Aggrieved parents quickly began expressing their frustration on various platforms. In an online discussion with the Department of Education, one mother explained that her son had “excellent grades, no disciplinary issues and was not given any of his 12 choices, which is a travesty.” She went on to say that her son had asked her why he should “try to finish off the year, completing work, if it doesn’t matter.”
A father whose daughter had also been rejected from every school on her list said that she now had a position on a wait list “in the thousands” and that this was “unacceptable.” She was, he said, “an A student” burdened with a terrible lottery number, and he wanted to know “what can be done.” Both parents received the exact same convoluted bot-like response from the education department’s panelist, only infuriating the community of the disappointed even more.
By Tuesday a city councilman from Queens had written an irate letter to the department asking to reverse the policy “immediately.” By Wednesday, one group of parents was planning a rally in front of Tweed Courthouse for later in the week under the banner, “Merit Matters,” which asked protesters to come with signs and “fury.”
It will take a long time to know whether these tweaks in the system — which may or may not remain in coming years — will effect the desired change, something contingent, in part, on the kind of support students who might be new to intensely rigorous curriculums receive in order to succeed. How easy it will be to provide that kind of support given recent cuts to the city’s education budget, defended on the grounds that school enrollment has declined during the pandemic even if need has not, is hard to know.
One parent I spoke with, Vernecya Fields — a single mother of four who works for the M.T.A. — told me that because her daughter struggled with anxiety and was coming from a middle school that was lax and gave very little homework, she did not think that Beacon, one of the most competitive high schools, would have been a place where her daughter could thrive, even though she had strong grades and a very good lottery number and considered listing it in first place. Ms. Fields had chided parents in a Facebook group over their entitlement — the belief, as she saw it, that their own children were more deserving of admission to the best schools over low-income children who might also be Black and brown. But despite all that, she told me, she thought the current lottery system was far from ideal.
Preliminary data from the Education Department does show that the needle has been moved in some of the most desirable screened high schools. Townsend Harris in Queens, for example, made 23 percent of its offers to Black and Latino students this spring, up from 16 percent last year. At Millennium Brooklyn, the percentage of offers to Black and Latino students more than doubled, to 43 percent. And the number of offers made to students on free or reduced-price lunch increased at screened schools across the board.
The difficulty of really swaying things, however, was obvious in another year of dismal admissions numbers for Black and Latino students at the specialized high schools. Although one-fifth of all students who took the entrance exam were Black, only 3.2 percent were given a place at one of the eight schools. Out of 756 students offered admission to Stuyvesant this year, only 11 are Black and only 23 are Latino.