The whispers started in early February.
Numerous parents reported they’d heard that the Department of Education was quietly planning to unscreen high schools for September 2021 admissions.
As one wrote me:
At the school where I teach we found out that out of all the available seats for incoming freshmen, three quarters now will be unscreened. The decision was made without informing staff and more importantly, parents. Word is that this is happening with ALL screened schools.
On Thursday, February 13, Twitter was filled with self-identified students from Manhattan Center For Science and Mathematics High School, using hashtag #SaveMCSM, claiming that their school, which screens for admission using grades, test scores, attendance and punctuality, was about to be unscreened – against their will.
MCSM is located in District 4’s East Harlem. It is 53% Hispanic, 20% Asian, and 19% Black, as well as 80% Free/Reduced Price Lunch. It hosts one Science & Math Screened program, and another which is open only to students whose home language is Spanish. An impressive 89% of their students graduate with test scores high enough to enroll at an NYC City College without remedial help.
Their tweets read:
- Manhattan Center High School for Math and Science is being illegally changed to a unscreened school. So far it provides many APs for minorities that demonstrate amazing attendance and at least an 85 average in middle school to assure students really care.
- How dare you work behind our school’s back to take away our screening. Every student worked hard to get into this school. Please rethink this decision. We don’t deserve to be punished.
- When will you realize that MCSM is a highly successful school that consists of 95% minority’s and has a 98% graduation rate and making MCSM into a zone school will ruin it.
- They really went behind the schools back and told us last second “oh yeah, by the way, you’re unscreened now”. We had absolutely no say, it’s not okay.
- Our hard work and dedication to our education should not be taken for granted. We are one of New York cities top schools and a big representation of our educational system. So much will be taken away from Manhattan Centers learning system and schools environment.
- I don’t understand why make this decision, all of us have worked hard to maintain the graduation rate and your taking our hard work for granted, which is definitely unfair especially since you did this behind the schools back
Department of Education Press Secretary Miranda Barbot rushed to reassure the students that they were mistaken:
The students of Manhattan Center for Science and Math (MCSM) can’t support a leader, who’s changing their school for the worse. You are ruining the reputation of MCSM. Making it an unscreened school and allowing kids below our standards isn’t what a leader does.
— jessica (@jessxicat) February 13, 2020
That was good enough for New York Times education writer, Eliza Shapiro:
Hearing concern that Manhattan Center for Science and Math, a high-performing high school in Harlem, will no longer use academic screens for admission next year. That's NOT true, according to the DOE. Admissions staying the same. Which is maybe the bigger story? Anyway.
— Eliza Shapiro (@elizashapiro) February 14, 2020
Managing to be even more condescending with the below tweet:
hi Thomas! So I have an editor at the Times and she is the only person who can tell me to “write this one up.” But thanks for your input.
— Eliza Shapiro (@elizashapiro) February 15, 2020
Then when Shapiro confidently (and erroneously) informed NYC parents that private and charter schools were no longer accepting applications, so families had no choice but to attend the public middle school where they’d been placed, she just could not, for the life of her, understand why students and parents weren’t swallowing the DOE’s denials as surely as she was.
Maybe it’s because, unlike NYT reporters, NYC parents and students remember all the other times they’ve been deceived in the past.
They remember high-schools changing admissions requirements a few weeks before applications were due. They remember the year that admission to Kindergarten Dual Language programs was changed in the middle of the process.
They remember the lies about Universal Pre-Kindergarten demand and availability, and they remember the promises that were made – and broken – about educating kids with special needs.
They remember manipulated waitlists, grade fixing, cockroach-infested buildings, listening sessions where nobody listened, and Chancellor Richard Carranza insisting he doesn’t have the authority to change admissions at the five smaller SHSAT schools – before reversing himself. And coming up with another excuse.
They remember the DOE push to change admissions to Medgar Evers College Preparatory School, a Brooklyn middle and high school boasting a 95% four-year graduation rate and a 67% college readiness rate, while being 88% Black and 71% FRL, by lumping MECPS in with “privileged (presumably white) parents trying to keep low-income children of color from sharing the resources of their high-performing school.”
They remember Mayor Bill De Blasio and Councilman Brad Lander bemoaning how much they wished their children had gotten the chance to attend diverse middle schools – but waiting until they’d graduated to unscreen all of Brooklyn’s District 15’s middle schools, and the victory lap about what a great success it was… before even one semester had passed.
When The New York Post’s Karol Markowicz asked me what I thought about the latter, I told her:
One year’s enrollment data gives us barely any information to work with. We don’t know yet whether the cohort that entered in 2019 will even stay the entire three years of middle school. We don’t know if reports from 2019 will dissuade those who are ranking their schools for 2020 and beyond. We don’t know how the newly unscreened schools will perform in the coming years and whether that will cause the predicted “white flight.” But, most importantly, why assume that only white families are concerned about the education offered to their children by public schools? African-Americans have the highest proportional opt-out rate from their zoned schools of any racial group in NYC. I would expect them to “flee” as much as anyone. In fact, considering how Black families have been treated in the past, I would expect them to trust the system and its promises LESS than white families who have previously had mostly positive experiences and be MORE likely to explore their other options.
While those who, like Shapiro, have had mostly positive experiences with the DOE are happy to accept the denials of secret admissions changes at face value, it’s very likely that the parents and students of MCSM – and many, many other schools – know better.
They’ve been lied to before.
Why shouldn’t they believe it’s happening again?