Monday, June 9

Middle School Mess: DOE, Fix This Process Now!

Delays, confusion and misinformation have marked the middle school choice process this year, and it is simply unacceptable. This is a perfect example of the Department of Education putting children last. Principals and guidance counselors in the elementary and middle schools have tried to be patient and reassuring and worked hard to get answers that either keep changing -- or apparently do not exist.

This year was confusing from start to finish. We couldn't schedule tours in the fall, then -- suddenly -- we could! Parents who got the information somehow signed up, others found themselves shut out, only to have tours open again in December in January.

The deadlines for notification kept changing as well, leaving kids and parents on edge for way too long. Last week, in one Brooklyn school where the kids were becoming unbearably antsy, the school just typed up their own letter from the list they got from the DOE and handed them out in class -- not the best strategy for kids who got disappointing news.

Imagine telling your 10 or 11-year-old child, who for months has been waiting to hear from one of the five carefully chosen middle schools they selected after endless touring, that they did not get into ANY of them.

That has happened to several families I know in Manhattan, and it's an issue in Brooklyn as well, with children being assigned to middle schools that they did not apply to -- or left without a middle school altogether, and directed to a second admissions round.

Are these kids with troubled records or academic difficulties? ABSOLUTELY NOT. In the cases I'm aware of, these are great kids, with solid test scores and the kinds of families who organize special events and field trips, volunteer endlessly and make it clear in everything they say and do that they support public education in New York City.

There are no pat answers or explanations either, because no one knows with much certainty how decisions were made, especially for the highly valued ones that are overwhelmed with applications.

It is not okay to simply accept that in any choice-based process, some children will get left out. That is not an outcome that we must simply live with. It's too early to say how the appeals process will work in these cases, but in the meantime kids and families are suffering unecessary anxiety and pain.

It is not okay to promise answers by early May, and deliver them six weeks later with no explanation at all. If Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's idea was to equalize the process, where is he now with the explanation, the apology and a plan to fix the problems?

The fault lies in the idea that the DOE decided at some point to "centralize,'' both pre-k and middle school choice this year, perhaps to make life easier for administrators. That's the only explanation I've seen in the New York Times last week.

The New York Daily News has also tried to get answers: The explanation? First time the DOE had coordinated the processes in different districts.

That's not good enough. And it simply doesn't resonate with kids and families who are spending this month trying to get answers -- and trying to reassure their children that indeed, everything will work out, when they really can't say those words with much confidence.

Two years ago when my older son went through middle school choice and the district was in charge, the tours ran on time, notification came by April and questions asked were answered.

Let's get some answers now.


Anonymous said...

Very well said!

I am beginning to wonder if some children were accepted to one of their top choices only to have the DOE place some children in less stellar schools if the DOE saw that a parent had put it is one of the last choices. I think some parents were fearful that if they did not list six choices their child would be placed in low performing school. It is very difficult because at least in district 15 there at least very good middle schools but the problem is is that if you want to be considered for one of these schools you need to list it as a first or second choice.

I remember that the application stated that the DOE "expects" all of its schools to provide a safe environment. We all expect that. Unfortunately, that isn't the case and children who six selections were placed in schools that are not safe. Of course the DOE gave themselves some wiggle room by stating that they would make effort to place children in one of their choices and if they could not do so would place students in schools closest to their homes that had space.

When my older child applied to middle school three years ago I think the elementary schools received the placement letters and then mailed the letters to the families.

Anonymous said...

I agree! This is our family's second time going through middle school applications (our first time was three years ago) and this experience has been unbelievably disorganized and distressing. It baffles me that instead of streamlining the process, the DOE has actually made it much, much worse! I also agree that Chancellor Klein is remiss in not speaking out, and perhaps apologizing, to parents who are outright angry with his poor leadership and the shoddy performance of his department, particularly OSEPO, which last week didn't even answer its phones when parents were desperate for answers. This has been a truly disgraceful thing to put NYC families through.

Anonymous said...

My son is 3yrs away from middle school application. If things don't change we will more than likely move out of the city

TrudiRose said...

Very well-written blog as always!

Liz, what happened with your son's application?

Anonymous said...

Liz, thank you for speaking so eloquently for so many of us.

Anonymous said...

Well, we dodged the bullet this time. Got a good placement.

My advice to ALL parents who will go through this next year..

1. Don't be afraid or hesitant about applying out-of-district schools. In fact, especially in District 15 where there are far too many kids and not nearly enough good MSs it is imperative.

2. Do apply to a private school and ask for financial aid if need be. Let that be your safety school. If I had it to do again I would DEFINITELY have done this.

3. Make sure you list several acceptable alternatives on your application aside from your top choices. If not, if they don't get in their top schools they will be randomly assigned. not a pretty picture.

4. Try to get any negative teacher comments about behavior on your kid's report cards removed before you submit them. Even the inkling that your child may not be a little angel may kill their chances to get in a good school. Sad, but true.

5. Try to get letters of reference from teachers, etc at your school to send in with your application.

6. Most important. Don't follow the pack. Pick the best school for your child. There are lots of them out there.

Good luck!