sorting the eighth-graders

City to monitor selective schools' student choices after Liu audit

A chart in the audit released by Comptroller John Liu released today into selective schools' high admissions practices shows that some admit students who do not meet their selection criteria.
A chart in the audit released by Comptroller John Liu released today into selective schools’ high admissions practices shows that some admit students who do not meet their selection criteria.

The Department of Education will increase monitoring of city high schools’ admissions practices after an audit by Comptroller John Liu found opportunities for abuse, and possible evidence of it.

Every year, eighth-graders in New York City rank up to 12 high schools that they would like to attend. And the city’s more than 500 high schools rank the students who apply, in accordance with criteria that the schools themselves set. Then the city runs an algorithm and students are matched with a school.

The architect of that algorithm won a Nobel Prize last year for his work. But Liu’s office concluded that the department’s lack of oversight meant that selective schools are able to accept students who do not meet their admissions criteria while turning away others who do.

Examining admissions data from the most popular selective high school in each borough, Liu’s office found that 8 percent of more than 4,000 applicants were chosen despite not meeting the criteria that the schools themselves set. The audit also found that the schools used selection criteria that were different from what was published in the city’s annual high schools directory.

About a quarter of applicants are placed at schools that are permitted to screen their students. Schools look for a range of characteristics, including high test scores and grades, good attendance, a strong performance in auditions and interviews, and high-quality essays and work portfolios.

“Our audit confirmed what many frustrated parents and students have long suspected: The city’s high-school placement process is often unfair and deeply flawed,” Liu said. “Applying to high school is an important and stressful enough experience for students and parents, and it must not be left to a sloppy and random system like the one our audit found.”

Liu, a mayoral candidate who as comptroller has turned a particularly keen eye on the Department of Education, recommends that the city tighten oversight of schools’ admissions practices. “In the absence of reasonable controls to monitor the ranking process performed at schools, there is a significant risk that the ranking process will not be carried out in a fair and consistent manner,” the audit finds.

In their formal response, department officials agreed to increase oversight of the admissions process, committing to audit a sample of schools’ student lists annually to make sure that the schools adhered to their selection criteria.

“NYC DOE will intervene when schools are not adhering to their published criteria,” wrote Marc Sternberg, senior deputy chancellor for strategy and innovation.

The department has already begun stepping into the admissions process at selective schools that do not rank enough applicants to fill their seats. Rather than letting the schools handpick applicants to round out their entering class, this year the department simply began assigning students. The policy change drew fire because the schools were being made to enroll students who did not meet the admissions standards and in some cases had not even completed the application process.

A department spokesman, Devon Puglia, said that while Liu’s audit highlighted some areas for improvement, it also ignored the ways in which the city’s high school admissions process succeeds.

“You would never know it reading this report, but transparency in high school admissions has never been greater,” Puglia said, noting that about three quarters of eighth-graders are typically matched with one of their top three high school choices.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.