Monday, October 17, 2011

High school daze

We're going through the high school search process for Dancer, which means allocating most of this month to open houses. You see, our city has about 700 high schools. You can quickly reduce that to a more reasonable pool by using a 5-question screening quiz:

1) Can you get there?
2) Is there a metal detector at the door or are there posters warning you not to wear gang colors?
3) Is the graduation rate greater than 50%?
4) Do those who graduate go on to college?
5) Is your child even remotely interested in the subjects they teach?

Because Dancer is Dancer, we also look at when school gets out, how far it is to a train, and how long it takes the train to get to ballet.

After you've done all your searching and screening, you're allowed to rank up to 12 schools. The schools then look at various data (report cards, test scores, attendance records, essays), and rank you. Then a big computer plays matchmaker between the four hundred million trillion adolescents pining for the same 20 schools and the 700 schools that have expressed interest in the same 20 students.

At the end of the print run you are given ONE high school assignment. Or, occasionally, nothing.

On a separate track there is a group of "specialized" high schools, for which the admissions criteria boil down to how you do on The Big Test. This test (which is taken by, I kid you not, 28,000 eighth graders) will be given at the end of this month. Students who take the test get to rank all the specialized schools, too. If you score well enough you get into ONE of them. Maybe. There are about 4,000 seats available.

So if you go through both processes you might have a choice of two places to go to school.

Then, of course, there are private schools and church-related schools. In general those are out of reach for us, money-wise, but there is financial aid. Maybe. Those schools require different tests and different applications and interviews and forms and whatnot. Count that as track #3. If you're up for it.

I suspect the whole procedure is a plot designed to make us think the folks at the Board of Ed are smarter than we are, because they understand this and we don't. But don't be intimidated, for brilliance requires a degree of elegance, and that's an unknown quality in this process. Other words come to mind: convoluted, archaic, labyrinthine, tortuous. You can toss these words around a bit and perhaps improve your child's SAT score. It will give you something to do while you wait in the 5-block line to get into the open house for the school with 100 openings.

After all this, one hopes someone, somewhere learns something. Maybe even the kids.


  1. I think you're right about the DoE, and I also think they took lessons from the bureaucrats in Italy. Last spring I had the interesting experience of trying to get a document from the DoE to use in Italy. And amazingly, I'd have to say that the DoE was more flexible, even if they sputtered a bit before producing it. Maybe it was that I knew how to ask in NYC, which helps.

    Still, I don't envy you the experience of high school "rush." Hope it goes well! I'm sure Dancer has ideas of her own about this and is on top of them already, right?

  2. Gah, indeed! We got to cross one school off the list this a.m. It was very Meaningful and Sensitive To The Needs of Others. I'm all for sensitivity, but not the self-conscious I'm-a-Good-Person sort. Not sure we could have drunk that particular Kool-Aid, regardless of the academics.

    Fortunately it turned out the school no longer accepts kids from out of district, so we had a reason to escape halfway through.

  3. When I was a kid, we went to school based on where we lived. I went to Williamsburg. Two blocks south, I'd have gone to Stratford. That was all. I've said it before: choice is the enemy of happiness.

    (But just in case I'm wrong, I hope this all sorts out soon!)

  4. Wow! Pull out your previous blog about the top ten reasons it is wonderful living there and read it everyday through this process. Had no idea it was like that in NY. Here in Fla you go where you are zones with some exceptions if necessary.