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Report criticizes application process for top Buffalo public schools

Parents who want information on how to enroll their children in one of the Buffalo school district’s highest-performing schools can expect a long exercise in frustration. In fact, applying to any Buffalo public school can be a serious pain.

The district’s application process is complicated, and accurate information about the application and admissions process to the district’s most selective schools is often a hide-and-seek ordeal.

These were among the findings of the recently released Civil Rights Project report regarding racial bias in district admissions to criteria-based schools like City Honors, Olmsted and others.

Few choices exist for parents who don’t know what their choices are, said Gary Orfield, head of the Civil Rights Project in UCLA, a leading consultant on civil rights issues in education.

“You can’t have a good choice system without a good information system,” he said.

Among the report findings:

• The district’s general application process is too complex and unclear. Parents, counselors, teachers and district staff all agree that the district’s process is unnecessarily burdensome.

“It was very confusing, and I have a Ph.D.,” the report quoted one parent as saying.

• The district’s website is “wholly inadequate,” outdated and not user-friendly. Less than 5 percent of parents turn to the website for information. District staff echo this concern and agree the website needs to be revamped.

• Application and testing deadlines are unrealistic. The most selective schools require parents to submit applications and take admissions tests nearly a year in advance. That causes many parents, particularly among minority families, to miss out on enrollment opportunities at criteria-based schools.

• Community outreach efforts, while improving, are not reaching target audiences, particularly parents who are less savvy and sophisticated at navigating the district’s news distribution system.

• Virtually no information about the district’s top schools is available in a usable form to immigrant families who don’t speak English, which contributes to the fact that only 1.5 percent of English language learners are admitted to the district’s top criteria-based schools.

The Civil Rights Project makes recommendations to improve the way admissions information is shared with parents. They include an overhaul of the district’s website and the establishment of a Parent Information Center.

In light of the difficulty in obtaining accurate district information about what the admissions standards are for every criteria-based program in Buffalo Public Schools, The Buffalo News filed a request under the Freedom of Information Law in September for the district to provide this information. That information was provided this week – eight months after the request was filed. That information is now posted to the School Zone blog.

To view the admissions process and acceptance criteria for each of Buffalo’s criteria-based school programs, visit the School Zone blog at buffalonews.com/schoolzone

email: stan@buffnews.com