Search News & Views
By Bruce Cory, editorial advisor and Nicole Mader, data analyst at the Center for New York City Affairs.
There’s a longstanding debate about why so few Black and Hispanic students are admitted to New York City’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. They accounted for fewer than 9 percent of students offered admissions at eight specialized schools for the current school year; that’s down from 9.6 percent the year before. Some say the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT) is discriminatory and should be scrapped; others say the test merely reflects the poor preparation most Black and Hispanic students, who make up some 68 percent of public school enrollment, get in the elementary and middle schools.
Now, new research by the Center for New York City Affairs shows that even Black and Hispanic students who do very well in middle school—that is, those who as 7th-graders earn the best possible scores on either math or English language arts (ELA) state standardized tests—are much less likely to attend specialized high schools than their similarly high-performing Asian or White classmates.
This suggests that the City’s Department of Education (DOE) may be able to increase Black and Hispanic specialized high school admissions without scrapping the SHSAT (a politically daunting task) or completely overhauling the elementary and middle schools. It offers hope that plans announced last week to increase the diversity of students taking and passing the SHSAT could produce progress.
Q: I hope you can answer this before school closes for the summer. It would help settle a family dispute! Our son is finishing his junior year of high school. He's a good student, B/B+ average—not at the top of his class, but probably in the top quarter. He has to apply to college next fall, and I think he needs to use this coming summer to better advantage. The last three summers, he's played baseball in a town league and when not playing baseball he's worked at a local restaurant as a busboy and server. I think he ought enhance his applications. I want him to take an SAT prep course and to get at least one internship. Our next-door neighbor is a dentist, and is willing to let our son work in his office for a month. Wouldn't an internship in a dental practice look better on his applications than a job bringing people their pizza?
A: No, not necessarily. One can learn a lot about people by serving them their meals, as well as a lot about oneself by accepting responsibility.
Unless your son's essay or other activities indicate that he has an interest in the health professions, working in a dentist's office for a month won't matter.
Q: Do you recommend that we send colleges our child's first round of ACT scores? Of course, we don't know how he did, but he seemed to feel confident about it. In addition, his practice test scores had him scoring at the 98th percentile.
A: You do not say if your child is a high school junior—I will assume that. I do not think it is healthy to start studying for, or taking, the standardized tests before that (although I know the PSAT is usually given to 10th graders).
My first reaction to your sending the scores to colleges is: Why? And the second question would be: Where? Do you already have a list of possible colleges? It's a little early to have a final list.
Q: I was waitlisted at my top school (Cornell), as well as two other schools (UPenn and Dartmouth). Realistically, what are my chances of getting into Cornell from their waitlist? My major is biomedical engineering (with a minor in animal science) and I am female. I got into my "targets" and "safeties" but none of them offer biomedical engineering AND animal science, and quite frankly, I just don't like them.
A: Being on a waitlist is a tough situation. You don't have a final answer and yet you still need to enroll somewhere by May 1. Sometimes colleges never take anyone from their waitlists, and at other times, when they do take applicants, it seems random.
It's actually not completely random, and you do have some power here. But, just as with any admissions decision, there are no guarantees.
Q: I am in 10th grade and starting to think about preparing for college admission. This year, some of my friends took the new SAT. But at this point I don’t know if I should prepare for the SAT or take the ACT. Which would look better for college?
A: To colleges, the SAT and the ACT “look” the same. Admissions offices do not care which test you take. It doesn’t matter. You should take the test with which you are more comfortable. Some students like the new SAT, while others do not. There is always going to be a difference of opinion.
The tests were created at two different times and by two different companies. And, these companies pretty much control the testing market. The tests are not perfect, and results are dependent on many factors including academic preparation, socioeconomics, and English fluency.
Q: I'm thinking about transferring from a private to a public school in the middle of my senior year. If I do end up transferring, will this affect the college applications I've already sent? And if so, will this have a heavy impact?
A: The answer is yes! Transferring from one school to another during the high school years is one thing; but transferring in the middle of your senior year is another.
