A Perk for N.Y.’s Richest Areas: First Dibs on Top Public Schools

The New York Times ran a piece about High School admission on Aug 27, 2020 which quoted me saying that the creation of academically strong, and therefore coveted schools, should be “replicated.” And they should! We need to stop the zero sum game of arguing about how to structure admissions to the ever dwindling number of preferred, academically strong schools and CREATE MORE! Bloomberg created five new Specialized High Schools; De Blasio created zero. 

The education reporter refers to the admission priority of the featured school—Eleanor Roosevelt— as a “perk” for the “richest” ignoring the fact the school has only 100 general Ed seats for over 2,600 in -district eligible students—expanding the admission to all 80,000 kids on the grade does not solve any problems! We can and we must create more academically rigorous schools in all the neighborhoods of our city. Children should not face long commutes for a good education and every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Read the article here.

Integration Efforts Kick Off in Manhattan’s District 2

“Integration efforts kick off in Manhattan’s District 2, home to some of NYC’s most affluent and coveted schools” was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters

Christina Veiga, Chalkbeat New York

Mar 4, 3:25pm EST

Manhattan’s District 2 is moving forward with plans to better integrate schools across a large swath of the borough, from Chinatown and TriBeCa, to Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and the Upper East Side. 

District leaders last week presented the outlines of a pilot proposal to rethink admissions and make schools more welcoming for all students, stemming from a state grant aimed at improving schools by making them more diverse.

But the path toward reform is likely to hit resistance. 

The district has one of the highest shares of families in the city who are white and affluent — a constituency likely to fight to preserve access to some of the most sought-after schools in the system. At 27%, white student enrollment is the sixth-highest out of 32 districts in the city, and many families pay top dollar to live in the area. In fact, District 2 spans seven of the country’s top 100 expensive ZIP codes.

But there are wide disparities among schools. At Chinatown’s P.S. 2, more than 90% of students come from low-income families, many of them recent immigrants. At P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village, just 7% of students live in poverty. Across the district, more than half of students in the area’s public schools come from low-income families. 

District and state leaders on Thursday held the first of a planned series of public meetings to get feedback from parents, teachers, students and other community members before drilling into specifics about what the proposals will look like. Many of the nearly 100 people in the gym of Union Square’s The Clinton School seemed supportive of addressing the district’s disparities — and said the positive tone contrasted with previous District 2 meetings on the topic of integration.

“Many of us want action,” said Kaena Clark, the mother of two children in the district. “I don’t think this is going to hurt my white kids. I think this is going to help my white kids.” 

Maud Maron, president of the local Community Education Council and a member of the team charged with implementing the state grant, said she was “sympathetic” to parents who may find themselves frustrated by ever-changing admissions policies in the district and the city. 

“But I’m also sympathetic that if you don’t change, things don’t change,” Maron said. 

Here are the broad outlines of what’s under consideration in District 2.

Pilot programs addressing racial disparities in suspension rates

Schools need to move cautiously to avoid unintended consequences, Maron said, pointing to the potential that students of color could face disproportionate punishment in more diverse schools. Advocates across New York City have pushed to reform harsh discipline practices in schools, arguing they can have dramatic consequences on academic performance and whether students end up in the justice system.

“This is hard work to do right,” Maron said. “I’m a public defender. When people talk about the school-to-prison pipeline, I see where that ends.”

Under the grant, she said schools have already begun to focus on what’s happening inside their own classrooms, with pilot programs and teacher training to address racial disparities in suspension rates, and to develop lessons that reflect students’ diverse backgrounds and learning needs. 

By doing so, the grant team hopes to increase test scores and reduce chronic absenteeism. 

Possible elementary school changes

At the elementary school level, the grant team is proposing to zero in on admissions in Chinatown, where some schools have been struggling with declining enrollment, perhaps due to gentrification and changing immigration patterns. 

The grant is focusing on:

  • P.S. 1 
  • P.S. 2
  • P.S. 42 
  • P.S. 124 
  • P.S. 126 
  • P.S. 130

Maron said there have been attempts at individual schools to address enrollment issues, but that can have cascading effects on nearby campuses. So the grant team wants to look at all the schools in the area to come up with solutions.

Piloting admissions changes in middle school

The grant team has also come up with the outlines of a proposal that would change the way students are admitted to middle schools, with an eye toward leveling the playing field for students who face certain disadvantages in the competitive process. 

The aim is for the changes to be developed by June, affecting next year’s applicants at the following schools: 

  • 75 Morton
  • Wagner Middle School 
  • Baruch Middle School
  • The Clinton School

The grant team says schools could potentially give extra weight to applications from students who are homeless, have a disability, come from a low-income family, attend a low-performing elementary school, or have low scores on state exams — or some combination of those factors. Which factors would be considered, and how much weight to give each of them, are still under consideration.

Many District 2 middle schools “screen” students, meaning admission is based on competitive criteria including test scores and attendance records. As a result, the most sought-after schools post strong test scores and impressive graduation rates — but tend to enroll few students who have struggled academically, or who come from low-income families, or are black or Hispanic. 

At the Clinton School, only about 16% of students are black or Hispanic. Those students make up about 46% of enrollment across the district. 

