New York City’s Education System and Feeder Schools

By Cali Carss

As the school year begins, there is a noticeable sense of familiarity among the freshmen, even in such a new environment. Groups of students where everyone clearly already knows one another and are comfortable together are abundant at Beacon. While this is not the case for everyone, it seems that much of the student population comes from a select few schools. These schools are known as feeder schools, a term given to a middle school that consistently sends a majority of students to a specific few high schools. Feeder schools are generally characterized as accomplished middle schools in wealthy neighborhoods who send their students to New York’s elite high schools. They might offer familiar faces in the foreign hallways, but they can also ruin a school’s diversity, the lack of which is a serious problem currently facing the city’s education system. While some districts have begun to make strides concerning this issue, the system is still most definitely flawed, and is in need of official reconfiguring.

The high school acceptance system began in the 1980’s and 90’s, and was put in place to give students the option of going to a school other than the one they had been zoned to. The original concept allowed the student to choose their school, but as of recently, it has become more of the schools cherry-picking their students. More schools, including Beacon, now use a screening process to accept students, meaning that middle school grades play a huge part in acceptance. Middle schools are carrying out similar processes, looking at elementary school grades in order to pick and choose their student body. It puts extraordinary pressure on young students, and InsideSchools editor Clara Hemphill goes so far as to say in the NY Times article “A Shadow System Feeds Segregation in New York City Schools” that, “I don’t think anyone who’s gone through the high school application process thinks it’s anything but legalized child abuse.” Such an intense process is clearly stressful at any level, but placing it on middle schools is a lot to ask of families. Also, if an elementary school cannot supply the necessary resources for students to excel to their full potential, it could start a chain reaction of unsatisfactory school pairings. This can unfairly disadvantage poorer neighborhoods, because that isn’t giving those students a fair chance. 

However, some districts have started to combat the issue at hand. District 15, or Park Slope, Redhook, and Sunset Park, in Brooklyn, for example, has just last year introduced a new system for acceptance into middle schools. They have constructed a 2 part lottery, giving first chances to kids in less fortunate neighborhoods. That way, they get a shot at some of the higher achieving middle schools that might not have taken them in with the old system. This new system was created to increase diversity in schools and to give more kids a fair chance at better resources and courses. The lottery approach could act as a successful example to other districts and even the city as a whole to give all students an opportunity at any school.

Overall, New York City has proposed some plans and ideas, but with little follow through. The plans themselves are sound in theory, phasing out the specialized test being one of them, but that could take a long time to actually be implemented in policy. In reality, this is an issue that has roots in historic discrimination that has spanned over many decades and will not be an easy fix. While these elite high schools offer near guarantees of academic success, they do not offer a fair opportunity to black and Latinx students, or students from less fortunate areas. This is an issue that needs to be paid attention to in the city’s education system and it needs to be dealt with immediately.