admissions maze

It’s now easier for siblings to attend the same NYC school. Here’s how that could affect transfers, gifted programs and diversity.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students learn how to read a number line at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a gifted school that is aiming for greater student diversity.

The education department has quietly expanded an admissions preference to siblings of some older students, continuing a push to make it easier for families to transfer schools.

Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, students applying for pre-K or kindergarten at schools that include middle and high school grades will receive priority if they have a sibling who will attend the school for at least one more year. Before the change, preference was given only to students who had siblings in fifth grade or below.

The number of families impacted is likely small since only about 140 schools enroll students from kindergarten through middle school or high school. But the policy could change the calculus for parents angling for a spot in competitive gifted programs and other highly sought after schools — and make it harder to meet school diversity goals.

The education department says it expanded the admissions priority partially in response to the number of transfer requests received from parents who would like their children to attend the same school. (The city did not provide a tally of such requests.)

“This change was based on community feedback and enrollment trends, and allows for more families with multiple children in school to have greater consistency and continuity in the elementary school admissions process,” education department spokesman Doug Cohen wrote in an email.

It’s the latest in a shift in approach to school transfers, which once were notoriously difficult to receive. The previous administration argued that transfers should be limited to extreme cases — including serious safety concerns, medical issues, or long commutes — to minimize disruptions to schools and students.

By contrast, the education department under Mayor Bill de Blasio has expanded the circumstances under which students can switch schools. In 2016, the Panel for Educational Policy decided that parents could request a transfer if their child “is not progressing or achieving academically or socially,” leaving it up to education officials to make a decision in each case.  

The change in sibling priority will only affect a small number of families who have children with large differences in age — and schools that span multiple grade bands. But those schools can be among the most selective, such as The Children’s School in Brooklyn, and the Manhattan School for Children on the Upper West Side.

While the new rules could make logistics easier for some families, it may have other consequences.

About 17 of the affected schools have gifted and talented programs, such as New Explorations into Science Technology and Math,  K-12 school in lower Manhattan that is also known as NEST+M. Robin Aronow — a consultant who founded School Search NYC, which helps families navigate the admissions process — said that giving more students a preference could limit the already scarce number of seats available in those programs. (Siblings will still have to earn qualifying scores on entry tests.)

“It’s one more factor into the equation,” Aronow said. “It does impact other people trying to pick up those seats.”

By limiting the number of slots that are open to new families, the change could also make it tougher on schools that are aiming for greater student diversity. For example, gifted programs are starkly segregated: Black and Hispanic students make up only 27 percent of students in gifted classes, though they comprise close to 70 percent of students citywide. Some gifted programs, such as Brooklyn School of Inquiry, have joined city integration efforts by reserving seats for students who are low-income or meet other criteria.

In most cases, the minimum number of spots available through the “Diversity in Admissions” initiative will stay the same, according to the education department. But low-income students may face stiffer competition for the seats that fall outside the program, with more slots possibly accounted for by siblings.

“It makes it harder for families to get in, and the desirable schools are not particularly diverse,” said Laura Zingmond, senior editor at the school review website InsideSchools.  “I can’t see how that fosters diversity.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to more clearly describe how the city’s Diversity in Admissions program could be impacted by the expanded sibling preference.

Find your school

How many students apply to Chicago’s most competitive high school programs? Search by school.

PHOTO: Hero Images / Getty Images
CPS released school-by-school results from its new GoCPS high school application system

How many students ranked each public high school program among their top three choices for the 2018-2019 school year? Below, search the first-of-its-kind data, drawn from Chicago Public Schools’ new high school application portal, GoCPS.

The database also shows how many ninth grade seats each program had available, the number of offers each program made, and the number of students that accepted offers at each program.

The district deployed the GoCPS system for the first time in advance of the 2018-2019 school year. The system had students rank up to 20 choices from among 250 programs in 132 high schools. Through the portal, applicants had the choice to apply separately to, and rank, the city’s 11 in-demand, selective enrollment programs. Before the GoCPS system streamlined the high school application process, students lacked a common deadline or a single place to submit applications.

A report released Thursday by the University of Chicago Consortium of School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that the system is mostly working as intended. The majority of students who used GoCPS ultimately got one of their top three choices. But the study also disclosed problems that the district now faces: There are too many empty seats in high schools. Main findings of the report are here.

