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Middle Schools Could Stop Weeding Out Kids Who Don't Rank Them First

 The Community Education Council for District 2 will vote on whether to do away with the method.
The Community Education Council for District 2 will vote on whether to do away with the method.
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CHELSEA — Manhattan public school parents will get to decide whether they want to support doing away with a system that allows middle schools to reject applicants who don't make their schools first choice.

District 2's Community Education Council is holding a public meeting on Monday to debate on a proposal that would restrict middle schools from seeing exactly how applicants' ranked schools on their list, according Eric Goldberg, a member of the council.

Currently, the future middle schoolers in District 2 — which covers the West Side, Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side — rank their top choices numerically. Schools can see how students ranked them, and some schools say they only consider those who rank them first, according to Department of Education documents. 

Goldberg proposes the district move to “tiered-choice” application system, meaning schools reviewing applications could only see if they are in the student’s top tier of choices, rather than a hard number ranking.

As of now, schools are basically telling middle schoolers, “I’ll tell you if I like you if you tell me that you like me," said Goldberg, who's introduced a resolution to change the system.

“If we have the notion that we have a system of school choice, that choice should be for students,” Goldberg said. 

The proposal will be up for CEC vote at the public meeting on April 20.

Many District 2 middle school admissions rates are as stiff as those at prestigious universities. In 2014, the Salk School, M.S. 255, admitted 128 of 782 applicants, a 16 percent acceptance rate, according to city documents.  

Two-thirds of the district's public schools use a rigorous selections process based on grades and test scores to select students, and the most competitive schools don't have the resources to thoroughly review all the applications they get, CEC members said.

While Shino Tanikawa, president of the District 2 council, agrees that there are serious flaws to the current middle school admission process, she fears the tiered choice could cause schools to rely more heavily on test scores in order to shrink their applicant piles.

The tiered-choice proposal does little to reform the current middle school screening game, which forces students to go on tours, interviews, and often puts less privileged students at a disadvantage, Tanikawa said. The proposal also doesn't sufficiently address the need for more diversity in schools, she added.

“The bigger discussion we need to have is, do parents really want this kind of labor-intensive screen?” said Tanikawa, who noted that the current process is an attempt to create more exclusive schools.

“The screens are a sign of prestige, however misguided that may be. I think that some of the broader issues are around academic tracking within middle schools, diversity within out schools and how our schools can reflect our community," she said. 

After the public meeting on April 20, the CEC will vote on the proposal, and then the Department of Education will ultimately decide whether to implement it.

"We look forward to partnering with District 2 in improving its middle school selection process as they work to ensure fairness for all students,” DOE spokesman Jason Fink said.

The public meeting at will be held 6:30 p.m. Monday April 20 at 333 Seventh Avenue between West 28th and West 29th streets in the 7th floor conference room.