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Saskia Thompson: School Choice Helps NYC Students Thrive

The establishment of school choice in New York City under the Bloomberg administration has been the cornerstone of a decade of significant advancement in student achievement.  Prior to 2004, there was little to no choice citywide, K-12.  With few exceptions, the entire scholastic experience of New York City students was predetermined based on where they lived.

That began to change when, starting in 2004, all 8th graders were required to choose a high school.  This historic and unprecedented shift occurred simultaneous to the City’s efforts to develop hundreds of new high school options that offered diverse themes and opportunities.  Since we introduced a universal high school admissions process, hundreds of thousands of families have exercised their ability to choose the school that best meets their child’s needs and student achievement has improved across the board. Graduation rates have increased by 20 percentage points citywide, and the rates for students enrolled in the new small high schools created over this time period are 10 percentage points greater than those of their peers.  However, our work is not nearly done.

Recently, we have started to undertake pivotal steps to foster a robust school choice environment for all students.  This past summer, we completed a comprehensive internal review of our high school admissions process to identify areas of improvement, informed in part through the insights of students, families, and principals.  As part of our commitment to continuously improving our high school admissions process, we are increasing transparency this year by requiring schools to publish the specific criteria they use to rank applicants.

In addition, we are also taking steps to increase school choice for families at the elementary and middle school levels.  Last year we successfully managed an automated universal admissions process for kindergarten in three community school districts. This year, we are expanding this level of access citywide by enabling every parent to apply for kindergarten online for the 2014-2015 school year. We aim to incorporate charter schools into this process in the near future, so parents have easy access to the full range of schools in their communities.

In order to meet our goal that all of our students graduate from high school college and career ready, we must continue our efforts to cultivate one of the richest school choice environments in the nation where students have ready access to a diversity of high quality options.[1]


Saskia Thompson is the Deputy Chancellor of Portfolio Planning for New York City's Department of Education.

[1] Whitehurst, Grover J. and Sarah Whitfield.  “Brookings Institution Education Choice & Competition Index.” Brookings Institution. 11 Dec  2012.