Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Petition to Put Pre-K and Kindergarten Admissions Back The Way They Were, darn it.

I have mixed feelings about this. However, I believe wholeheartedly that everyone should make up her/his own mind about an issue and act accordingly. That does mean to actually read and educate oneself about a topic and not just go with "what she said." That leads to hearsay and the squeakiest wheels guiding policy changes. I'll put the link here so that those who don't want to read and/or respond to the following can just sign it and read it (not in that order, please).

Anyone who pays attention to young child and/or education issues will surely have heard a few earfuls about the "Pre-K Fiasco" that has recently occurred. Most of the attention was given to younger siblings being rejected from their older siblings' schools. As it turns out, that was only about 200 children. Now, for those 200, it was and is indeed a fiasco. (How do you drop off two kids at two separate schools - sometimes quite far away - at the same time?) However, considering the numbers of school children in NYC, not so much.

More disturbing to me was the lack of assistance that parents who aren't members of the Park Slope Parents listserve received. Navigating the NYC DOE is treacherous for those of us who are a part of it; for those who are disconnected from the processes and ways around the system, it's tear-inducing and teeth-grindingly painful.

For the three people that care about what I think, here's my take on it. Centralizing the admissions process doesn't have to be a bad thing. It's not currently run in an ideal way, but I can imagine some (unspoken) reasons as to why the process was changed. Favoritism and "buddy favors" are common. Oh come on, don't say they aren't. Another reason might be to cut down on the fraud. Most everyone knows that addresses within zone for favored schools are sometimes "borrowed" or "purchased." Centralizing the process could eliminate the first problem and mitigate the second by noticing discrepancies in the number of applications versus the households from which they come.

The petition supports giving individual schools back their control over the process. It (the petition) states that families often received two or three acceptances due to applying to their zoned school as well as lottery or magnet schools. This allowed them to choose the best option for their child. Uh, yeah. Maybe the families you know. But the same people who were out of the loop in the petition's informational "equity point" were out of that loop as well.

On the other hand, I don't buy the DOE's explanation as to why it wanted to centralize it. Just admit you want control. Just admit that people are soft and flawed when they have to work face to face with those they admit and reject. The DOE could easily obtain the data about how many spaces are needed versus how many they have. And Joel Klein's explanation of not wanting parents to "camp out" or miss information is flawed as well.

The first demand isn't necessarily a strong one. It pains me to say it, but it's only fair to allow the DOE more than one run of the process. This was the first go at the centralized process, and the numbers weren't as horrible as all the uproar promised.

I think the second, third, and fourth points in the petition are excellent. Separate the process for the schools that are separate. Keep families informed (and I'd say make the information available to the general public as well.) And obviously, add seats where they are needed.

I'd add that the process should begin earlier and include well-publicized community meetings in neighborhood languages and at different times of the day. It's nice to be able to leave work a little early without repercussions to make a 5:30 PM meeting, but what if you don't have that choice? Or what if it means you don't get paid for hours missed? Tough choices, especially these days.

Pre-K and K admissions are stressful and emotional. It's a young child you're throwing into the fray, after all. While middle school and high school admissions are scary in their own way, at least the kid has been through the mill a bit already. It's no wonder people got frenzied and nervous and nutty about the hiccups in this process. It's good to be the squeaky wheel, but it's also important to look at all sides of an issue. Loudly demanding change is important, but it's also good to realize that huge corporations (like the DOE) move slowly when changing.

Hopefully the results will work out to everyone's satisfaction. Hopefully it will be fair to everyone, not just those who squeak.


Anonymous said...

I am happy to have just discovered your blog--some great entries. I have to say, though, that I think you're putting a bit too much faith in the DOE if you think they just need more time to get centralized admissions right.

The first flaw is believing the DOE when they say that fewer than 200 people (or 120 according to Klein in Brownstoner interview) were affected by the preK mess. Given the cyberspace outcry, that low number would make it likely that the only ones affected were blog- or listserv-reading parents.

As far as I know, DOE has only admitted sibling errors, whereas in fact there have also been out-of-district kids getting in before zoned, etc. There are also the parents who didn't know about the application or couldn't fill it out. All in all, I suspect the number of people affected is far greater than the DOE's face-saving low number. Just look at the forums on Insideschools and you'll see that some of the rejected siblings STILL have not been placed, despite the DOE's claiming to have fixed things. (And, remember, as you've posted, Klein is given to underestimation--viz, the number of children in booming Bklyn neighborhoods.)

While I cannot say that some sort of favoritism did not plague admissions pre-centralization (I don't know), I wonder what evidence there is to suggest that it was indeed so widespread and prevalent as you seem to suggest. When I applied out of zone (and district) for my child, I knew no one and yet still managed to get into several schools. Was I perhaps mistaken for someone else?

Finally, I don't see how centralization would cut down on fraud. Given the high stakes that come about from having to rank all choices on one application in just the right way, I imagine MORE people will be picking a well regarded zoned school and just making sure they have the right address, come hell or high water. It's the way to ensure their prospects for admission to at least one school.

At any rate, though we may disagree, thanks for mentioning the petition (which does suggest that there be some standardized protocols for school-based admissions--in other words, not "back the way they were, darn it").

BestViewInBrooklyn said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I don't put too much faith in internet listserv numbers because it's inherently unreliable (and granted, the DOE can be as well!). I know of at least a few people who have more than one address on the Park Slope Parents listserve, for instance. That way, their comments and questions can be separated. Either way, you're correct that the 200 (or low 100) numbers could very well be suspect.

My focus has been on high school placement, and the first year with the 12 choices (12!) was very confusing and full of unplaced/misplaced students. Or so it seemed. As teachers, we were outraged for our students and for their parents. However, when tempers calmed down and people really got down to it, some of the errors were human error - on the part of the family. And, of course, some of the errors were on the part of the DOE.

In the end, I signed the petition because I don't see any harm in asking that schools get back the control. That, and I like the last three points very much.

The bottom line is that while the lower rungs of education may be touchy-feely-people-oriented, the upper rungs are business oriented. If it costs them too much money, they'll change it. If not, they'll keep on keeping on.