How Did Getting into a Specialized High School in NYC Become a Lottery Where Almost Everyone Loses?

I was prompted to write this post in response to news I learned recently from the 14-year-old I mentor. I have mentored through Children of Promise NYC for over two years now. (On a side note please visit their site, it’s a wonderful organization and they are always looking for great people to get involved: http://www.cpnycy.org/ ) This is big year for my mentee, she is graduating from eighth grade and needs to decide which high school to attend. Her first choice was Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the specialized high schools in NYC so she took the SHSAT test in the Fall. There are nine specialized high schools in NYC total: (taken from http://www.wikipedia.org)

Entrance to any of the nine is EXTREMELY competitive, particularly for the top choices: Stuyvestant and Bronx Science. Not to mention that these top schools have become ridiculously crowded to boot! Brooklyn Tech alone has 5,000 students!

She did very well on the SHSAT but it was still not enough for a spot at any of the specialized high schools. Luckily, she was accepted to Cobble Hill High School and the High School at Pace and will be attending one of the two. I know both of these are great schools and she will flourish at either. Her experience is unfortunately by no means unique. Here is a link to a New York Times article about another eighth grade student who had the same experience: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/nyregion/eighth-grader-full-of-sports-knowledge-is-left-without-a-high-school.html?ref=education

At the end of the day, the total number of students applying for entry into these nine schools is 29,000!!! They are competing for a mere 6,106 spots!

This strikes me as grossly unfair! Why should so many students be denied entry to schools which continue to win national award after national award? These nine buildings can only hold a certain amount of students and they are all at capacity. What, then is the solution?

It is the solution the NYCDOE has struggled with since their inception, how can we make the level of education received in every high school in the five boroughs the same as in these nine schools? There is no easy answer and the bottom line is that it’s impossible for every single high school to perform at the same level, particularly when many have such a large percentage of special needs students. That being said, the majority can and should be performing at the same high level.

The answer is simple and so important that I will type only in caps: LIMIT CLASS SIZE TO MAX 15 STUDENTS PER A TEACHER!!!

Do this and I promise you test scores will rise, students will graduate actually adequately prepared for college, and teachers can and will be more effective. What is the flaw in this brilliant and seemingly simple solution? MONEY…it will cost the city A LOT of money to hire so many new teachers. This is something the city has not and is still not willing to do, even if it means our low performing schools stay that way.

I leave with you with one final question….Jamaica High School against very loud protests by parents, students, and teachers is closing and several small schools have already been opened in the building. Currently there are roughly 1000 students total in the entire building but there are five people earning principal salaries. Brooklyn Technical High School has 5000 students in the building and one person earning a principal salary. Yet, there has been a hiring freeze for new teachers since 2009….what is wrong with this picture?????

I look forward to your thoughts and thanks for reading!