School choice

New data pulls back curtain on Chicago’s high school admissions derby

PHOTO: Joshua Lott / Getty Images
Chicago's new high school application system has provided a centralized inventory of school-by-school application data

Before the online portal GoCPS system streamlined the high school choice process, Chicago schools lacked a common deadline or single place portal to submit applications. Some students would receive several acceptances, and others would get none. But a new report shows that the new, one-stop application system is working as intended, with the majority of students ultimately getting one of their top three choices.

But the study, released Thursday by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, also lays bare a major problem with which the city’s public schools must wrangle: There are too many empty seats in high schools.

And it shows that demand varies by income level, with students from low-income neighborhoods casting more applications than students from wealthier ones and applying in greater numbers for the district’s charter high schools. Click here to search our database and see demand by individual school. 

The report leaves unanswered some key questions, too, including how choice impacts neighborhood high schools and whether a streamlined application process means that more students will stick with their choice school until graduation.

Deployed for the first time in advance of the 2018-2019 school year, the GoCPS system let students rank up to 20 choices from among 250 programs in 132 high schools. Separately, applicants can also apply to, and rank, the city’s 11 in-demand selective enrollment programs through the GoCPS portal.

The data paints a never-before-seen picture of supply and demand for seats at various high school programs across Chicago Public Schools. One in five high school options is so popular that there are 10 applicants for every seat, while 8 percent of programs fall short of receiving enough applications, according to the report.    

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said the new data presents a full, centralized inventory and will help the district “have the kind of conversations we need to have” with communities. The district is facing pressure from community groups to stop its practice of shuttering under-enrolled schools. Asked about what kind of impact the report might have on that decision-making, Jackson said that “part of my leadership is to make sure that we’re more transparent as a district and that we have a single set of facts on these issues.”

As for declines in student enrollment in Chicago, “that’s no secret,” she said. “I think that sometimes, when when we’re talking about school choice patterns and how parents make decisions, we all make assumptions how those decisions get made,” Jackson said. “This data is going to help make that more clear.”

Beyond selective enrollment high schools, the data spotlights the district’s most sought-after choice programs, including career and technical education programs, arts programs, and schools with the highest ratings: Level 1-plus and Level 1.

“What that says to me is that we’re doing a much better job offering things outside of the selective schools,” said Jackson, who pointed out that 23 percent of students who were offered seats at both selective enrollment and non-selective enrollment schools opted for the latter.

“Those [selective] schools are great options and we believe in them, but we also know that we have high-quality schools that are open enrollment,” she said.

Programs in low demand were more likely to be general education and military programs; programs that base admissions on lotteries with eligibility requirements; and programs located in schools with low ratings.

Other findings:

  • Chicago has far more high school seats than students — a dynamic that’s been clear for years and that the report’s authors stress is not interfering with the admissions process. About 20,000 freshman seats remain unfilled across CPS for the upcoming school year. At least 13,000 of those empty seats are a consequence of plummeting enrollment at CPS.
  • It’s still not clear how neighborhood schools, which guarantee admission to students who live within their boundaries, affect demand. About 7,000 students are expected to enroll at their neighborhood high schools. When CPS conducts its 20th day count of enrollment at district schools, more complete details will be available. Lisa Barrow, a senior economist and research advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said one of the things researchers weren’t able to dig into is the demand for neighborhood programs, because students didn’t have to rank their neighborhood schools.
  • The report suggests that the process would be more streamlined if students could rank selective enrollment programs along with other options. “If students received only one offer, there would be less need to adjust the number of offers to hit an ideal program size,” the report says.
  • Students don’t participate in the new process evenly. The report shows that students from low-income neighborhoods were more likely to rank an average of 11.7 programs, while students from the wealthiest neighborhoods ranked an average of 7.3. The authors said it was not clear whether that meant students from wealthier neighborhoods were more willing to fall back on their neighborhood schools.  
  • Students from the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods were also more likely to rank a charter school as their top choice (29 percent), compared to students from the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods (10 percent). The same was true of low academic performers (12 percent), who chose charter schools at a percentage considerably higher than their high-performing peers (12 percent).
  • While the new admissions process folded dozens of school-by-school applications into one system, it didn’t change the fact that schools admit students according to a wide range of criteria. That means the system continues to favor students who can navigate a complicated process – likely ones whose families have the time and language skills to be closely involved.

Barrow, the researcher from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said one final question the report cannot answer is whether better matching students with high schools on the front end increases the chance that they stick around where they enroll as freshmen.

“If indeed they are getting better matches for high schools,” Barrow said, “then I would expect that might show up in lower mobility rates for students, so they are more likely to stay at their school and not transfer out.”

This story has been updated to reflect that the excess capacity in Chicago high schools does not interfere with the admissions process.