The District’s proposal likely means that schools would still screen students, echoing an approach that District 3 recently took to try to integrate middle schools on the Upper West Side and in Harlem. In Brooklyn, District 15 middle schools recently opted to remove screens altogether, a move that led to more dramatic progress toward integration, according to city data. 

No mention of District 2 priority for high school

Segregation is particularly stark in District 2’s high schools, some of which give admissions priority to students who live in the district or have attended other schools there. That admissions advantage is unusual. 

In New York City, students are required to apply to high schools, a policy that aims to give students a chance to attend school outside of their often-segregated zip codes. The admissions priority, however, has allowed District 2 — one of the least racially and economically representative in the city — to essentially maintain its own set of local schools. At Eleanor Roosevelt on the Upper East Side, virtually all of the admitted students came from within the district and enrollment is 66% white.

The district’s grant proposal makes no mention of changing the admissions priority. But some schools that give District 2 priority have already tweaked their admissions rubrics in ways that could lead to more academic diversity. 

Why is District 2 rethinking admissions?

Across the city, dozens of school districts have received the New York State Integration Project grant. The first phase kicked off in the 2017-18 school year and guided districts through drilling into data, shining a light on the causes of segregation, and beginning to think of ways to spur more diversity. 

Now, District 2 and others have moved on to the grant’s second stage, which involves piloting potential solutions. Successful districts will move on to the third and final stage later this year, which will guide officials toward scaling their integration plans district-wide. 

The program grew out of the efforts of former state education Commissioner John B. King, in one of his last moves before leaving to join the Obama administration as U.S. education secretary. It had been overseen by Angelica Infante-Green, a strong ally in addressing the state’s status as one of the most segregated in the county before she left to become schools chief in Rhode Island. 

Without the grant’s original champions, it remains to be seen whether the state education department stays committed to its goals as districts begin to actually implement what are sure to be controversial changes.

A spokesperson for the city’s education department pledged to support this “important” work.

“We’re thrilled that more communities are having conversations around integration and diversity because we know our schools are stronger when they reflect the diversity of our city,” said Katie O’Hanlon.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Freezing Out Too Many Parents

This opinion piece was first published in the New York Daily News on Sept 4, 2019 by Maud Maron

Freezing out too many parents: De Blasio’s diversity advisory group didn’t want to hear from moms and dads who use screened schools

It’s back-to-school week in New York City, and public school parents are left to wonder if some of the best schools in the five boroughs will be shuttered as a result of the recommendations released by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG). The group’s second report finally said what, it seems, the panel was assembled to say from the outset: Get rid of screened schools and gifted and talented (G&T) programs.

SDAG’s first report’s recommendations were relatively innocuous. They ranged from saying “goals for socioeconomic integration should be based upon research” to creating a “task force to recommend equitable PTA fundraising strategies.”

Turns out, that was just throat-clearing. If the Department of Education were to adopt the second report’s recommendations to eliminate screened schools and phase out G&T programs, it would have devastating consequences for the city and its school children.

Many of us had reason to believe this day was coming. This spring, Maya Wiley, one of the panel’s co-chairs, testified before the City Council that “our principles and our goals” — by “our,” she meant members of the advisory panel — “have been the same.”

That of course is the problem. The echo chamber that produced this report ignored all the voices that support the schools and programs that are now targeted for elimination. Parents who value and rely on G&T programs never had a seat at the table. Neither, for that matter, did the teachers union nor the principals union in any meaningful way; both have publicly disagreed with the findings.

The composition of the advisory group unjustifiably excluded parents who year after year want to send their children to screened schools, G&T programs and academically accelerated programs. Many in predominantly black and Latino communities, in fact, have campaigned for years to restore the G&T programs that were closed in de-tracking movements in the 1990s.

True diversity cannot be achieved unless all parents, including those who believe in screened and G&T programs, have a say in making the necessary changes to our schools.

Some people see screened schools and programs as a segregating force; I see the failure to educate over 50% of NYC’s public school students to read and do math on grade level as the true driver of segregation.

In Manhattan’s District 2, the largest school district in the city, applicants for sought-after screened programs apply at a rate of 13 students per available seat. Every year, more than 25,000 students take an exam on a Saturday to try to earn one of the 5,000 seats at an academically rigorous Specialized High School.

More than 15,000 students took the G&T test last year, hoping for one of 3,700 offers.

Charter schools have a waiting list of 50,000 families citywide.

Behind each number is a family saying “I want a better education for my child.”

The Diversity Advisory Group ignored all that. How did they justify their blinders? They acknowledge in the report that New York City could “lose students” if screened schools and G&T are eliminated and some families leave the city or choose private schools.

But they don’t bother to ask or answer the most important question: Why would families leave the public school system in response to these changes?

There are of course two possible answers. One reason is that the families believe their children’s education will get worse. The other reason is purported racism.

If you assume the latter — and doing so is somewhat absurd in the case of non-white families — you can conveniently disregard what those families are telling you. After all, you have preemptively declared them and their reasons morally deficient.

But if it is the former, then you must listen, engage and discuss with families to find out what they want, need and expect from their public schools.

How do we deliver an education that keeps families from leaving — a real necessity if the vital and important goal of integration is ever to be achieved?