Switching high schools is fairly common. It happens for many reasons: a parent gets a new job, a parent re-marries and moves to another city or state, a family's financial situation changes. I remember reading an application from a young woman in a military family; they moved to a new base annually, and she wrote that one of the reasons she looked forward to college was being in the same place for four consecutive years! But the moving around, in itself, did not hurt her.
Q: I failed my geometry class for one grading period, but I am a straight A student for everything else. Is there any way for me to get accepted by a pretty good college?
A: Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Sounds like you had a tough time with your math class, but you are a hard-working student and this failure came as a real shock; failing is not what you ordinarily do. And someone is telling you, "Now, you'll never get into a good college!" Take a deep breath. Everyone messes up on something. But if this one grading period's failure is uncharacteristic, and everything else is fine, you will have no problem getting into a ton of colleges. You may run into a problem, however, if this is part of a pattern of weak grades. (As a side note, remember that you still have time to improve your grade before the end of the semester. Ask your teacher for help!)
Q: I just read your comments about the the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) programs. My daughter and son have received so many different "opportunities" and it is indeed difficult to discern the value of these programs. So what is your opinion about Model United Nations (MUN) programs that provide intensive "opportunities" throughout the country? My daughter is involved in MUN at her high school and wants to develop her skills in this area. Will participating in a program such as this add value to her resume?
A: Participation in Model UN could add value especially if she has had a leadership role in the organization or has participated actively (that is, other than just going to meetings). The National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) and other "honor" programs, such as the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF), offer worthwhile experiences—but at a steep price. One of the organizers of the NYLF, in fact, is the Envision company which, as a dot-com, is interested mostly in making profits for itself. The experiences offered by these programs might be enjoyable, but they will NOT help anyone get into college.
Model United Nations (MUN), on the other hand, is a legitimate activity that originated around the time the UN did. In 1927, a model League of Nations was founded, followed by the Model UN in the late 1940s. Many high schools and colleges offer their students MUN as one of their extra-curricular activities. Here, students experience simulated UN sessions and learn about world affairs, decision-making processes, negotiation and diplomacy. Being involved in MUN during high school is considered an excellent activity, equal to being involved in the orchestra, an athletic team, the debating society, a theatrical production or any other group demanding a commitment of time and brainpower.
by Rachel Howard, Lori Podvesker, Albert Martinez and Todd Dorman of INCLUDEnyc
All 8th-graders have a rough time applying to high schools in New York City, but for the 15,000 8th-graders with disabilities—out of 270,000 total students with disabilities—the application process is even harder. Information in the high school directory can be misleading, and parents of children with disabilities don't get much help at fairs or open houses. Families hear the same mantra: “This school will provide students with disabilities the supports and services indicated on their IEPs.” Too often, it’s just not true.
Students with disabilities, especially those from high-need neighborhoods, are at the highest risk for placement at the city’s lowest performing high schools—or at schools that are unprepared to support them. Through our work at INCLUDEnyc, we’ve seen kids choose underperforming schools over better ones because they were close by; we’ve seen others apply to schools that they weren’t qualified to attend, or that were geographically inaccessible to them. Too many students with disabilities make uninformed choices about high school—and it shows. The graduation rate for students with disabilities is 36.6 percent (about half of the city average), and the dropout rate is especially high during 9th grade.
Students who meet the criteria for one of 13 federally defined education disabilities are legally entitled to an Individualized Education Program, known as an IEP. An IEP outlines the services, supports, and educational strategies that must be provided so the student can learn and graduate ready for a job or college. The IEP is both a legal contract and a working educational map. But the capacity of any school to fulfill a student’s program—which is different for every student—is all but ignored in the NYC high school application process.
Q: I am a high school senior. The only thing I know about college is that I want to double-major and eventually get a degree for secondary education. However, I have many interests so I'm unsure what to major in. I love English, biology, and chemistry, but mostly psychology. I am hoping to travel in summers and help kids across the country. I need a degree that will help me do that! Thank you!
A: You are in luck, although you might not realize it now. It seems as though you may be confronted with difficult decisions, but quite the contrary: your future lies before you like a treasure map, but instead of just one treasure, there are many! You have a lot of options.