New York City used to push students into schools based on ZIP code and income, relegating poor and minority students into terrible high schools. Marc Sternberg, a teacher at a low-performing K-8 school in the Bronx in the 1990s, saw this first-hand:
"A decade ago, that's what our school system looked like across the five boroughs. Operating under 32 unequal districts, instructional quality varied wildly between neighborhoods. Zip code – and income – often determined where students went to school. A child’s educational outcomes were largely pre-determined."
In 2003, however, the City Department of Education opened up the high school admissions process so all upcoming high school students could rank their top schools in order of preference. Ten years later, 75 percent of all students are in one of their top three choices. Graduation rates across the city are at a record 65 percent. The Black and Hispanic graduation rates are at 60 and 59 percent respectively - both figures have risen over 20 percent since 2005.
As Sternberg writes in School Book, the current City education policies are succeeding and must not be reversed now:
"There are some who believe that reversing the policies that brought us to this point would somehow improve our schools. I couldn't disagree more strongly. Our system is far from perfect; we have a long way to go to deliver for the 35 percent of our students – many from low-income, high-needs neighborhoods – who still fail to graduate. But our policies have triggered a remarkable transformation of a system once widely derided as unsalvageable."