Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/202 Sat, 07 Dec 2019 17:00:11 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Assembly to Evaluate Mayoral Control of City Schools for First Time Under Recent Reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8965-assembly-to-evaluate-mayor-control-of-city-schools-for-first-time-under-recent-reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8965-assembly-to-evaluate-mayor-control-of-city-schools-for-first-time-under-recent-reforms bdb chancellor comm

Mayor and Chancellor testify in May (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)


Just six months after the state Legislature approved a three-year extension of mayoral control of the New York City school system, stretching well past the end of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term, the state Assembly is holding a hearing later this month on whether the mayor’s stewardship has been effective.  

The hearing will be held in New York City on December 16 by the Assembly’s education committee and will be, according to a public notice, the “first in a series of hearings and other informational forums throughout the City of New York to assess the effectiveness of mayoral control of the New York City School District and hear from stakeholders on the ways to address the inequities in our schools and improve student performance.”

De Blasio had an easier time getting an extension, and a longer one at that, of mayoral control this year under a Legislature where both houses were under Democratic control for the first time in a decade, compared with past years when Republicans who held the Senate used it as leverage to extract concessions, chiefly related to charter-school friendly policies, and often agreed to only one additional year at a time. But the latest extension nonetheless came with some conditions.

Among the changes, which the de Blasio administration says it is fully implementing, were increasing the membership of the Panel for Educational Policy from 13 to 15, with one member appointed by Community Education Council presidents and the other by the mayor. The PEP approves certain major Department of Education contracts and policies, and the mayor will now appoint nine of its members, up from eight. The two new members have yet to be appointed. Under the changes agreed to this year, the mayor will have to give a ten-day notice and a written explanation before removing a PEP member.

The city must also appoint a task force to issue recommendations on elections to Education Councils, of which there is one for each of the 32 local school districts and four with citywide purview; allow CECs to issue non-binding votes on school building utilization changes; and make changes to the Chancellor’s Regulations to give parents a greater say in hiring principals and superintendents – for instance, CECs will be able to meet with candidates that the Chancellor is considering for superintendent and provide their feedback before the appointment is made.

“Mayoral accountability is working - graduation and college enrollment is up, dropout rates are down, and Pre-K for All is narrowing the achievement gap,” said Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for the mayor, in response to a request for comment about the upcoming hearing. “We’re fostering supportive learning environments that empower families, and delivering Equity and Excellence to every child, no matter their zip code.”

When asked, Meyer did not say whether Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza would testify on the administration’s behalf at the December 16 hearing, and while she did say the new changes were being implemented by the DOE, she did not respond to questions seeking clarification.

The Assembly education committee is chaired by Assemblymember Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Democrat. In a phone interview, Benedetto said the hearing is the beginning of a process of ongoing assessment of the current mayoral control system.

“Maybe there are changes we can make to the system that we have right now, to make it better,” he said Tuesday. “When we made some minor changes to the school governance law, we also made at that time a promise among ourselves that we would going forward take a look and see, are there better ways to govern the schools of the City of New York? So to that end, we made it a point of agreement that we will meet, that we will have hearings, that we will have roundtables, that we will actively seek out and look and investigate other models to see if what we’re doing is in the best interest of communities and most importantly children.”

Benedetto said he had “no expectations” of the de Blasio administration’s testimony and that the hearing is more of a fact-finding exercise. “I think it’s quite possible that every issue under the sun is gonna come on up if it involves education,” he said. He does, however, hope to hear from parent and teacher groups, educators, and elected officials about the pros and cons of mayoral control, which, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, replaced the old Board of Education localized system and has been renewed several times since. “Come 2022, we can formulate a piece of legislation that we think will be best for the City of New York and maybe that is just what we have now and maybe it’s not. So we’re looking,” Benedetto said.

Gotham Gazette also reached out to other elected officials who would seem likely to attend or be particularly interested in the hearing. A spokesperson for State Senator John Liu, who chairs the Senate’s New York City education committee, acknowledged a request for comment but did not respond to follow-up inquiries.

New York City Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Council’s education committee, said he plans to attend the hearing and push for greater accountability over the schools system. “The DOE is the largest city department, it takes up about a third of the entire city budget, and yet the City Council lacks a lot of critical authority over this department,” he said, noting that the Council cannot make appointments to the PEP, does not have advice and consent power over the chancellor’s appointment, and cannot pass laws affecting DOE functions except for requiring certain reports. The Council, he said, is relegated to exercising its power during annual budget negotiations to force the city to institute needed reforms. “It speaks to a real imbalance in terms of authority and proper oversight over a critical agency,” he said.

The mayor’s oft-examined six years at the helm of city schools have indeed seen the improved metrics mentioned by Meyer, and often touted by de Blasio and Carranza at legislative hearings and elsewhere (the two testified together at a March 15 hearing on mayoral control held by the Senate, a few months before the latest extension was granted).

But there have been stumbles along the way. The much-touted Renewal Schools program, which spent nearly $800 million over four years on struggling schools with limited results, was scrapped earlier this year for a new approach. The school system, which serves more than 1.1 million students, remains deeply segregated and the mayor has failed to articulate a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem. A task force he created for that purpose released its final report in August, recommending, among many other things, that all Gifted and Talented programs, where white students are overwhelmingly admitted, be replaced for universal enrichment programming.

De Blasio has also unsuccessfully sought to get rid of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which requires state legislative action for the three largest of the eight schools that use it for admissions, in order to diversify the student population at the city’s specialized high schools where black and Latino students are severely disproportionately underrepresented. Chancellor Carranza has vowed to keep pushing that proposal, though de Blasio has said he is back to the drawing board and planning a new approach next year, while also pledging to hold a series of conversations based on his task force’s reports about how to integrate the broader school system.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Republican who challenged de Blasio when he ran for reelection in 2017, welcomed the Assembly hearing as an opportunity to grill the mayor’s administration. She is new on the education committee and noted in a public statement that she has been pushing for a hearing since before the budget was decided earlier this year.

She said in part that “critical questions still remain about inappropriate spending of precious education dollars, as well as the dismantling of school discipline under de Blasio. I made a point to have hearings on mayoral control because under de Blasio it has been terrible. Now that we have these hearings, I urge my constituents to speak out and to ensure that their taxpayer money is being spent properly.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - this article has been updated to note that the New York City education committee is no longer a subcommittee. 

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Assembly to Evaluate Mayoral Control of City Schools for First Time Under Recent Reforms Tue, 03 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
As New York Rethinks High School Graduation Requirements, Under-the-Radar School Group May Offer a Model https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8804-new-york-rethinks-high-school-graduation-regents-requirements-performance-assessment https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8804-new-york-rethinks-high-school-graduation-regents-requirements-performance-assessment voter student reg

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


In a process likely to last years, the New York Board of Regents is considering changing high school graduation requirements, which may include revising or creating a substitute for the Regents exams. To graduate, most students must currently pass five Regents exams. But while the education policy-setting board recently announced its exploratory plans, another path to a New York high school diploma already exists: a set of performance-based tasks that test students on an array of skills meant to be more in line with college- and career-readiness than what typical standardized exams measure.

Roughly 38 schools with about 30,000 students in the New York Performance Standards Consortium abide by the Performance-Based Assessment Tasks as their graduation requirements, along with the English Regents exam.

The beginnings of the Consortium were formed in the early 1990s when the state education commissioner at the time agreed to grant a waiver to a group of schools that had been using performance assessments instead of the state’s standardized exams, according to the Consortium’s website. The official organization formed in 1998, and now about 30,000 students attend the 38 Consortium schools in New York City, Rochester, and Ithaca.

Rather than earning a score of 65 percent or better on the five Regents exams in order to graduate high school, students at Consortium schools complete written tasks and oral presentations called Performance-Based Assessment Tasks (PBAT) against a set of rubrics, and must also pass the English Regents exam.

