study says...

Study looks at what influences students' high school choices

When black and Hispanic students sit down to fill out their high school application forms, they tend to prioritize schools that are better performing and more racially diverse than their middle schools, which are on average, lower-performing and more racially isolated. But a study shows that the schools that actually accept them are more like the middle schools they come from.

That’s one of the findings in a study that tries to begin to understand the mysteries behind the city’s enormously complex high school selection process. Completed by New York University Assistant Professor Sean Corcoran and Teachers College Professor Henry Levin, the study was presented at a forum on high school choice at the New School today and also appears in the book Education Reform in New York City that was published this month.

Corcoran and Levin’s findings are interesting not only as an insight into why some students make the choices they do. They also add depth to the core claim of Mayor Bloomberg’s reforms: that by expanding students’ options for where they go to school, the quality of their education will improve.

Among the study’s other findings are:

  • The average number of programs that students list — they can name up to 12 — has fallen between 2004 when the new high school admissions policy began and 2008, when the study’s most recent data was gathered. Still, about 21 percent of eighth graders list the maximum of 12 schools. About seven percent of students only write one school on their list, but 82 percent of them were matched to this choice. There are a handful of explanations for this high matching rate. One is that these students applied only to their zoned school, or a guidance counselor applied for them. Another is that they applied to continue on into ninth grade at their current school.
  • A student’s socioeconomic background, academic strength, and neighborhood all have a hand in influencing how many programs they list. Students in the Bronx and Manhattan listed more choices than their peers in Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn. Students who were economically and academically disadvantaged were more likely to rank more choices than their advantaged peers.
  • A student’s middle school guidance counselor also matters. Controlling for other predictive factors, Corcoran and Levin found that students submit shorter or longer lists depending on their middle school. The study says: “Counselors are ultimately responsible for submitting applications, and thus may have a high degree of influence on the number of choices.”
  • Low achieving students were more likely to rank schools with low graduation rates and largely low-income student bodies as their first choice. Students who were in the bottom third in math picked schools with an average four-year graduation rate of 66 percent and schools that were unlikely to have an A on their most recent report card.
  • White students, students from Staten Island, and students who aren’t fluent in English were more likely to rank the school closest to their home as their first choice than were black students. Only 8 percent of black students did so, whereas the citywide average was 14 percent.

Members of a panel moderated by New School Center for NYC Affairs senior editor Clara Hemphill discussed how guidance counselors and enrollment centers can affect where students apply to high school.

A doctoral candidate at New York University, Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj said that at one of the middle schools she’s spent time in, where many students come from low-income, immigrant families, guidance counselors filled out high school admission rankings for about 20 students without the students’ input. She said that using the percentage of students who get their first choice school as an indication of how well the system is working could be misleading.

“Getting your first ranked school doesn’t necessarily mean that a kid did a lot of research,” she said. “The kids didn’t turn in their applications so the guidance counselor put down their zoned school as their first choice and they got it.”

Carol Boyd, a member of the New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, said she re-wrote the city’s guide to high schools to make it more accessible to parents in her Bronx neighborhood. On their own, the schools’ guidance counselors couldn’t make the process clear to students and parents, she said.

Recently named CEO of the Department of Education’s Enrollment Office Robert Sanft said that the DOE had improved communication with parents about the process. This year, it added schools’ graduation rates to the high school directory, which caused more students to apply to high performing schools. Sanft said that supply and demand remains a problem for the DOE — the isn’t creating good schools fast enough, he said.

Corcoran and Levin’s study does not include two groups of high school students: those coming from private schools and those who move to the city after the application process is over and are known as “over the counter” students.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.