New City high school admissions rules could slow pandemic-era diversity gains

After admissions rules were loosened during the pandemic, many schools saw a jump in the number of Black and Latino students admitted. At Millennium Brooklyn, the difference was significant: 43% of students admitted last year were Black and Latino, compared to just 20% the year before.

In New York City, where public schools are among the most segregated by race and class in the country, the pandemic upended school admissions: selective schools couldn’t rely as heavily on grades, test scores, and attendance records to screen students. The result at many of the city’s most competitive schools was a freshman class that looked more like the city as a whole.

But recently announced changes to high school admissions for next year could slow that progress, city education department projections show.

Millennium Brooklyn wasn’t alone in seeing a more diverse freshman class because of pandemic enrollment reforms. At the city’s 27 highest-performing screened schools, 40% of students accepted last year were Black and Latino, up from 28% in 2020.

“I would consider these pretty substantial changes,” said Sean Corcoran, a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University. Under last year’s rules, roughly 60% of all of the city’s eighth graders qualified for priority access to screened schools – a historically large swath of kids.

But that access is being tightened again under new rules announced last month by schools Chancellor David Banks. The new system prioritizes students who score in the top 15% of their school or citywide by grades, and average at least a 90% — earning them a “tier one” designation. Roughly 20% of this year’s eighth graders will end up in tier one for screened high schools this year, education department officials say.

Just 10% of students projected to fall in tier one are Black, even though Black students make up 26% of all eighth graders, according to education department projections. Latino students will make up a projected 23% of tier one, despite comprising 42% of all eighth graders.

The projections don’t give a perfect picture of who will end up in screened schools — that partly depends on who ultimately decides to apply, and who ends up at specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, which use a completely separate admissions system. But they do give a sense of how the process could play out, experts say.

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