other great New York obsession: real estate.

I didn’t worry much about schools until a girlfriend turned to me in the playground one day more than 11 years ago to ask if I’d completed the nursery school applications yet.

I remember being shocked, because up to this point I’d been happily preoccupied with first steps, solid food and a full night’s sleep. Turns out I missed the deadlines.

I vowed to be on top of all the options from then on, and managed to find a tremendous public elementary school for my sons that gave out-of-neighborhood variances – a rarity these days at the New York City Department of Education.

Now I find myself waiting to hear about middle school acceptance for my youngest son, who is 10. We’ve spent much of this year taking tours, preparing for tests and interviews, weighing multiple factors and discussing moving on and maintaining elementary school friendships.

I grew up in the kind of suburb where everyone stayed together, from elementary school through high school, for better or for worse. No choice existed. Education barely entered the conversation, much less dominating it as it tends to in the city.

Throughout our second middle school search in three years, we’ve managed to block out the scary search around the bend -- high school admissions.

Suddenly, my mailbox is full of upcoming meetings, open houses and Princeton Review tutoring options for high school specialty exams for my 7th-grade son. We’ve missed several already.

A story in The New York Daily News this week contained some startling statistics that snapped me back to the reality check I first experienced in a sun-dappled playground 11 years and some months ago.

Some 7,772 kids did not get into any of their high school choices this year, including one fine student whose angry mother is moving the family to New Jersey, where getting in requires nothing more than showing up to register.

The mother did not sound at all happy about it, though. You are not supposed to drop out of the race before you reach the finish line.

Are there too many obstacles in the way of parents who embrace and support public school and really want to stay in the city?

And so the next search begins.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle


Anonymous said...

Sorry but it hasn't been 25K at 99% of the Manhattan privates in about 10 years! Try 35K!

frustrated said...

NBC and hopefully Fox 5 will be coming to my home on Tuesday May 6th to do a story on the fact that the DOE has failed to provide proper education for our gifted children. We are also inviting local politicians to support us. If you are interested in attending (NBC is requesting that as many parents attend as possible) please e-mail me privately at

and I will provide you with the address

Anonymous said...

Question for Liz - do you know the date that middle school notifications will be made? DOE website says may, but I have heard that actual date is supposed to be May 15. Any insight?

Anonymous said...

One thing I noticed in that Daily News article: the students they profiled only put four choices, but you're allowed to put up to 12. If these students only put four insanely competitive schools (where there are 9,000 applications for only 900 slots), and no other choices, I can't really blame the DOE if the students didn't get a match.

I haven't been through the high school process yet, but I did just go through the middle school process with my son, and I'm waiting to hear about his placement. I'm not too concerned, though, because I listed a LOT of choices, and along with hard-to-get-into schools I also put a "safety" school: a school that I'm sure he WOULD get into and that I consider reasonable. I don't know if there are schools like that at the high school level, or if it really IS solely a choice between "top school that accepts few students" vs. "drug-infested gang-ridden violent school". But I do know that when it's time to start looking, I will definitely be exploring "reasonable" schools as well as "top of the line" schools, and putting as many choices as I possibly can.

inthemiddle said...

I wish I knew the answer to that myself! The guidance counselor at my child's elementary school said they've been told NOTHING. We were told early May a few weeks ago, but I really don't think anyone knows for sure.

Anonymous said...

I got a letter from Baccalaureat two weeks ago, and one from Scholars' Academy today. I think they are on their own schedule!

Anonymous said...

I would like to tell "anonymous" who criticized parents who put down only 4 choices when indeed they had "12" to wait before giving us her two cents of nothing. Perhaps the parent who only put down 4 choices because other choices would have meant her child had to travel OVER 1 HOUR to get to school which started at 7:30 a.m. or perhaps attend a school that is considered a SECURITY THREAT with metal detectors to protect those going in and police patroling the outside for those going out. It is very easy to criticize when you are not the one walking in those shoes.........

frustrated said...

Upset parents...come to my home on tuesday at 3:30 for the NBC coverage of the mess the DOE has created. Voice your opinion to the media. If you are interested, e-mail me at

for the address.

More parents = more noise

lets continue to not allow the DOE to fail our children

Anonymous said...

frustated: can I come even though I don't have any complaints but only good things about the G&T process to say?

Anonymous said...

1:10am -- and those 4 schools happen to be the most desirable once, eh? Come on now. One word about commuting: that's part of using public education. Get used to it.

Anonymous said...

To 1:10 a.m.: if the problem was that there weren't ENOUGH good choices to put down, then THAT should have been the emphasis of the article.

Instead, the point of the article was "OMG, I put down four choices and didn't get ANY of them!!!! How could the DOE not give me a match???"

I think it's basic mathematics that if you only put down four schools, and ALL four of those schools get 20 times more applicants than they have seats, it's very likely that you won't get a match. So I'm not seeing why it's so shocking that that child didn't get a match.

Again, if the parents' problem was that there were NO acceptable schools other than those four, then THAT'S what the parent should have been complaining about. Not the fact that her child didn't get into any of his four very competitive choices.

Anonymous said...

I think that DOE should place students based on who has the cleanest bathroom because we all know that a clean bathroom leads to a clean mind!

frustrated said...

To annonymous who has only good things to say about the G&T program. I'll graciously ask you to not attend. We are representing a group of parents who's children are being failed by the DOE. I again reach out to all the frustrated parents who would like to make some noise about the mess the DOE has created and the amount of money they have wasted. Please e-mail me at

and I will give you all the info about the NBC news coverage on Tuesday at my home.

Anonymous said...

I feel very lucky that my son who listed only five choices including three schools on the list that was published in the Daily News was accepted by his first choice. I am also doing the middle school process for my younger child and has already been problematic with a missing interview appointment letter.

I think the entire process is flawed. I am a single parent and the application process has taken a financial, emotional, and physical toll on us. On the day main round acceptance letters were distributed my son was planning to go to the movies with his friends but they were too emotionally drained and all went home. Even though they might not admit it, the process takes an unhealthy toll on the children too.

And now I await D15 middle school notification but at this point I am too exhausted and fed up to really care where my younger child is placed as long as it doesn't have metal detectors.

Anonymous said...

my daughter took the admission tests in nest+m and anderson middle schools. my son is an incoming grade three student. he only got a 91% in the g&t exam but was given anderson and nest+m as two of his options. i know its tough to get into these two schools but i would very much want them to be in one school for convenience. would the sibling preference rule apply to them or does it just apply to siblings who are both in ELEMENTARY grades?