The bulky, paperback high school directory that New York City students have carried home for years is now accessible on a smartphone. The city’s Department of Education just launched a new, interactive directory called “School Finder” for the 2017-18 school year.

Traditionally, the printed directory has been a key tool for students sorting through the more than 400 public high schools across New York City. It allows students to learn which programs each school offers, check metrics like student attendance, and figure out how to apply.

While the old directory was online as a PDF, the new site, which you can view here, has a search bar where students can input a school name or borough. They can break down their results by distance, admissions method, school size or eligibility rules (such as whether a school is only for males or females). Students can also “favorite” schools of interest, which saves the school name at the bottom of the website.

“It’s a priority for us at the Department of Education to make the enrollment process easier for families,” said Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack. “That’s really a part of Equity and Excellence [the mayor’s education agenda], ensuring that families have access to quality information in as easy a way as possible so they can make the best choices for their kids.”

Aside from the basics, the site also allows students to drill down into more specific interests, by searching words like “soccer,” for example, or “advanced placement” to find the school descriptions that reference them. But it does not enable students to sort by performance indicators like high graduation rates or test scores, or to look for schools that accept students with particular academic credentials.

What a search looks like under "School Finder," the department of education's new, interactive high school directory.
What a search looks like under “School Finder,” the Department of Education’s new, interactive high school directory.

Ultimately, the tool is a sleek and easily navigable version of the current high school directory, said Clara Hemphill, founder of the school-review website Insideschools, whose team offered the department feedback on the site. (The final version also provides links to Insideschools reviews.) Yet, School Finder does little to solve the myriad problems created by the complicated high school admissions process.

“Essentially, what you’re doing here is putting the high school directory on a phone. If that’s what you’re trying to do, I think they did a good job with it,” Hemphill said. “If you’re trying to make an extremely complex high school admissions process easier, that’s another job for another day.”

School Finder has some of the same problems as the old directory, such as high schools submitting incomplete information. For instance, Manhattan Hunter Science requires a personal essay for admission, but that is not listed in either the PDF or interactive directory.

The new tool also has little if any information about high school open houses, though it includes a link to an admissions events calendar on the bottom of the home screen. As Chalkbeat reported last week, attendance at open houses is sometimes factored into admissions decisions by schools, and other times provides key information about a competitive school.

The site is still being tested, and the Department of Education welcomes feedback on how to improve it, Wallack said, including being notified of any missing details. One of the department’s first tasks is to make the tool available in more languages. Currently, it’s only in English and Spanish.

While the School Finder requires a smartphone or computer, Wallack said that students without internet access at home will be able to access it at their schools. It will also make life easier for the guidance counselors who advise them, he noted.

“It’s a beta,” Wallack said. “It will continue to evolve and we’re continuing to raise funds to develop it further.”