NYC Puts Middle Schools on Lottery System, a Major Desegregation Move

Screenshot from New York City press conference on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, showing Mayor Bill de Blasio about school-desegregation efforts. (Image via Courthouse News)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Suspending the merit-based screening system that for years has guided admissions to New York City’s most selective middle schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio framed the move as a long-needed step toward desegregation.

“It’s time to start using every tool at our disposal to address inequality,” the Democrat said at a press conference.  

In the wake of the pandemic’s emergence last spring, officials were going to face an obstacle regardless in gathering uniform attendance, testing and grading data to measure students’ performances for the last calendar year.

De Blasio said that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed inequality within the schools and stressed that things cannot go back to business as usual come next fall.

“What is clear is our past involves too much exclusion, our past involves too much inequality. We need to move to a different place,” said de Blasio. “So, the status quo in New York City public schools cannot continue.

To remedy this, selective middle schools will pause the screening process for at least one year and instead use a lottery system.

At the high school level, meanwhile, borough residency requirements and other geographic priorities will be eliminated for two years. High schools can still screen students, but will no longer be allowed to only pull from surrounding neighborhoods. 

An estimated 250 city high schools use a form of geographic priority.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza called the move the practical and correct one.

“It’s also a true representation of the values that we hold dear as a city, that equity, inclusivity and accepting nothing less than excellence for all children is at the cornerstone of what we do,” said Carranza. “Making these changes helps us meet this challenging moment when our children need us the most.”

Diversity planning will extend to all 32 districts over the next four years, de Blasio said, but for now five more districts will be eligible for grants. Eight districts are currently engaged in diversity planning.

The Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) will still be given next year, as it is required by state law.

Expecting pushback to the changes, de Blasio said he understands parents’ concerns that their children worked hard to earn a spot in their choice school, but said everyone deserves a fair shot.

“If we say the price of a quality education is segregation, well, that’s ridiculous. If we say we want everyone in the same classroom together, but we don’t care about the educational quality, that’s ridiculous too,” said de Blasio. “The goal is equity and excellence.” 

New York Senator Robert Jackson applauded the decision. 

“I am encouraged by many of these changes to the admissions process,” Jackson said in a press release. “We’re finally moving in the right direction. As advocates have long pointed out, the status quo of admissions locks in the status quo of segregation.”

The city’s public schools opened for in-person learning in October after being shut down since March due to Covid-19. That lasted just over a month, however, before a 3% infection rate led the city to shut schools down again. Schools across the city began to reopen for the second time earlier this month, despite the seven-day rolling average infection rate Friday being over 6%.

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