New York City officials announced a series of admissions changes for hundreds of middle and high schools Friday to address racial segregation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is suspending merit-based screening systems for its selective middle schools for at least a year. That means that academic records, auditions and other assessments will no longer be used by schools to skim off the top-performing elementary school students and segregate them from other children.
A lottery would be used when schools have more applicants than available seats.
The change is meant to address a pattern that has led to highly sought-after schools filling up with white, wealthier students.
“It’s time to start using every tool at our disposal to address inequality,” de Blasio said. “The status quo in New York City public schools cannot continue.”
Momentum for such changes has been building in the city for several years, but implementation was hastened by the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended the normal school application process.
The system also will eliminate geographic priorities, including borough residency requirements, for high school admissions next year.
For now, the changes won’t apply to elite high schools, which base admission on tests and performing arts auditions. But high schools that academically screen students for admission were encouraged “to remove or alter their screens in the year ahead,” the system announced.
City Council Member Brad Lander called the announcement “a huge and important step towards fairness and integration in our schools and fundamentally necessary this year to mitigate the inequalities of pandemic school.”
“All too often, admissions screens measure access to resources far more than ability, furthering segregation and inequality in our public schools,” Lander said. “Using old test scores, grades and meaningless attendance data to sort fourth graders into schools makes no sense.”
Middle school academic screens had previously already been done away with in one part of Brooklyn, where de Blasio lived before becoming mayor.
Fears there that white parents would flee in droves if their children couldn’t get into selective schools proved to be unfounded, though it is unclear what the pattern will be as the policy is broadened across the city.
With reporting by The Associated Press.