The PBATs include an analytical essay on literature, a social studies research paper, an extended or original science experiment, and problem-solving at higher levels of math. Instead of learning a vast amount of material for the Regents exams, students at Consortium schools may choose to take a deep dive into one topic for their PBAT, such as writing a paper on “Why did the Civil Rights Movement happen when it did?” or conducting an experiment on “The Effect of Tank Volume on Goldfish Growth.” Students work on their projects for months, compared to a Regents exam that may be conducted over a day or two.

Students give a presentation on their work to a panel of three external evaluators, and teachers use a standardized rubric for grading. The rubric is aligned to state educational standards, and each year the Consortium conducts studies where teachers from every Consortium school compare their students’ work to align weak, medium, and high performances to ensure standardization.

Gareth Robinson, the principal of a Consortium school in Queens, said when he taught at a Regents-based school, he had to make sure to teach the facts that were going to be on the exam, which did not necessarily prepare students for the writing and critical thinking skills they need in college.

“When I taught U.S. history last, [my students] were really interested in slavery and how the Constitution was interpreted today,” Robinson said. “But we didn’t really have time to get into that because it was, ‘I need you guys to memorize these dates, these four facts, because you need to recognize them on the test.’”

Regents Rethinking Process Underway
The Board of Regents announced a plan in July to form a commission that will make recommendations about potential changes to the state’s graduation requirements. Earlier this month, that mission was fleshed out slightly more, giving the commission a two-year timeline. The commission is expected to be formed in February and have representatives from New York City, the state PTA, and teachers unions, among others.

As states like California, Arizona, and South Carolina have eliminated their high school exit exams, New York has made room for some alternative pathways to graduation, such as the PBAT, while also significantly tinkering with the Regents exams and passing requirements themselves. The majority of states do not require a state exam for students to earn a high school diploma. While some raise doubts about moving away from the standardized tests as what they call an “objective measure,” the PBAT Consortium has been slowly growing and may offer a model for the larger shift that could be afoot.

The state allows students to substitute the social studies exam for other tests in career and technical education, art, or math, also known as the “four plus one” option. Additionally, there is an appeals process that may allow a student to earn a Regents diploma with a score lower than the passing 65%.

At the July Board of Regents meeting, several of the regents expressed the need for the commission to examine the emphasis of state tests as the only measure of achievement, what learning looks like in the 21st Century, and how some students, including some who pass the tests, do not have the reading and writing skills necessary to succeed in higher education.

New York State Education Department officials told Gotham Gazette that the Board of Regents has only discussed the process to review diploma options in New York, and there has been no discussion on specific alternative diploma options at this point. Spokesperson Emily DeSantis said the Board of Regents wants to ensure “ample time is provided” for the commission to carry out its work, and “no decisions have been made at this point.”

“The Board of Regents and the State Education Department have made it a priority to allow students to demonstrate their proficiency to graduate in many ways,” DeSantis said. “As we have said, this is not about changing our graduation standards. It’s about providing different avenues — equally rigorous — for kids to demonstrate they are ready to graduate with a meaningful diploma.”

Michael Benedetto of the Bronx, who represents District 82 in the New York State Assembly and is the chair of the Assembly education committee, said he is “not afraid” of a step like changing or getting rid of the Regents exams, adding that other methods of evaluating students like testing language proficiency by having a discussion with a student, may be more accurate.

“I’m not afraid of exploring those options and looking at them,” Benedetto said.

State Senator John Liu of Queens, also a Democrat and the chair of the Senate’s New York City schools subcommittee, said he hopes the commission does a “thorough and exhaustive” job.

He said there is a perception that New York has a “gold standard” in terms of high school graduation requirements and the state should be regularly assessing and “revising if necessary” what it means to be the gold standard.

“There’s no perfect assessment system,” Liu said, “whether that be standardized written exams or subjective evaluations on a host of criteria. Every system has its weakness. It’s the right thing to do for the commission to be reviewing this.”

Ray Domanico, the director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, said after 20 years of the current Regents exam requirements, it’s time for the Regents to look into the policy. He said there needs to be a “more aggressive push” to certify and make paths for careers and technical jobs for students who do not go to college but need to earn a living wage.

Domanico said nationally less than 40% of students complete a bachelor’s degree by their late 20s and that the number is lower for those in New York City.

“We’ve had this policy in place for close to 20 years, now it took awhile for it to phase in, but it’s based on the notion that all students who graduate high school must be prepared for college readiness,” Domanico said. “Although we certainly want more students to be prepared for success in college, that remains a heavy lift.”

Performance-Based Assessment - A Model?
Meanwhile, according to a 2017 PBAT Consortium report, the Consortium schools have shown strong results: they had about a 20% higher percentage of students enrolling in college and higher college-readiness numbers than students from other New York City public schools. The report said Consortium schools have a higher percentage of Hispanic students, students living at the poverty level, and English Language Learners. The most recent data set available for Consortium schools was based on information from the 2014-2015 school year.

Regent Judith Johnson, who emphasized that her comments are her own and not the Board’s official policy, said performance-based assessments allow students to answer the question “what do you know?” as opposed to “do you know this?”

She said the “what do you know?” question needs to be factored into assessing student learning because it is more related to the skills students need to succeed in post-secondary education and in work settings.

“All students know something, and there needs to be a mechanism for students to demonstrate what they know,” Johnson said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “They may not know ‘this’ but many know a lot that is not included on their Regents exams, and gauging their learning by a single exam disadvantages students who are not skilled test-takers and/or whose knowledge doesn’t comport with the test-makers’ vision of what students ought to know. These are often smart, creative students who think in ways not valued by Regents exams.”

Ben Wides, a teacher at East Side Community High School, which is part of the Consortium, said the PBATs closely resemble papers and projects students will complete in college, which may lead to the better numbers. He said the process of revising and meeting with teachers creates a model for students to approach assignments in college.

“Students will have to take tests in college, they may have to take multiple choice history tests, etc., but to be a strong student in college, you need to be able to write a paper along the lines of what a PBAT is asking students to do,” Wides said. “The PBAT is a more authentic assessment of a student’s readiness to be successful in college than the Regents exam is.”

The report also showed that teacher retention rates were higher for Consortium schools, by 8 percent, and the Consortium’s four-year graduation rate was 80% compared to the larger Department of Education’s 71%. In 2018 the New York City graduation rate rose to 76 percent while the number of students the City University of New York deemed ready for college was 66%, according to state data.

Domanico said that though he has not looked recently, Consortium schools have generally produced good results. He said while there is a place for alternative assessment systems in a school system as large as New York City, the difficult questions are of scale: will the approach work for all students and are all teachers prepared to be successful in the “nontraditional” environment.

“At a minimum I would like to see those schools continue doing what they’re doing,” Domanico said. “If the evidence is still very positive for them as it has been in the past, one might think of expanding those schools, but I don’t know I’d be ready to quickly jump to that as the model for the entire city or state.”

Ann Cook, the executive director and co-founder of the Consortium, told Chalkbeat in 2018 that the Consortium’s assessment system would be difficult to spread across the state. There is also a limited number of waivers the state will grant.

“Could every kid in the state be doing this? I’d probably say no,” Cook said to Chalkbeat. “And the reason is you have to have a faculty that is interested and wants to do it. They should want to opt into this because it takes a lot of work in the school.”

Wides said that he does think the Consortium could be a model for other schools, though it is not something that could be implemented for all schools in the state because of the professional development required for teachers and the “reorientation of the school culture.”

