Yvonne Shortt

Yvonne Shortt
December 01
Yvonne Shortt owns her own technology firm and is the executive director of the Rego Park Green Alliance, a community based non-profit in Queens, NY. She is also the author of A New York City Public School Goes Green. In her spare time she teaches robotics and works on a new book called All About Maddie where a little girl deals with her grandpa's fading memories. http://www.allaboutmaddie.com


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DECEMBER 13, 2011 2:35AM

New York City High School Choice

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High School Choice

The applications are in but the questions linger

By Yvonne Shortt

December 2nd was the day all New York City public school 8th graders turned in their high school choice applications. In New York, public high school admission is a selective process, with some schools being more selective than others.  On that day, parents gave a sigh of relief that at least their list of schools, in order of preference, had been written down and submitted to the Department of Education.

My husband and I thought we would have an easier time than most. Our daughter was attending a rare grade 6-12 public school. It was a new school and my daughter's class would be the first to graduate, but at least we didn’t have to go through the grueling New York City High School application process.  Or did we?

My husband and I had issues with the quality of education my daughter was receiving at her new school. By the time we had to apply to high schools, she’d been at the school almost a year and a half and if past performance were any indicator, her education would be mediocre at best. However, this school was working out great in other areas; she loved the kids, had more friends, and the principals knew her name.

Several parents from my daughter’s school were concerned as well. Their kids were doing fine but they had little homework and the work wasn’t on par with other middle schools in the area. They also wondered if their kids stayed at this school, would they get the education necessary to do well in college?   I was shocked to later learn that some of those same parents had decided they wouldn't be applying to a more rigorous high school for fear that their child’s G.P.A. would suffer and they would not get into a good university. I know getting into competitive colleges is extremely difficult these days but does it really benefit a kid to stay at a school that isn't rigorous for the chance of getting into a university in which they might not be adequately prepared? Should my daughter stay in her current school?

In order to get into most universities you have to take the SAT. Doesn't it stand to reason that kids in less rigorous schools would fair poorer on the test than those in a more rigorous setting?  Some parents have thought about this question. They maintain that good SAT marks are all about the test preparation that is available at a variety of test prep centers. All you have to do is look in Flushing, Queens to see they have a point. If you throw a rock in Flushing, you’ll probably hit a test prep center. Parents also add, a child at a less rigorous school has more time to study for an SAT test than perhaps a child at a rigorous school.

Let's not forget the extracurricular activities that are so important to universities. If you don't have to study as much, you may find that you have more time for after school activities.  You are probably less stressed at an easier high school, which can be an added benefit in today’s hyper competitive university application scene where even the parents with kids in the feeder schools (schools that send a high portion of their students to Ivy schools) send their kids to tutors and have them work summers at their companies to pad their applications. Perhaps parents who favor less rigorous high schools have a point.

My neighbor, with a child who graduated from Stuyvesant, wondered if she did the wrong thing when she sent her child there. Her child had a strong 89 average when she graduated high school and did very well on her SAT (perfect math score) but was turned away from many of the most competitive universities. My neighbor felt that if she had sent her child to her locally zoned high school her G.P.A. would have been higher and the child would have gotten into a more competitive university. My neighbor is not alone in this sentiment.  I have heard it echoed from other parents with kids in schools with a rigorous curriculum. According to the New York State Department of Education, Stuyvesant has a college readiness of over 97 percent while my neighbor’s locally zoned school is less than 40. Perhaps this is a big reason why many parents go for the more rigorous schools; they don't want to run the risk of their child not being prepared for college.

What happens when a kid with a less than rigorous education attends a competitive college?  Perhaps that is where they are eventually weeded out. But that seat was a missed opportunity for another child, perhaps one who chose a more rigorous education.  The greatest lessons may be learned after college. The child who chose the more rigorous education may be better prepared to face the world. However, after seeing their less educated counterparts in more competitive universities, they may start to believe the only way to get ahead is by gaming the system. A colleague of my husband’s remarked on several occasions that he wished he had gone to his locally zoned high school instead of the Bronx High School of Science because he would have had a higher G.P.A. and probably would have gotten into Cornell.

In the end, my husband and I decided that our daughter should apply to a more rigorous high school.  Regardless of where she goes to college, we feel that it is most important to get a quality education. In our opinion, a good life lesson is that an excellent education is in itself the reward.  That said, our feelings might change when she is in 11th grade looking at college admission data and weighing her options.


 Yvonne Shortt is the executive director of the Rego Park Green Alliance, a community based non-profit in Queens, NY.  She is also the author of A New York City Public School Goes Green.

