Sign up for our newsletter
Home » Breaking News » Report Praises NYC School Choice

Report Praises NYC School Choice

“National Report Praises School-Choice System for New York City Students”
By Sam Dillon
New York Times
November 29, 2011

New York has the most effective school-choice system of any of the nation’s largest school districts, allowing students and parents the most freedom and providing them with the most relevant information on educational performance, according to a new Brookings Institution report scheduled for publication online Wednesday.

But even New York got a B under the report’s A-to-F grading system, with Brookings saying the city provided the least useful online information for comparing schools and giving it low scores in several other categories.

The Chicago public school district, which has the nation’s third-largest student population, after New York and Los Angeles, ranked second in choice, with a B. Los Angeles was 21st, with a C, and the Orange County district in Florida, which includes Orlando, came in last, with the report’s lone D.

Brookings, which has advocated expanded choices for students, rated districts in 13 categories, including availability of charter, magnet and affordable private schools; policies on virtual education; and “restructuring or closing unpopular schools.” Grover Whitehurst, a senior fellow at Brookings who developed the index, said districts were allowed to “put their best foot forward” and be judged on a particular aspect of their system — in New York, for example, officials showcased the process for assigning students to high schools.

New York’s eighth graders fill out high school applications ranking as many as 12 choices, and the high schools, in turn, rank applicants based on their portfolios, test scores, geographic proximity and other factors. A computer then matches students to high schools. This year 48 percent of all students were assigned to their first-choice high school.

There is less choice for middle schools and, especially, elementary schools, as most New York City students attend schools in whichever of the city’s 32 community districts they live.

That system is how students are assigned to schools in most of the nation’s 15,000 school districts, said Dr. Whitehurst, who is a proponent of more choice.

“The typical pattern across the country is residential assignment,” he said. “To the degree that there is choice within the public schools, it’s mostly limited to a few magnet schools.”

The Brookings report, called the Education Choice and Competition Index, awarded no A’s or F’s: the nation’s 25 largest districts earned 6 B’s, 18 C’s and 1 D. “Nobody was close to perfection,” Dr. Whitehurst explained, “and no district was terrible in everything.”

In Orange County in Florida, for instance, students have better virtual-school options than do New Yorkers, and the district’s Web site is easier to understand and navigate than New York’s, the report said. But Brookings said the district did not provide students and parents with much actual choice because most students are zoned to attend a school near their residence.

A spokeswoman for the district disagreed, noting that Orange County has several magnet schools and 30 charter schools and that it provides some students free busing to attend them.

“Holy mackerel, that’s so inaccurate,” the spokeswoman, Katherine P. Marsh, said of the report, noting that 26,000 of the district’s 179,000 students last year chose to attend a school other than the one for which they were zoned.