Most Consortium schools are in New York City, and the Board of Regents and the State Education Department has extended the waiver allowing Consortium school graduates to earn a Regents diploma five times since the 1990s. There are 16 Consortium schools in Manhattan, 9 in Brooklyn and 4 in Queens. Some member schools include Beacon High School in Manhattan and Bronx Lab School.

“People have to ask what it is we want kids to be able to do when they leave high school,” Cook told Straus Media in 2015. “We’re preparing kids to survive and get the most out of the college experience.”

Robinson said when the Institute for Health Professions at Cambria Heights, the high school he co-founded and serves as principal, was forming, an adviser suggested that the school was functioning more as a Consortium school rather than a traditional school.

Robinson said he had not heard of the Consortium before, but contacted Cook about becoming a member school. At the start of the process, the Institute first became a pilot Consortium school, where students still needed to pass all the Regents exams to graduate but teachers and administrators started to prepare the work for the PBATs. Robinson said there first had to be a referendum where 90% of the teachers and the principal agreed to become a pilot school.

Later, the Consortium received from the Board of Regents and State Education Department an expansion on the number of waivers it was allowed to grant to schools looking to become full members. Robinson said two schools that were supposed to receive the waivers dropped out because their referenda failed, and the Institute was able to secure a waiver to administer the PBATs.

“So starting our second year we became a new member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, and that was a big learning process, or I should say it was a big unlearning process,” Robinson said, “because all of the teachers, everyone, had all been trained to teach in Regents schools, had taught in Regents schools, had students taught in Regents schools.”

Robinson said teaching PBAT is a lot of work for teachers who have to design their curricula “from the ground-up” and have to know their content “really well.” He said while curricula is still aligned to state standards, it can be more individually designed to fit students’ struggles and strengths. Because students spend months working on their assessments, they have more opportunities to check in with teachers and get help if needed.

He added that the process of scheduling outside evaluators to conduct the panel portion of the assessments is a lot of added work on schools.

“A lot of schools aren’t necessarily going to want to do the work because it sounds kind of simple you know the kids do this project and write this paper and do this presentation, but it’s really hard to schedule,” Robinson said. “My school this year we had about 120 juniors and so when all of them have to present one PBAT, we have to get 120 kids scheduled at the same time of Regents week to do these presentations.”

Wides said, though, that teaching PBAT makes students more excited about education as they are learning to develop questions and then answer them using evidence and analysis rather than answering multiple choice questions or writing short essays on the Regents exams.

“If you go to a Regents school, and I don’t want to pigeon hole all Regents schools, but the academic goal is 80% of students score X on the Regents. That is not a learning goal,” Wides said. “The learning goal is I want students to be intellectually curious.”

Wides added that one challenge with teaching PBAT is choosing “depth over breadth.” He said Consortium schools may cover less content than Regents-based schools in order to devote time for students to develop the reading and writing skills for the PBAT, aiming to serve them better in the long-run.

Domanico also said that for some parents it’s difficult to make the change to a Consortium school because they “might not look like the schools they have come up through themselves.”

Parents who are familiar with progressive education, Robinson said, have no questions about the work done in Consortium schools. He said once they explain how the school works to other parents, “they get it.” Robinson added that when the school announced it was becoming a Consortium school, some students did transfer because their parents felt being at a Regents school would look better to colleges.

“Now we have our third graduating class and I can safely say in three years, 100% of our kids have been accepted to at least one school,” Robinson said. “I have for the first time in my teaching career, one of my students is getting into my alma mater, Tufts [University].”

The New York City Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on how many schools can receive a waiver for Regents exams. Cook also did not respond to interview requests.

On Tuesday, September 24, the New York City Council education committee will hold an oversight hearing entitled "Breaking Testing Culture: Evaluating multiple pathways to determine student mastery." It's unclear how the PBAT schools will be featured, but the hearing promises to be fairly exhaustive, with, as the title suggests, heavy skepticism toward standardized testing. It comes, in the state's largest city and school district, as the statewide Regents exam review is not yet officially started. Council Member Mark Treyger of Brooklyn, a former teacher, chairs the education committee and will lead the hearing. Mentioning the hearing and inviting interested parties to testify, Treyger tweeted on Saturday that "We must explore & hear about alternative, research-based measures to gauge student proficiency & mastery of content. Relying solely on standardized exams shortchanges students & learning."

Assembly Member Benedetto said that while there aren’t that many Consortium schools in New York, there are enough to get a sense of how they are performing.

“It’s all speculation, but I would speculate that the future might look bright for these schools,” Benedetto said. “As far as I can determine they seem to be performing quite adequately. If that’s the case it can only bode well for other schools in the state to possibly follow their model and the way they go about things.”

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by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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As New York Rethinks High School Graduation Requirements, Under-the-Radar School Group May Offer a Model Sun, 22 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Recommendations from the Mayor's School Diversity Task Force & What Comes Next https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8772-max-murphy-podcast-recommendations-de-blasio-school-diversity-task-force-gifted-talented https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8772-max-murphy-podcast-recommendations-de-blasio-school-diversity-task-force-gifted-talented may bdb ps 600 wbai 
(photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)


Setember 4, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Recommendations from the Mayor's School Diversity Task Force & What Comes Next

gonzales treyger wbaiMayor de Blasio's School Diversity Advisory Group recently released its second and final set of recommendations for how to desegregate and improve the city's schools. The panel made major waves by recommending to eliminate and replace the current gifted and talented programs in city schools, as well as removing other admissions screens and redrawing all school district lines, among many other ideas and goals. DSAG member Matt Gonzales and City Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Council education committee and is a former teacher, both joined the show to discuss the recommendations and what comes next.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Recommendations from the Mayor's School Diversity Task Force & What Comes Next Wed, 04 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
School Diversity Group’s Second Set of Recommendations Expected Soon; Will Take on Admissions Policies https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8726-diversity-group-s-second-set-of-recommendations-expected-soon-will-take-on-school-admissions https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8726-diversity-group-s-second-set-of-recommendations-expected-soon-will-take-on-school-admissions district 15 div plan announce

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Following the city’s adoption of 62 recommendations targeting diversity and desegregation in public schools, a new report expected this month from the same advisory group will aim to tackle the tough topics of screened admissions and gifted and talented programs.

The two reports come from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, which Mayor Bill de Blasio formed in 2017 amid increasing demands that he take significant steps toward desegregating the city’s highly racially-segregated schools. The group released its first report with 67 recommendations in February, and the city accepted 62 of them in June, including adding diversity targets in middle school admissions, encouraging more districts to come up with diversity plans, and adding diversity metrics to an annual report, among other potential changes. The first set of recommendations largely dealt with elementary and middle schools at the district-level, with more specific admissions proposals coming in the second wave.

Members of the advisory group said in June that the second report was expected in just a few weeks, but have since said the report should be public by the end of August.

While some said the adopted recommendations are a positive step after years of the mayor and the DOE balking at the issue of school segregation, critics noted that as it stands the plan lacks timelines for implementation and more aggressive citywide solutions, including taking on high school admissions. The city did not accept recommendations to create a Chief Integration Officer or to consider moving the supervision of School Resource Officers from the NYPD to the Department of Education.

The first recommendations focused on pushing individual school districts to develop their own diversity plans -- de Blasio has expressed support for the few districts that have taken this on in the past and said he believes integration should be pursued by local communities not pushed by the administration. The city also adopted a framework created by the student-led advocacy group Integrate NYC called the five R’s (race and enrollment, resource equity, relationships across group identities, representation of staff, and restorative justice), which will be a foundation for creating school integration policy.

“Our schools are stronger when they reflect the diversity of our city, and we’ve taken real steps to integrate our schools, including adopting the student-developed ‘5 R’s’ framework for real integration,” DOE spokesperson Will Mantell said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We thank the students, educators, and families who have made their voices heard, and we’ll continue to act.”

