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OpinionColumnistsLiza Featherstone

End the middle school 'Hunger Games'

File photo of children in a classroom. (Aug.

File photo of children in a classroom. (Aug. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: iStock

'It's like the "Hunger Games,' " says the father of a fifth-grader at my son's school, describing the public middle school admission process.

He is, of course, referring to the young adult novel series, and movie franchise, in which children are forced to fight one another to the death.

I see his point. My fourth-grader already has figured out that getting into a decent public middle school next year is a competition.

He is determined to do well this year, and will probably fare just fine in this rat race. He is academically inclined, and, most important, attends school in a "good" (meaning affluent) district.

But, really, it's public school. Shouldn't our tax dollars pay for a good education for all children, regardless of whether they've absorbed the gladiatorial spirit?

Sure, keep some selective high schools; some teenagers wish to pursue particular academic or artistic interests. But competition for middle schools is competition among children who are only 9 years old -- fourth grade is the year that "counts."

Why shouldn't everyone's middle school be decent? What's wrong with the model of a well-funded suburban system, in which everyone, regardless of performance, goes to school together?

Aside from the needlessness of having the kids compete at all, the process worsens the inequities in our system.

That's because, let's face it, any competition among 9-year-olds is really a competition among parents. At this age, the kids still have to be reminded to brush their teeth.

Parents must research exactly what time to go online to sign up for the limited spots on tours of the coveted schools, like diners of the "1 percent" waiting to snag a table at Per Se.

Parents then find out which middle schools are the best, and organize the complicated process of getting in. And children whose parents can't do all this won't get in.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have given lip service to the inequalities in our schools. Ending this unnecessary "Hunger Games"-like competition and ensuring that every neighborhood has a high-quality middle school would be a good start.

Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.


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