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Hi Baltimore aureole,
Thanks for the comment. The girl in the article did get into Fordham (Many would have been happy with this ) but she did not get an offer from Columbia or NYU. At Stuy many kids score very well on SAT tests but SAT tests aren't the only thing that schools look at as I'm sure you know. The girl was not as active as she could have been because when she arrived home she studied and did homework until bed time. At Stuy 3 hours of homework is normal. In regards to your other comment, the girl in question is a superb math student. Once again thanks for reading and responding! Much appreciated.
Interesting piece, Yvonne. I'm in Seattle and feel fortunate to be in a good neighborhood with good schools -- though I'm sure not the type of prep schools that can be found in NYC. I've just always figured that it would all work out for my daughters (now ages 9 and 12). Maybe it's that laid back Northwest attitude. Of course, I've also figured that state universities will be the most we could pay for - regardless of where our daughters get in.
Thanks for responding Ingrid. I go to Seattle once a year because my husband's family is there. People definitely seem to be laid back but I have to say the Bellevue school district (for those who don't it is around 10-20 minutes away) had several schools listed in US News top high schools. One reason, the number of AP courses offered. My nephew, who went to one of the high school's there, took 9 AP courses before he graduated. Many of the kids in his class took around the same. Thanks again for responding. I love Seattle and miss it very much.
No two ways about it. I say go for the rigor. I think too much is made of the prestigious university cache. Is it really worth it to dumb down a child's education just to inflate her GPA? As for the kid who got into Fordham, nothing wrong with that. Furthermore, the kids graduating into the 21st century economy will need to focus on math and science. Period. A well-trained engineer can write her ticket no matter what school she attends.
bluestocking babe, thanks for your opinion. I agree that too much is made of the prestigious university cache. Every child needs a good foundation and that comes in the years prior to college. Regarding math and science, I also agree and that's one of the main reasons i started bringing robotics to schools around NYC. The other, hopefully I will spark someone to think a little differently and they might use that creativity to save lives one day. Once again, thanks for your feedback.
I just don't remember the school biz being this complex when I was growing up, but then, I did go to a rigorous private school so I felt that I did get a leg up. I will say that going to the "right" college doesn't mean much if you don't know who you are and what you want to do in the world. Took me awhile to figure that out.
Thanks Pauline for commenting. As someone who spent some time in private and public schools there is definitely a big difference. I do think going to a good university can give you confidence and a strong foundation regardless of where you end up.And for some, knowing where to start can take some time. I know it sure did for me.
I would have gone for the rigorous high school as well. This game starts even in the earliest years, when some parents keep children with fall birthdays from starting school till the following year--that way they are more developed and do better compared to their peers. There are such questions all down the line. A "name" university isn't everything. All the doing-the-perfect-thing-all-their-life can create a real dull kid.
Agreed ManhattanWhiteGirl. I want a kid who is exciting and excited about life. On another note, I know a woman who put her child in kindergarten in public school and had him redo kindergarten in a private school the next year ( private schools like them to start older). There is also a girl a years and a half older than my daughter in her grade. Her mother, after seeing other mother's keep their kids out an extra year, decided to do the same. Her daughter was asked to join the gifted class at Hunter but she was competing with kids much younger. There is a big difference between a 5 year old and a 6 1/2 year old.
I went to Bard High School Early College on Houston Street. It was hard, I worked my ass off, and I now that I'm in college, I feel so capable of doing the work I'm being asked to do. I probably would have got better grades somewhere else, but I'm so glad I went to Bard.

You seem very invested in your daughter's education. No matter where she goes, the fact that her parents care so much about her future means that she'll do fine. At the end of the day, NYC's public education system is pretty good. Even the less-than-ideal, less rigorous schools have something to offer.
Jacqueline, thanks. I read your blog and signed the petition. Shame on them. F.Y.I. We visited Bard and thought it was a very good school. It's definitely on our list!
The SAT is so important precisely because grades can't be trusted. But if you are shooting for your daughter to attend a university where a perfect math score isn't enough, then you and your friends have pretty problems. No matter where they go to school, it's important they learn to bloom where planted.
Hi Louisa,
I agree it is very important to bloom where planted. I think going to Fordham is great. My point was regarding the decision to go to a more rigorous school as opposed to staying at a school that is not as challenging and why some parents might opt out. The essay was more about my process and thoughts about what others have said which I though important to document in my process. Thanks again for your response.
Sleazing one's way through life
is the lesson taught when we
encourage and condone taking
the easy way out...Your decision
was the best because it's not only
correct but courageous as well.
As a result, you are teaching your
daughter that life is not just about
being right, it's about doing right.
Nicely written post...She'll be OK.
Thanks Ron. Sometimes it can be hard to do right when everyone else around you is doing wrong. The lines can become blurred and right seem wrong and wrong seems right.