Matt Gonzales, a member of the School Diversity Advisory Group and school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed, said the second report will lay out ways the city can change admissions policies as well as more detail on goals and timelines for implementation. He said the group wants to see some of their recommendations in the second report start to be put into effect in the fall.

Gonzales said he could not detail the specifics of the report, but that the group focused on areas where enrollment policies create “concentrations of privilege and vulnerability.” He added that the SDAG found that gifted and talented and screened admissions are tools that enable segregation.

The group’s intention, Gonzales said, was to originally write only one report, but the members later decided that the first report would lay out the framework for the conversation around desegregation. The next report will be more specific.

“The second report is really about following through on trying to address some of the primary mechanisms that facilitate segregation,” Gonzales said. “We could write a hundred reports, probably, on what needs to be done. There will be more to say and do after this report comes out.”

The SDAG overall aims to reshape citywide policies to desegregate public schools, which a UCLA report in 2014 said are the most segregated in the nation. Though some progress has begun, the gifted programs are a stark example of the segregated school system and remain a point of tension as the city wrestles with when and how to pursue racial and economic integration.

The city’s school system is nearly 70 percent black and Hispanic with white and Asian students making up around 15 percent each. But black and Hispanic students make up only around 27 percent of students in gifted and talented programs, according to Chalkbeat.

Students in kindergarten through third grade can take an exam to get into the gifted programs at the five gifted and talented schools that take students citywide or individual district programs.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said he expects the second report to be stronger than the first, but added that the real question is whether it will have any impact or if it is part of de Blasio’s strategy to appear concerned about segregation “without really doing anything.”

“Simply calling for the change does little to meet the change,” Bloomfield said. “This go-slow approach seems to be ineffective in making the school system more equitable.”

Bloomfield said the new report could go deeper into the “hundreds” of schools that use academic screens — test scores, grades, interviews, admissions visits, or geographic location — to admit students. About 25 percent of middle schools and 33 percent of high schools use screened admission processes, and the eight specialized high schools only admit students based on their SHSAT scores.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has been critical of the use of academic screens, and the mayor this year unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate the SHSAT via state legislation. Though, Bloomfield said de Blasio could do more by focusing on the ways he could make the system more equitable without having to change state law: eliminating academic screens or changing the selection mechanism. Some have also called on de Blasio to create new specialized high schools, which the city has the power to do, while it could also change the admissions criteria at five of the existing eight schools (the other three are indeed governed by state law).

On the Max & Murphy podcast, City Council Member Brad Lander -- a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city, including in his own district, which has its own school desegregation plan already showing progress -- said the city has not made “any meaningful progress” for integration at the high school level yet.

Lander said the city could move to a process that requires integration in high schools where students travel to schools across the city, relieving the burden of residential segregation.

“High schools are a big opportunity,” Lander said. “Most of the focus has been on the specialized high schools, but we have about 400 high schools. And other than those eight, the city sets admission guidelines.”

Lander said that the first set of recommendations were a good development and he is optimistic for more progress, but that integration efforts are just getting started.

“We’ve got a long, long, long way to go,” Lander said. “We’re finally starting.”

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by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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School Diversity Group’s Second Set of Recommendations Expected Soon; Will Take on Admissions Policies Wed, 07 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's the [Data] Point? 98,000, Addressing New York City School Overcrowding https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8681-what-s-the-data-point-98-000-school-overcrowding https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8681-what-s-the-data-point-98-000-school-overcrowding whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 77 -- 98,000, with CBC's Riley Edwards  [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

ep77 riley edaCitizens Budget Commission recently released a new report -- Cut Costs, Not Ribbons -- about how to address New York City's school overcrowding problems. The report, written by Riley Edwards, explains why the city has been misguided to use building new schools as the main tool toward reducing school overcrowding, which impacts almost half the city's 1.1 million students. Edwards joined the podcast to discuss her findings.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's the [Data] Point? 98,000, Addressing New York City School Overcrowding Fri, 19 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Struggling with Overcrowded Schools and Large Class Sizes, City Advances $8.8 Billion Plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8673-struggling-with-school-overcrowding-and-large-class-sizes-city-advances-8-8-billion-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8673-struggling-with-school-overcrowding-and-large-class-sizes-city-advances-8-8-billion-plan 2 cm r espinal ground

Mayor de Blasio & others break ground for a new East New York school (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Some days, it can be hard for Arthur Goldstein to walk down the hallway of Francis Lewis High School in Queens, where he teaches English as a second language. Goldstein’s school is one of 25 overcrowded schools in the 26th school district, and has a utilization rate of 207 percent, according to a 2018 Department of Education report.

“There are some days when I think I’m going to go to this office and I turn around and walk to another office because it’s just too much work to get through walking down the hall that way,” Goldstein said. “I don’t know if you can even imagine that, but that’s happened to me more than once.”

Francis Lewis High School has a capacity of about 2,400 but enrolls closer to 4,600, Goldstien said. Those students are some of about 520,000 students — nearly half the city’s school population — in the city who attend an overcrowded, also known as over-utilized, school, according to a Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) report released July 9. Those students attend roughly 618 schools, with the worst overcrowding in Brooklyn, Queens, and the central Bronx. Overall, there are roughly 1.1 million students in 1,840 schools in 32 school districts across the five boroughs, according to the Department of Education.

While the CBC report said crowding may lessen as enrollment citywide declines and, overall, the number of crowded school buildings has declined by 31 since 2015, others have expressed concern that the problem will get worse because the current need is already greater than the 83,000 seats the Department of Education has identified to be built to reduce crowding. In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio added 57,000 seats to the 2015-2019 capital plan to meet the 83,000 need seat estimate. 

The new plan also includes $180 million for the removal of Transportable Classroom Units — known as TCUs or trailers — where some students at crowded buildings may be receiving instruction. In 2018, it was estimated that about 8,000 students learned in trailers, and then-schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said the DOE had removed 159 out of 354 total trailers and had plans to remove 75 more. In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s capital plan projected that all TCUs would be able to be removed, and he promised that would be completed by 2012.

Former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had in 2014 urged de Blasio to prioritize the removal of trailers and set aside some of the $800 million the city received from the Smart Schools Act, which allocated funds for districts to upgrade technology, increase pre-kindergarten capacity, and get rid of trailers.

Chalkbeat reported at the time that lawmakers had doubts that removing trailers was a priority of the de Blasio administration, as a DOE official said at a hearing earlier that year that trailers could be used to expand capacity for pre-K, de Blasio’s top campaign promise and mayoral priority. De Blaiso said at a press conference at the time that he will keep prioritizing the issue in his capital plan, as in 2014 his administration allocated $405 million toward removing TCUs.

“I don’t want kids in trailers,” de Blaiso said at the press conference. “I want to move aggressively to get them out of trailers. We know that will take some time, but we’re committed to it. We’re also committed to putting in new facilities in most overcrowded areas.”

Now, several years later, advocacy groups like Class Size Matters and City Council Members like Daniel Dromm say the new city capital plan — which includes nearly $8.8 billion for school capacity projects to be started over the next five years — does not have an updated estimate of the need for seats since the 2015-2019 capital plan as residential development, rezoning projects, and other trends will change the need in certain sub-districts.

“It’s very suspicious,” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy organization. “They claim to be building all the seats that are necessary, but that’s based upon an estimate that is many years old.”

Overcrowding occurs in pockets around the city with crowded buildings in each district of each borough, but CBC research associate Riley Edwards, who wrote the new school capacity report, said there are enough seats currently for all New York City students, and the key to thinking about alleviating school overcrowding is more aggressively pursuing strategies other than school construction.

