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.