Buffalo school officials have struck what appears to be a happy balance between the need to help all children learn and the advantages of having schools with admissions criteria.
As matters stand, the entrance requirements for criteria-based schools such as City Honors and Olmsted have been too puzzling to too many people, while the number of seats available at those schools has been too limited.
That is all about to change. Superintendent Pamela Brown announced recently that by next fall, the schools will make more seats available to students.
Just as important, the School Board plans to approve the admissions requirements and post them on the district’s website. That’s the kind of openness that has been too rare in Buffalo schools.
Critics have long complained that the district has run a “two-tiered” educational system with most students shut out of the better schools.
State officials approved the changes earlier this month as part of the district’s Corrective Action Plan to comply with student requests for transfers out of failing schools. Students are legally allowed to demand that transfer, but the district – despite advance warnings – was unprepared for the sheer volume of applications.
The district is trying to find spots for 2,110 students who have asked for a transfer; thus far, it has accommodated only 345 of them. The district expects to have relocated 500 students by early February.
Until now, the process of applying to one of the district’s criteria schools has been shrouded in mystery, and may have intimidated some parents whose child might have qualified for admission.
In addition to City Honors and Olmsted, the district’s other criteria-based schools are Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, Leonardo DaVinci High School, McKinley High School, Emerson School of Hospitality and the Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.
The goal is to increase capacity for “underrepresented populations,” which include students with disabilities, English language learners and – for some grade levels at specific schools – students of color.
The advantages of those schools are plain. Students who are capable of higher achievement should have a place where they and their peers can thrive in an atmosphere of excellence. But they have been bastions of privilege – largely reserved for those who know how to navigate the system.
That will change with the new system, and with the addition of new seats in those schools, it should open that opportunity to students who never before had it. Indeed, depending upon demand and qualifications, the district should consider whether it needs to open additional such schools.
The district is also planning to open new charter schools to replace two of the district’s failing schools. While charters offer no guarantee of success, they open a door to that possibility – and it’s better than leaving children in schools that don’t make the grade.