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New High School Choice Report by Research Alliance Finds Low Achieving Students are Choosing Lower-Performing Schools, Compared to Peers

April 29, 2013

Each year, New York City engages some 80,000 8th graders in a complex high school choice process, designed to allow families to select a school that they believe will best serve their child’s needs. Students sort through the 600-page Directory of NYC Public High Schools, go to open houses and take tours, and ultimately rank up to 12 school programs they would like to attend, choosing from nearly 700 programs in 400 schools.

“High School Choice in New York City: A Report on the School Choices and Placement of Low-Achieving Students,” released last week by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools and the Institute for Education and Social Policy, explores five years of data (2007-2011), looking closely at the city’s most vulnerable students—those scoring among the bottom 20 percent on the state’s math or English tests—and comparing their high school choices and placements to those of their higher-achieving peers.

Key findings of the study include:
• Low-achieving students were matched to schools that were lower performing, on average, than those of all other students.
• This was driven by differences in students’ initial choices—not by differential match rates. About half of all students (both lower- and higher-achieving) received their first-choice school, and more than three quarters were matched to one of their top three choices.
• Both low- and higher-achieving students appear to prefer schools that are close to home, selecting first choices that are about a half hour away, on average. But lower-achieving students are highly concentrated in poor neighborhoods, where options may be more limited. Nearly one in four low-achieving students reside in just 10 zip codes in the city (three in Brooklyn and seven in the Bronx).
• Although gaps persist between the schools that low-achieving students and their higher-achieving peers rank first (and thus attend), the overall performance of high schools in New York City has improved. Both groups of students are attending better schools, in terms of graduation rates and Progress Report scores, than in years past.

“The idea behind school choice is that it allows students to select any school across the city,” says Dr. James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance. “But in practice, many students prefer to be closer to home. This underscores how vital it is for the City to continue efforts to improve the supply of schools—especially in communities where low-achieving students are concentrated.”

The report encourages educators, policy makers, and researchers to explore policies that attempt to address the concentration of lower-achieving students in disadvantaged communities and to examine the extent to which the New York City system of selective and non-selective high schools may isolate lower-achieving students.

To request an interview with James Kemple, please contact Courtney Bowe at 212.998.6797 or in the NYU Office of Public Affairs.

About the Research Alliance for New York City Schools (@ranycs)
The Research Alliance for New York City Schools is a non-partisan research center housed at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The Research Alliance conducts rigorous studies on topics that matter to the city’s public schools. The organization strives to advance equity and excellence in education by providing evidence about policies and practices that promote students' development and academic success. To learn more about the Research Alliance, visit

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (@nyusteinhardt)
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit:

Type: Press Release

New High School Choice Report by Research Alliance Finds Low Achieving Students are Choosing Lower-Performing Schools, Compared to Peers

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