Edwards said most districts actually have an excess of seats, and the severe overcrowding occurs in sub-districts, with nine of 32 districts — five in Queens, two in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx, and one on Staten Island — packed with more students than their target capacity.

Other myths about school overcrowding, as detailed in a 2016 CBC report also authored by Edwards, are that middle and high school students face the worst crowding problems — it’s actually elementary school students — and that plans to build new schools will solve the problem. The new report says the DOE needs to focus on other strategies it already uses, such as rezoning, changing admissions policies, repurposing seats, and programming.

“It does take a long time for the city to site and build a new school,” Edwards said. “There’s only so much available land in the city and a limited amount appropriate for school buildings.”

According to the Independent Budget Office, Queens’ District 26 ranked as the third-most crowded school district with a utilization rate of 109 percent for the 2017-2018 school year, behind District 25 in Queens, and District 20 in Brooklyn, which both had over 121 percent. However, Dromm said district- or borough-wide numbers do not reflect the “tremendous” overcrowding that occurs at the sub-district level in individual schools.

According to Class Size Matters, the average class size for K-12 schools in New York City during the 2018-2019 school year was 26, almost no change from 2014-2015 when the last capital plan was proposed. The average class size in the United States is 21, according to the Office for Economic Cooperation and Development. Haimson said over 330,000 students in the city were in classes of 30 or more.

While some research shows that reducing class sizes may have small benefits at best, Haimson said ultimately larger class sizes are detrimental for students.

“There’s a huge amount of rigorous research that shows the larger the class, the less learning goes on,” Haimson said. “There are also a lot of other negative effects of large class sizes. Kids become less engaged, they’re more likely to get held back, they’re more likely to get referred to special education, and they’re more likely to have disciplinary problems.”

Dromm, now the Council’s finance chair and previously its education committee chair, said during the 25 years he was teaching at P.S.199 in Queens’ District 24 he saw the crowding getting worse each year.

“I remember a day when the janitors came into the school, and they opened the maintenance closet right outside the staff room,” Dromm said. “They took out the pitchfork, they took out the rake, they took out the shovel, and they threw up a coat of paint. They turned that into the speech classroom. That’s how bad some of the situations are in some of the schools.”

To address the issue, the city Department of Education’s new $17 billion five-year capital plan for 2020-2024 proposes funding to create 57,000 new school seats across all school districts, with about half expected to be completed no later than the start of the 2025-2026 school year, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. The IBO predicts that all of the seats would be completed by 2028.

The plan sets aside $8.8 billion for capacity issues, including $7.9 billion for 57,000 new school seats in 88 new buildings and $150 million for class size reduction programs, which the DOE described as “increasing the number of school options available to students.” The DOE plan outlines the Class Size Reduction Program as building additions or new school buildings near buildings that have a high rate of overutilization, use trailers, are geographically isolated, or has a recognized seat-need that has not been funded.

In December testimony regarding the new capital plan, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) said the additional seats are “good news” for crowded schools, but added that the publicly available data regarding trailers is incomplete, which makes it "impossible" to evaluate the removal projects.

“We commend the work that went in to developing this new five-year capital plan, and we support efforts to mitigate these three issues and the many others included within the report," the UFT testimony reads. "However, we want to stress the narrative and appendices in the report fail to clearly tell the story. While they inform many important programs, the information and data provided are insufficient to track the projects’ goals, and project- and program-level spending.”

“We’ll continue to build on these investments and work with school communities to meet their needs,” Isabelle Boundy, an assistant press secretary at the Department of Education, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

“We’re committed to reducing class size and alleviating overcrowding and have already implemented many of the recommendations in the report," Boundy said of the new Citizens Budget Commission study. "We’ll continue to build on these cost-effective investments such as rezoning, re-purposing seats through grade truncations and other significant changes to school utilization, setting high school seat targets aligned to space and demand, helping principals program their instructional space more efficiently, and creating capacity through room conversion projects.”

In 2003, following a lawsuit that claimed the state’s school funding system underfunded the city’s public schools, a New York Supreme Court concluded that for New York City students to receive their constitutional right to a sound basic education, more equitable funding was needed to reduce class sizes. At the time, the average class size for grades 4 through 8 was 25, and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity — the nonprofit advocacy organization that filed the lawsuit — said class sizes needed to be just slightly lower, around 24. 

Four years later, the state passed a law called Contracts for Excellence that partly required districts to put funds toward reducing class size and required New York City to reduce class sizes across all grades to specific goals — such as reducing 4 through 8 class sizes to 23 by 2011 — over the next five years.

Since 2007, about 93,000 school seats have been built, according to CBC, but Class Size Matters says class sizes have gone up and are “still significantly larger” than in 2003. Kindergarten class sizes have risen from an average of 21 in 2007 to 24 in 2019, though the Contracts for Excellence target was around 20.

Class Size Matters joined a group of parents and other advocacy groups in April 2018 in filing a lawsuit against city schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, the DOE, and state education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to demand the city reduce class sizes. The court ruled in 2018 it was up to the commissioner to decide, and she said in 2017 the class size requirements in the Contracts for Excellence law had expired years ago, though Class Size Matters charges that the law is still in full effect. The plaintiffs are now appealing the decision and arguments are expected later this summer.

Meanwhile, the city continues to build new school seats to try to relieve crowding issues, but does not have to follow the guidelines for class size in the Contracts for Excellence law.

At a City Council hearing in December, Dromm said while the investment in 57,000 new seats included in the new capital plan will bring the total number of seats constructed since the start of the last five-year plan to a “historic” 83,000 seats, he said the DOE did not include a new, recalculated number of seats needed in 2024.

He said the 83,000 seats fulfills a commitment the mayor made in 2017 to fully fund the identified seat need by 2025, but there is disagreement over whether that number will remain years later by the end of the new five-year plan in 2024. Shino Tanikawa, the co-chair of the city’s Education Council Consortium, a body of elected parent leaders, said even though the mayor added more seats to the plan, the city is “always behind” the need.

In 2015, the city rejected a recommendation from the Blue Book Working Group — which was formed to make the DOE’s Enrollment, Capacity, and Utilization report, commonly known as the Blue Book, more accurate — to include the class size standards set in the Contracts for Excellence law in the Blue Book calculations for capacity and utilization. Though, the DOE did remove trailers from capacity calculations, decreasing the capacity of those schools.

Tanikawa, who was a member of the group, said the DOE should use aspirational class sizes to calculate, but instead the report is calculated using class sizes that are too large. For grades 9 through 12, the Blue Book uses a target class size of 30, despite the 2007 goal of an average class size of 25 for those grade-levels, according to the city’s Planning to Learn report from 2018. The Blue Book uses a higher target class size than the goals set in 2007 for all grades except for Kindergarten through 3.

“To many of the advocates on the working group that was the most important recommendation we made,” Tanikawa said. “And that was the one that was rejected.”

The 83,000-seat estimate came from a DOE analysis in November 2017 and was released in the February 2018 version of the 2015-2019 five-year plan. Class Size Matters estimates that the need is at least 100,000 seats based on the number of schools that are currently overcrowded, the likelihood of enrollment growth in parts of the city, and the need for class size reduction.

“I believe that they’re right,” Dromm told Gotham Gazette of Class Size Matters’ estimate. “Seat need is probably closer to 100,000, and the administration’s plan does not really reflect that. They claim that they put 57,000 seats into the budget this year, but still it doesn’t really reflect the need we feel is out there.”

The DOE predicts a decline of 4 percent enrollment, down to about 881,000 students, across public schools (the projection excludes enrollment in non-DOE spaces, charter schools, and District 75) by 2022-2023, though Dromm said residential construction, rezoning efforts, and overall city population growth are not adequately addressed in the plan. Haimson said demographic trends are difficult to predict and that there may be less overcrowding due to population shifts in certain areas over time, but the city’s population is growing fast.

