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Parents uncover major problem in New York’s school lottery system

A Manhattan mother has uncovered an embarrassing glitch in the city’s Department of Education lottery system used to match students with middle and high schools.

When NYC students filled out their 2022-23 applications online, each child automatically received a long string of random numbers from 0 to 9 mixed with lowercase letters from a to f.

Random numbers are used to determine the order in which students are matched to programs.

Lottery numbers starting with 0 are the most likely to bring students from a school to the top of their list – 8th graders can rank up to 12 preferred high schools.

The odds go down from there. Lottery allocations starting with higher numbers and letters are the least favorable.

But as the mother of an 8th grader figured out, if students canceled and restarted their applications — as the DOE allowed — they received a different lottery number each time. The loophole allowed users to potentially game the system by simply reapplying until a favorable lottery number appeared.

Parent leaders alerted DOE enrollment officer Sarah Kleinhandler, who was unaware of the issue, and promised to look into the matter. She did it.

Last week, the DOE insisted “there is no problem with our system” – but said it would be fixed.

When NYC students completed their online applications for 2022-23, each child automatically received a random code.

The DOE said it was able to identify 142 students who received new lottery numbers, less than 1% of applicants. They included 121 students out of 71,000 high school applicants and 42 students out of 58,000 college applicants, a spokesperson said.

Students who received new lottery numbers after restarting their applications will get their first lottery numbers back, a spokeswoman told The Post.

“We are taking action. We are restoring these students’ lottery numbers to their originally generated numbers. Affected families will be notified directly.

The Manhattan mum noticed that the original 32-digit lottery number her daughter received on February 26 began with ’03’ – which she learned was likely to give her daughter the first dibs on schools in top of his list.

The mother then decided that her daughter should redo her list by placing the most desirable schools at the top.

DOE Admission Problem
DOE admission problem from February 26.
DOE Admission Problem
Problem with admission to DOE from March 10.
DOE Admission Problem
Problem with admission to DOE from March 14.

But when they canceled the app and restarted it on March 10, a new lottery number appeared. This one started with “this”, much less lucky than the first.

Four days later, on March 14, they canceled and restarted, this time getting a random number that started with “50”, which wasn’t as good as the first number they got, but much better than the second.

The Manhattan mum, who kept time-stamped screenshots of the three lottery numbers, spread the word about her startling discovery, sparking concern.

“This year, savvy parents might have figured this out and reset their child’s application if they received the wrong lottery number,” an active PTA dad told The Post.

“Other parents may have started with a good lottery number and moved on to a lesser one without realizing it.”

DOE Admission Problem
A father who works as a PTA told the Post that he’s worried some parents might reset their kids’ app.
New York City Department of Education

A Queens High School teacher was alarmed: ‘Parents have discovered a technical glitch allowing them to continue trying to get better lottery numbers. If even a single family used this process to circumvent the system, the whole process must be discarded and redone.

DOE officials said they would “fix” the issue by removing the undo feature in future admissions cycles. Students can always change or rearrange the schools listed on their application without canceling or restarting.

Admissions guru Alina Adams, author of “Getting into NYC High School,” has helped parents deal with many of the DOE’s enforcement flaws in recent years.

“The system is not set up to handle any kind of problem,” she said. “And when they try to fix them, they inevitably make things worse. It’s a recipe for disaster.

DOE students are expected to get their school matches in June.

New York Post

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