Posted on December 19, 2020

New York City Will Change Many Selective Schools to Address Segregation

Eliza Shapiro, New York Times, December 18, 2020

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday major changes to the way hundreds of New York City’s selective middle and high schools admit their students, a move intended to address long-simmering concerns that admissions policies have discriminated against Black and Latino students and exacerbated segregation in the country’s largest school district.

New York is more reliant on high-stakes admissions requirements than any other district in the country, and the mayor has for years faced mounting pressure to take more forceful action to desegregate the city’s racially and socioeconomically divided public schools. Black and Latino students are significantly underrepresented in selective middle and high schools, though they represent nearly 70 percent of the district’s 1.1 million students.

But it was the pandemic that finally prompted Mr. de Blasio, now in his seventh year in office, to implement some of the most sweeping school integration measures in New York City’s recent history. The alterations, however, will not affect admissions at the city’s most elite selective high schools, like Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science.

When schools shuttered in the spring, grading systems and standardized tests used by the city to admit students to its selective schools were altered or paused. That has made it next to impossible for most selective schools to sort students by academic performance as they have in previous years.

Still, changes forged in a crisis are now set to outlast the pandemic.


The new policies, which will go into effect for this year’s round of admissions, will affect how about 400 of the city’s 1,800 schools admit students.

Mr. de Blasio and his successor will no doubt face demands to integrate many more city high schools, particularly screened schools, which are among the most racially unrepresentative in the system. But the integration of specialized and screened high schools has long been considered a third-rail in the district, and changes made there would no doubt be highly contentious.

Middle schools will see the most significant policy revisions. The city will eliminate all admissions screening for the schools for at least one year, the mayor said. About 200 middle schools — 40 percent of the total — use metrics like grades, attendance and test scores to determine which students should be admitted. Now those schools will use a random lottery to admit students.

In doing this, Mr. de Blasio is essentially piloting an experiment that, if deemed successful, could permanently end the city’s academically selective middle schools, which tend to be much whiter than the district overall.


In another major shift announced by Mr. de Blasio, New York will also eliminate a policy that allowed some high schools to give students who live nearby first dibs at spots — even though all seats are supposed to be available to all students, regardless of where they reside.

The system of citywide choice was implemented by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2004 as part of an attempt to democratize high school admissions. But Mr. Bloomberg exempted some schools, and even entire districts, from the policy, and Mr. de Blasio did not end those carve outs.

The most conspicuous example is Manhattan’s District 2, one of the whitest and wealthiest of the city’s 32 local school districts. Students who live in that district, which includes the Upper East Side and the West Village, get priority for seats in some of the district’s high schools, which are among the highest-performing schools in the city.

No other district in the city has as many high schools — six — set aside for local, high-performing students.

Many of those high schools fill nearly all of their seats with students from District 2 neighborhoods before even considering qualified students from elsewhere. As a result, some schools, like Eleanor Roosevelt High School on the Upper East Side, are among the whitest high schools in all of New York City.

Mr. de Blasio, who twice campaigned on a message of combating inequality in all aspects of city life, has always had the authority to get rid of that admissions priority — and all others. But he has not exercised that power until now, and is doing so only after the principals of some of the most prestigious District 2 high schools publicly called on the city to diversify their schools by getting rid of the admissions preference for local students.


The mayor’s only major previous attempt to integrate schools — pushing the State Legislature to get rid of the entrance exam for the city’s elite specialized high schools — failed. {snip}