Enrollment has declined over the past decade across the United States due to falling birth rates, but CBC has also reported that enrollment may increase in already crowded districts. 

The city’s population is expected to grow from 8.6 million in 2019 to 9 million in 2040, with the Bronx and Brooklyn expected to grow at the largest percentages, according to the city’s population projections.

“More and more families are choosing to stay in the city when they have children,” Haimson said. “And the mayor’s continuing to encourage development at any cost.”

When the city has undergone large-scale neighborhood rezonings, such as the ones for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx and East New York in Brooklyn, the School Construction Authority works closely with the Department of City Planning to identify the projected school seat need for those areas, according to SCA President Lorraine Grillo’s comments at a Council hearing in December. Rezoning deals between the city and local Council members often include school seat considerations, sometimes including the construction of at least one new school, like in East New York.

The new five-year plan allocates funding for 6,000 seats within six rezoning areas projected to move ahead during that time: the Hudson Square rezoning and Hudson Yards in Manhattan; Crotona Park East/West Farms rezoning in the Bronx; Pacific Park, Greenpoint Landing, Domino Redevelopment and Albee Square in Brooklyn; and Halletts Point rezoning in Queens.

According to the city’s Rezoning Commitments Tracker, the construction for a 1,000-seat school in East New York (the first neighborhood rezoning passed under de Blasio) has begun, and commitments were made in the Jerome Avenue neighborhood plan for new elementary schools in Districts 9 and 10. Commitments for at least one new school were included in four out of the city’s five large-scale neighborhood rezoning plans, with the others slated to be completed by 2023.

Council Member Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx, who chairs the Council’s capital budget subcommittee and negotiated the Jerome Avenue rezoning, said at the December Council hearing she was “pleased” about the Jerome Avenue commitments but added that the city is frequently rezoning smaller areas, and every new construction will bring families with school-age children. Griillo said the SCA is informed of smaller rezonings and uses them to inform future projections.

“(There are) the larger neighborhoods that we have rezoned from East Harlem, East New York, Far Rockaway, Jerome in the Bronx, and Inwood, but on a monthly basis on a much smaller scale we pass out smaller rezonings every single month,” Gibson said at the hearing. “We are creating an incredible amount of housing.”

The recent CBC report said there are significant shortcomings in the school construction the DOE and SCA do undertake. Not all new school capacity is created to address overcrowding, according to the report, and not all new seats are built in districts with overcrowding.

While the DOE also projects by 2022-2023 an enrollment decrease of 7 percent in elementary schools, where CBC says nearly two-thirds of the seat need is, the mayor’s initiatives like universal pre-kindergarten have added additional pressure to already overcrowded schools, though some programs are located at separate sites not run by the DOE, Edwards said.

A majority of the 93,000 seats built since 2007 have been for elementary school students, but more than 3,700 of those seats were built in districts with a “relatively low utilization,” according to the report.

Dromm said the DOE has allocated seats for districts they say have not received seats “in a while” though the need is greater in other districts. He said for District 24, the DOE has recognized that around 4,000 seats are needed to address crowding issues there, but those seats were not funded in the new five-year plan and were distributed to other areas.

At a Council hearing in December, Grillo said more seats were added in District 24 than any other district in the city, so the funding for those seats were reallocated to districts that had not yet received additional seats. (A DOE spokesperson told Gotham Gazette that the 2020-2024 capital plan includes funding for about 1,500 seats in District 24 and overall aims to create seats in districts experiencing the most critical and projected overcrowding.)

“But District 24 remains one of the top districts for seat need,” Dromm said in December. “They’re still not addressing the areas where the seat need is the greatest, and that’s concerning to me.”

Additionally, the CBC report said the city has allocated too many seats for high schools, whose overcrowding problems could be solved by utilizing the surplus of high school seats and changing high school admissions practices.

Edwards said the city actually has more seats than students — the shortage of seats in crowded high schools, according to the CBC report, is about 32,000 whereas there’s about 65,000 unused seats at high schools — and there are ways the city can maximize that space.

However, the IBO said in testimony to the Council in 2015 that using the unused seats to alleviate overcrowding is difficult because changing admissions policies can be a contentious topic, the extra seats span across boroughs so the potential for change is limited to a few areas of the city, and DOE policies like universal pre-K will continue to put capacity pressure on buildings.

In the CBC report, Edwards outlined four ways the DOE can address overcrowding that are less expensive and more efficient than school construction, which takes an average of 41 months from the start of design to the end of construction. The DOE already uses these alternative strategies to reduce overcrowding — rezoning, repurposing seats, changing admission policies, and programming — but the report said they are “underutilized” while school construction is the main method.

According to an April 2019 DOE report on space overutilization in schools, the decline in overcrowded buildings from 646 in 2015 to 615 in 2018 was due to a combination of new capacity, resiting, facility upgrades, and new facilities.

According to CBC, in 2017, 42 high schools implemented “split-session” scheduling, which allows more than the traditional eight periods to be scheduled throughout the day; 43 schools were impacted by the rezoning of school districts; and 21 schools repurposed seats through re-siting to underutilized or new buildings. Some other schools received renovations or new facilities.

The CBC report says the DOE could rezone elementary schools or allow zones to overlap or be grouped together to use more seats at under-utilized schools. The report says the majority of the school district rezonings enacted between 2014 and 2017 were to accommodate the opening of a new school and implementing them more often to adjust incoming enrollment would be more effective.

According to the report, the city could also more frequently repurpose seats by truncating some schools and expanding others to relieve crowding. Another way to repurpose seats that has “substantial potential” to address the issue is converting administrative and non-school space to instructional rooms, CBC says.

While the report specifically says that buildings with multiple schools should share administrative offices to save space, some overcrowded schools have had to convert spaces like closets to create more room.

Enforcing enrollment capacity standards at high schools would reduce overcrowding at schools, like Francis Lewis in Queens, because there are enough seats citywide for high school students and those admissions are done on a citywide basis, the report said.

Tanikawa said because of the way the city funds schools — through the Fair Student Funding Act that allocates a fixed amount per student and adds funds if the school also serves students who are poor, struggling academically, have disabilities, or are learning English — there is an incentive for principals to take more students than a building is designed to hold.

“They don’t do it to be evil,” Tanikawa said. “They want to provide a robust, comprehensive education program and in order to do that principals are forced to take more students than they really should.”

Goldstein said it is “insane” that there is no limit to the number of students, which he said would be the best way to reduce overcrowding at Francis Lewis. Instead, the DOE plans to build an annex by 2021 which will add about 10 to 15 classrooms and replace the trailers the school currently uses.

Goldstein is his high school’s United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, and he said though the UFT has guidelines for class size, there is no upper enrollment limit for neighborhood schools like Francis Lewis.

He said he taught in a trailer for 12 years and taught in a half-sized classroom last year, which posed challenges ranging from preventing students from cheating to just getting around the room. Goldstein said he hopes they can eventually get rid of the trailers, but he fears that even with extra classrooms from the annex will not be enough.

“It will be good,” Goldstein said. “Will it be perfect? No it won’t be perfect.”

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by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

This story has been updated with additional comment from the DOE, elements of the UFT testimony, and a couple of other notes.

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Struggling with Overcrowded Schools and Large Class Sizes, City Advances $8.8 Billion Plan Mon, 15 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test Carranza De Blasio education

Chancellor Carranza & Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced on June 10 that the city will adopt 62 recommendations focused on diversity and integration in public schools, focusing on middle and elementary schools, from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, a new step toward school desegregation as many students, families, educators, and others have waited years for the city to make progress.

A 2014 UCLA report said New York public schools were the most segregated in the country, but stressed that they didn’t have to be. The report said a combination of demographic transformations and a lack of diversity-focused policies led to “problematic segregation patterns.” 

