2012-03-02 / Top Stories

CEC 27 Gives Thumbs Down To MS Choice Program

By Howard Schwach

Community Education Council 27, the parent council that represents the parents and students of Rockaway, voted on Monday night to give thumbs down to the Department of Education’s controversial Middle School Choice initiative that, some parents say, would have forced local middle school students from their zoned schools to other school far from home.

The vote was 7-0.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich, who represents the west end of Rockaway, where most of the opposition to the plan was centered, said that he was happy about the negative vote.

“From the very beginning, middle school choice was a severely misguided attempt to address the issue of middle school enrollment in District 27, which would have resulted in a very confusing process that parents clearly did not understand or want,” Ulrich told The Wave. “The members of the CEC showed tremendous courage in standing up to the Department of Education bureaucrats who sought to impose this mandate on our district. The PTA organizations should be thanked as well, for mobilizing their fellow parents and other stakeholders to advocate for the best interests of children and deserve a great deal of credit for defeating this proposal.”

While DOE officials said that the initiative is necessary to create more choice for middle school parents, its Rockaway opponents charge that the initiative would have limited the choices of west end parents and would have increased the likelihood that the school would have had to accept students from outside the MS 114 zone, while turning down students who live in Belle Harbor.

In addition, they said, the plan would have redistributed the assignment of seats to qualified local applicants in the “only viable middle school of choice,” the Scholars’ Academy. One school activist and west end parent told The Wave in December of last year, when the issue was last addressed, “Middle School Choice, in spite of its name, will ultimately remove the choices your child currently has to attend middle schools. It will mirror, although not exactly, the high school selection process where a student ranks their choices and a computer assigns that child a seat.

“For example a current fifth grader can receive multiple acceptances (including citywide, district wide and zoned schools) and then select the school he/she wishes to attend. Under the Middle School Choice initiative choice, only one offer will be made.

“It has been explained to us that one of the main goals of this initiative is to streamline the application process, as well as to limit the number of seats offered to one child. However, children will still have the opportunity to apply to a number of citywide schools that will not be included in a student’s individualized personalized application. For example, there will still be a separate application for up to 15 citywide school based application schools. In essence, the application process will not be completely streamlined to only one application.

“It is our belief that MSC has the possibility of undermining neighborhood K-8 schools, particularly higher performing schools. Up until now we have been able to control, based on careful prediction made by the administration, how many middle school classes will be in place each year. We will no longer have the ability to make these accurate predictions if the DOE assigns seats using a computer algorithm. This could potentially “enable” us to have the capacity to accommodate out of zone children, thereby diminishing the idea of a neighborhood school. A concept, we might add, that the DOE was strongly in favor of over eight years ago when there was a strong thrust to move schools to becoming true neighborhood K-8s. The idea at that time was that children could grow and feel comfortable not only in their own school, but in their own neighborhood, developing friends and participating in activities within their community.”

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