My children came home from their middle school yesterday looking solemn and ashen-faced, and I knew immediately that something was up. They reported seeing hallways filled with sobbing 8th-graders who learned they did not get into their first, second or even third choice of high school. At least five, they said, were hysterical -- they hadn't been matched with any school at all. My 8th-grader, who got good news in February, felt terrible for some of his friends and classmates. My 6th-grader felt tremendous fear about what might happen to him. Some of the shut-out students had fine grades and test scores, so the kids now know that working hard in school doesn't guarantee a successful high school match.

Earlier in the day, a press release from the Department of Education boasted that 86 percent (74,064) of the 86,169 students who applied for admission to a New York City public high school in 2009 were matched to one of their top five choices. Over half of the applicants – 51 percent (44,012) – received their first choice school, and 76 percent (65,780) got one of their top three schools.

Buried in the churn of seemingly good news was this incredible fact: some 7,455 students received no matchat all. I've been writing about the high school selection process since September, and I can say there have been plenty of opportunities -- exams, interviews, information fairs, notices about new high schools. Guidance counselors have been informative and helpful. I was both astonished and pleased at the many different types of high schools that exist. But through it all, the lurking fear remained -- what happens if you don't get a match?

I don't think it's fair for the DOE to claim success when close to 7,500 children in New York City didn't get seats. I think that number is shamefully high. And I think there is something seriously wrong with this system. The high school admissions process is an enormously complicated and frightening ordeal that asks a lot of kids and parents. While it is true that many students had multiple fine choices, it is not okay to leave young adolescents out in the cold, sobbing in the hallways, feeling the sharp sting of rejection that in many cases was no fault of theirs.

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