Adding metrics to an annual report to track numbers related to diversity and integration, defining a city goal to aim to have “all schools to look like the city,” and investing in programs to provide more opportunities in high poverty schools are some of the recommendations that some say are the most significant. Also part of the picture is city grants to school districts that want to design their own integration plans, as a few districts have already done.

The adoption of the recommendations come after “a long period of frustration,” according to City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city. Lander added that Carranza’s leadership has been significant in moving the advisory group and broader conversation along. The city accepted all but five of the group’s 67 recommendations, with two rejected and three are still under review.

While many say the initial slate of recommendations is a positive step, some have criticized the plan for lack of timelines for implementation and not being aggressive enough to make fast progress on school integration. Members of the group have said this report is just a start, and a second set of recommendations in July will address some of those concerns, including taking on the tough subject of high school admissions. 

Some have also said the two recommendations the de Blasio administration did not select — the creation of a Chief Integration Officer position and analyzing the possibility of moving the supervision of School Safety Agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education — could have spurred more progress. 

The three of the 67 from the first report that are still under review would make resources available to any district making diversity plans if the DOE receives more applications than the $2 million it already set aside can support and establish a separate set of funds for districts that have not started integration discussions yet. The third suggests developing and investing in enrichment programs in elementary schools.

Since Carranza took over as chancellor in April 2018, he has taken a much more aggressive approach to school desegregation than his predecessors, the apparent result of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new willingness to address an area of significant criticism during his first five years in office, though the mayor is still facing heat for his tepid approach to what is a civil rights and education issue with major socioeconomic and racial implications.

Carranza has implemented mandatory implicit bias trainings for all teachers, lobbied state lawmakers to drop the single entrance exam for the city’s specialized high schools where few black and Hispanic students are enrolled, and eliminated the use of “limited unscreened” enrollment policies in high schools, which gave priority to applicants who attended admissions fairs to show interest and were thought to favor students with more engaged and wealthier parents. 

Mayor de Blasio in 2017 had created a modest diversity plan and established the School Diversity Advisory Group, which came up with the recently-released recommendations. But, de Blasio’s agenda had lacked plans on school integration until recent years. Council members as well as student and teacher advocates increasingly pressured the mayor in the years after the UCLA report. Then he appointed Carranza, who has been outspoken, at times ruffling feathers de Blasio had been loathe to disrupt, to push conversation and action around school integration.

“The chancellor’s coming and embracing that advocacy and working together to build it...has been essential,” said Lander, who co-sponsored a package of legislation passed in 2015 that intended to bring attention to segregation in public schools, “because we had all that organizing going on, but we did not yet have much progress.” 

Preliminary Movement: 62 Recommendations
The 2014 UCLA report found that of the city’s 32 school districts, 19 included 10 percent or fewer white students. Additionally, it said the combination of “double segregation” by both race and socioeconomic status created more inequalities. 

An updated 2019 report found that while some progress had been made, the city’s schools remained largely segregated. From 2001 to 2015, the number of “intensely segregated” elementary schools in gentrifying areas declined by about 10 percent (from 91 percent in 2001 to 83 percent in 2015), those in non-gentrifying areas increased by 15 percent. Intensely segregated schools are defined as 90 to 100 percent non-white. 

Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio and now senior vice president for social justice at the New School and a co-chair of the School Diversity Advisory Group, said in an interview on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC that school integration benefits all students. She said dropout rates go down while graduate rates go up, and students do better in college.

Wiley said that the recommendation adding diversity metrics is a “game changer.” She said having numbers on diversity and providing the public with the reports will help keep the city accountable. 

She added that one of the recommendations, creating diversity targets in middle school admissions, is an expansion on the mayor’s 2017 Diversity in Admissions program that planned for 50,000 more students to attend racially representative schools. Because some researchers noted that the goal could be met by demographic shifts alone, Wiley said the SDAG wanted to be more aggressive. 

“In the short term we said schools, meaning zero to three years, schools should look like their districts. Then over five years they should look like the borough. In 10 years they should look like the city,” Wiley said on WNYC. “The link to the metrics is how do you know if you’re getting that done if you’re not reporting?”

Two-thirds of the students in the city’s school system are black and Hispanic, 15 percent are white, and 16 percent are Asian, according to DOE data. In the city overall, 33 percent are white, 26 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic, and 13 percent are Asian.

Clara Hemphill, the director of education policy and editor at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs’ project InsideSchools, said the recommendations serve as a guide for how the city can move forward with integration on the district level.

The recommendations encourage districts to develop their own diversity plans similar to the one in Brooklyn’s District 15, part of Lander’s Council district, which eliminated the use of screens in middle school admissions and committed 52 percent of seats to students who are low-income, learning English as a new language, or are homeless.

The city announced that five districts will receive $200,000 in grants to increase their schools’ diversity, and one recommendation from the advisory group encourages nine more districts to develop integration plans. Another recommendation outlines that the DOE will “support and encourage” districts to examine new middle school admissions policies, while another urges districts to be transparent about their integration processes to ensure progress.

However, Hemphill said for a borough like the Bronx, whose population is largely black and Latino, there is not going to be integration of different races and income levels at most schools in those districts. She added, though, that the recommendations do layout an answer to help those schools: providing more and encouraging the recruitment of diverse faculty create ways to improve the schools’ quality.

“At neighborhoods where you can’t have racial integration of students, you can still make schools that have plenty of resources and represent the kids,” Hemphill said.

The mayor’s approach to school desegregation so far has been to encourage districts to pursue their own integration plans with assistance from the DOE, which has happened with success through parent-led efforts in Districts 15 and 3. De Blasio regularly says he believes it must be a bottom-up, not top-down effort to integrate city schools.

City Council Member Daneek Miller said at a June 19 press conference that there is a consensus from the members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus as well as the Progressive Caucus that the recommendations are necessary to address school segregation problems. He added, though, that “these 62 points don’t necessarily address everything.”

Perceived Shortcomings
Critics have said the recommendations lack specific timelines for implementation and fail to address greater issues of enrollment screens and district segregation.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said because the recommendations focus on district plans rather than a city-wide plan, not much progress can be made on desegregating schools. The district lines are ethnically and racially drawn, so desegregation efforts need to happen across districts rather than within districts, he said.

Bloomfield added that one of the rejected recommendations, the creation of a Chief Integration Officer, was a “major mistake” because someone in that position could have focused on the city as a whole rather than the individual districts.

“[A city-wide plan] does require imagination and professional staff,” Bloomfield said. “That seems to be lacking in how the mayor sees desegregation efforts. In some ways it’s a plan for a plan, and it’s too late to be going so slow.”

Carranza has said that in his role as chancellor, he is the Chief Integration Officer.

Of the other of two recommendations the city did not adopt, that of moving the supervision of the School Safety Agents to the DOE from the NYPD, would have been beneficial in decreasing police presence in schools and students getting caught up in the criminal justice system as opposed to having more issues handled at their schools. Not long after the de Blasio administration announced it was accepting the 62 of 67 recommendations from the advisory group, it announced a new school discipline code and new agreement between the NYPD and DOE to lighten how students are policed in schools — the first update to that memorandum of understanding in about 20 years.

Given the lack of timelines for implementation, the advisory group recommendations form a “roadmap” for what the city wants to do rather than a plan with deadlines, Hemphill said. 

The recommendations also did not take on high schools and screened admissions policies.

Lander said while some of the recommendations are significant and are an overall positive step, they tackle the “lower hanging fruit.” He said there is room for the city to make changes in the admissions processes of high schools that use academic screens, which does not require changes in state law and is a “more thoughtful” approach to integration. 

