New York City’s high school directory, a giant 630-page book for eighth graders that helps them get a sense of their options, will be condensing and moving mostly online. The new physical book, which will now only offer general information and point students to an online directory where they can learn more specifics about different schools, will be distributed to eighth grades from May through June. Officials say these changes are meant to simplify the application process and make it easier for schools to update policy changes or inaccurate information that have appeared in previous paper guides. Reema Amin reported on this development for Chalkbeat.
However, educators are worried what this will mean for their students that don’t have reliable Internet access. There are about 400 high schools in the city. Students apply to and rank their top 12, then are matched with schools based on the schools’ admissions criteria. One third of those 400 select students based on different criteria, though, and so the whole process can become overwhelming and challenging for both students and parents. Being able to see everything in one book at least made it easier for families who couldn’t get onto the Internet. The paper guides contained information about college enrollment data, special programs, extracurriculars, Advanced Placement classes, and more.
One guidance counselor in the Bronx said, “the whole push is equity, so how is that equitable for our kids who don’t have consistent cell phone coverage?” She asked Chalkbeat to remain anonymous because she has not been authorized to speak to the press.
Tiffani Torres leads the student group Teens Take Charge, which pushes the city education system to communicate more with high school students and correct inaccurate information in paper guides. While the digital application guide is supposed to be “mobile friendly, searchable, and interactive,” Torres is concerned, like the Bronx guidance counselor, that a digital guide and portal will have negative consequences for certain students.
“I went to a middle school in an area where parents don’t really have the time or resources to understand the high school application process so a lot of students totally rely on the books,” Torres said.
Critics argue that lack of information accessibility in this process is part of what makes the city’s school system one of the most segregated in the country.
Schools are combatting this reality by potentially holding more workshops on the new digital materials. Families will also be allowed to use computers and get trainings on the guide at high school fair events over the next several months, an official said. They added that parents can also visit a Family Welcome Center to use the online system or work with school counselors, according to Chalkbeat. But the Bronx counselor says that is not enough support.
“So if a kid can’t go to the library, for example, or if I’m a parent and I work late hours and I can’t come to the school,” the Bronx counselor said, “how do we best support our families who may not have access to this online system?”