New York, NY, January 21, 2021– Public school families are outraged that the Department of Education (DOE) eliminated middle school screened admissions this year, and instead will make offers by lottery. This week, the DOE finally shared with families how the lottery will work at its middle school information session, more than a month after it made the lottery policy announcement on December 18.
The DOE’s middle school enrollment office explained that it will use a computer-generated random number as the lottery number. In the absence of academic and talent assessments, the student’s single lottery number is the determining factor in assigning students to schools. The likelihood of getting into the student’s preferred school is based on how “good” the lottery number is. Students with better or luckier lottery numbers will get their first choice. In contrast, students who did not draw a lucky lottery number will have little chance of getting their preferred school or even one of their higher ranked schools.
In the interest of transparency, students should be provided with their assigned lottery number including its relative strength to all lottery numbers given. When asked if the DOE will share the lottery number with families, Nadiya Chadha from the DOE’s Office of Enrollment said no, stating that the lottery number is a hexadecimal (string of numbers and letters) that would be hard for families to understand. This is simply an excuse to keep the process opaque.
Maud Maron, CEC2 member and a PLACE NYC co-founder and Vice President said “Instead of the insulting assertion that parents can’t understand simple conversions, the DOE could and should teach 5th graders how to convert their own lottery numbers.” — translating a hexadecimal to a readable decimal number is a trivial conversion. “Families should be given their lottery number before the middle school application is due. Students with unlucky lottery numbers can research less in-demand schools and not waste their choices on high demand programs. Students with good lottery numbers can limit their research to their top selections. It is only fair that families be allowed to adjust their rankings after receiving their lottery number.”
Furthermore, once the assignments are done, the DOE should publish the range of lottery numbers that gained acceptance to each school. This should be included as part of the waitlist process that kicks in after offers are made in late spring. This will help ensure no senior officials or individuals with influence are able to jump the line as has happened in the past.
The DOE’s elimination of screened admissions disregards 70% of the families who spoke out to maintain screens at the Admissions Engagement Forums in June. By repeatedly delaying the announcement of these drastic changes until the day before winter break the DOE has reinforced the mistrust parents have in the DOE. The deliberate obfuscation of the lottery process further deteriorates the confidence of families throughout the city in the DOE; families and their students deserve a less confusing and more consistent process during this chaotic time.
The DOE must provide transparent lottery numbers so that families can help their students plan accordingly. There is no reason why families should be kept from knowing the sole criteria on how middle school offers are made. If the DOE refuses to provide families with their student’s lottery number, PLACE NYC strongly encourages families to request their number, which they are legally entitled to know, through a FOIL request by sending an email to FOIL@schools.nyc.gov. If our students’ education future is being left to chance, the drawing process should at the very least be fully transparent and fair.