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New Online Middle and High School Applications Aim To Boost Diversity

By Amy Zimmer | June 6, 2017 7:56am
 The city will create online applications for students entering middle and high school in 2019.
The city will create online applications for students entering middle and high school in 2019.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez

MANHATAN — The city hopes to increase diversity in public schools using a new mobile-ready online application for middle and high schoolers.

By reducing the amount of information families need to sift through and making the process less labor intensive, the goal is for students from all backgrounds to have an easier time applying to — and enrolling in — a range of schools using the technology, Department of Education officials said.

The creation of the new online application, expected to be in place by fall 2018 for students entering middle and high school for fall 2019, is part of a long-anticipated larger plan the DOE is releasing Tuesday outlining efforts to boost diversity in one of the most segregated school systems in the nation.

Many parents complain about how the complicated admissions process requires a major investment of time and savvy, with parents often taking off work to bring their fifth- and eighth-graders on school tours or open houses across the city. The system favors more affluent parents, who have jobs that allow them more flexibility, as opposed to workers in hourly wage jobs that don’t have the luxury of those schedules.  

A study of the city’s high school application process found that it requires, at minimum, 25 to 72 hours, DOE officials said.

While many families will still take tours of schools, the DOE hopes to help target everyone’s searches more efficiently, building new features for the NYC School Finder online directory it launched in September. Available in English and Spanish, the directory creates recommended options based on interest, geography and other factors.

The “one stop shopping” experience will also allow for online registration for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, as well as any school-based assessment for screened and audition schools.

“These are innovative steps to make all New York City’s school admissions processes easier and more equitable for families,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. “We know many families access the Internet on their phones, and we are meeting them where they are with these mobile-ready tools.”

The city implemented online applications for kindergarten in 2014, followed by pre-K. When these applications went digital, some families and advocates worried that the process exacerbated the digital divide, further penalizing low-income families who don’t have internet at home and might only have access to it for limited time slots at libraries.

But the city is hoping that making the new application mobile-ready will address some of those concerns, since many New Yorkers access the internet on their phones, officials said.

The percentage of families who apply to kindergarten online has steadily increased since the application went online. That first year, 48,000 families used the online application, and this year, 56,000 families — or 82 percent of applicants — did so. DOE officials believe the percentage will increase when kindergarten applications are also made mobile-ready.

The city has also seen an uptick in online kindergarten applications by applying families whose primary language was not English — from 8,000 families last year to 11,000 this year.

Officials said they planned to expand translation for the high school application in “future years.”

The DOE's early forays into putting more information online hit some bumps this year with its online calendar for high school tours that turned out to be riddled with incomplete information — often because school staff did not provide necessary information to the DOE.

The new online application will also ease the burden on middle and high school staff and guidance counselors, who serve not only to help students understand their options but also are the ones who take student applications and enter their school choices into the system.

By relieving them of the data entry job, they will be able to spend more time providing guidance to students, officials said.