The student advocacy group Teens Take Charge, which held a rally at the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, home to the DOE, calling for a high school integration plan four days before de Blasio announced the adoption of the recommendations, echoed Lander’s sentiment.

Soknadiarra Ndiaye, the chief operations officer of Teens Take Charge, said the group hopes the next set of recommendations due next month will deal with enrollment processes and high schools. The group set a June 26 deadline, the last day of school, for de Blasio to announce a comprehensive high school integration plan, and held a sit-in at City Hall when no such plan was announced. 

The Teens Take Charge campaign calls for the city to promote academic, racial, and socioeconomic integration at high schools by setting diversity thresholds in the admissions process that all high schools would have to meet. 

“When it comes to high school, one of the reasons why our high school system is so segregated is because of enrollment,” Ndiaye said. “So we’re hoping that [the city] will either adopt our policy or something similar to it.” 

City Council Member Mark Treyger, the chair of the Council’s education committee, said making changes to admissions processes is one way for the Department of Education to take steps forward on school integration without needing state lawmakers to change state law, which is necessary for tackling issues related to the three (of the eight) marquee specialized high schools and the SHSAT used for admissions (the state legislative session just ended with no movement on reforming the specialized schools’ admissions).

De Blasio has said he does not think it is wise to change the process at the five specialized high schools the city controls, pushing for state law changes to scrap the test in favor of multiple measures and criteria that would diversify the schools, home to high percentages of white and Asian students.

Treyger said he is “pleased” that the recommendations signal the city is moving forward on the issue, but added that “time is of the essence.”

“Every school year delayed is justice delayed and these are precious years that our students can never get back,” Treyger said. “There needs to be a real effort underway, not just to simply form another working group or have another study, but to really find ways to implement strategies right now that we know work.” 

Matt Gonzales, school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed and also a member of the city’s SDAG, said SDAG is writing the second report, which he said will take on high school policy and enrollment issues. He added that the group did not design the first set of recommendations to be the only plan they propose.

“I guess there’s a distrust that the advisory group isn’t going to follow through,” Gonzales said. “There was never an intention just to lay out this first report and wipe our hands.” 

The City’s Slow Progression
School integration was not on de Blasio’s platform when he ran for mayor in 2013, nor was it included in his “Equity and Excellence” education speech in 2015, though he discussed a number of education initiatives. Those programs, like Algebra for All and Computer Science for All and AP for All, are virtually all aimed at enhancing schools as they are currently constituted, while ignoring racial segregation, an approach some have called de Blasio’s version of ‘separate but equal.’

Pushed on not moving to desegregate city schools, de Blasio repeatedly said he had put a great deal in motion to improve schools. He also pointed to the historical constructs and sources of segregated schools and neighborhoods, and to the fact that many New Yorkers had made major life decisions, like buying homes, with the current school districts in mind. Those comments received significant criticism. 

Bloomfield said de Blaiso started to tackle the issue after years of increasing pressure from the public, advocates, and other city leaders. He added that the timing of the city moving forward also coincides with the arrival of Carranza, who prioritized the issue, as well as de Blasio’s reelection.

“He felt that he could risk some political capital on this initiative,” Bloomfield said of the Democratic mayor, now in his second and final term (and running for president).

The City Council, however, began to address school segregation issues in 2014, just after the UCLA report. In October of that year, Council Members Lander, Ritchie Torres, and Inez Barron introduced a package of legislation to draw attention to the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. The Council has no power to change admissions processes or school district lines, policies that are set by the mayoral-controlled Department of Education, technically a state entity, local parent education councils, and the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which is mostly run by mayoral appointees.

Lander’s portion of the legislation included requiring the Department of Education to publicly report diversity metrics. Torres and Barron both introduced nonbinding resolutions that sought to officially declare diversity one of the Department of Education’s goals and to rewrite the law requiring the city’s specialized high schools to admit students based on an entrance exam. 

The Council passed the legislation, and in 2015 passed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which requires the Department of Education to annually report on steps they are taking to address school segregation. The Council has also held several hearings on the issue, including one in May. 

“We have been pushing for integration efforts for quite some time,” Treyger said. “And the City Council is limited in terms of its legislative authority in terms of DOE policies, but we do have oversight power. We’ve used it and we’ll use it again to hold the DOE accountable.”

Districts themselves have also implemented their own integration plans, with District 15 in Brooklyn and District 3 in Manhattan both enacting more inclusive admissions practices in their middle schools. 

No action was taken to further school integration by either the Department of Education or the mayor’s office until 2017, when de Blasio established the SDAG and set goals for more diverse schools. 

The 2017 diversity plan outlined diversity as a priority for the Department of Education and included short-term goals such as decreasing the number of economically stratified schools by 10 percent and increasing the number of schools that serve English Language Learners and students with disabilities. 

“It was very weak tea,” Lander said. “I mean, it was better than nothing, but the goals were very modest. And there was no reason to believe that the School Diversity Advisory Group would be real, would be meaningful would be independent with recommendations.” 

Lander said Carranza was key in giving the SDAG confidence to be bolder and move forward with proposing the recommendations in February 2019. 

Treyger said after some months had passed, he wanted to hold a hearing to find out where the administration stood on the recommendations. He said he, Speaker Corey Johnson, and other Council members were “frustrated” that the city was not ready to publicly weigh in yet. 

At the hearing held in May, Carranza testified that he needed to further discuss the recommendations with the SDAG before making a public announcement on which ones the DOE would adopt. A month later, the city announced the adoption of most of the recommendations.

Lander emphasized that this action comes after years of waiting, but the recommendations signal an intention that there will be more progress on the issue. 

“I’m glad we’re moving now,” Lander said. “I wish we started earlier.” 

Bloomfield said after the second report comes out in July, there could be months of waiting for the mayor to decide which portions of the proposal he wants to adopt. Though he said the progress that has been made now will make it more difficult for the city to stop the movement. 

“The significance is that it’s now squarely part of the city’s agenda,” Bloomfield said. “A new mayor will have a harder time putting the genie back in the bottle.”

‘A Witch Hunt’
Carranza has come under fire from some parents and City Council members following a lawsuit filed by three white veteran Department of Education administrators who claimed they were demoted because of their race, as well as anti-bias trainings that have become the subject of ire from some officials, the New York Post, and others.

A Post columnist, Bob McManus, wrote that Carranza’s agenda is all about “racial division” and that the anti-bias trainings are “white-bashing” sessions that have inflamed rather than eased race relations.” The Post editorial board has written several pieces critical of Carranza in recent months.

In a letter dated June 15, seven City Council members and two state Assembly members sent a letter to de Blasio saying if Carranza continues to “divide the city” then the mayor should replace him. Eight of the nine signers were white, and Council Member Robert Holden of Queens spearheaded the action. The other signator, Council Member Peter Koo, is Asian, and representative of a community that has taken issue with Carranza and de Blasio seeking to overhaul admissions to the specialized high schools, where Asian students are far overrepresented compared to their population in the city or larger school system.

For Council Member Daniel Dromm, a former teacher and former chair of the Council’s education committee, the situation was “almost predictable.”

“As soon as you start to talk about implicit bias or culturally responsive education, you could’ve put money on it that you’re going to get this kind of backlash,” Dromm said during a June 19 press conference held by both the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and its Progressive Caucus. “Which is why no other chancellor would go near the issue to begin with.” 

In response to the letter, the Mayor de Blasio has said the chancellor is not going anywhere. He said on NY1’s Inside City Hall that the Council members “should have known better.” 

“[Carranza] is doing a great job,” de Blasio said. “I think a lot of people in this city really look up to him and are depending on him.” 

Several other Council members also released statements of support for Carranza. Lander said the New York Post is leading a “witch hunt” against the chancellor. 

Others have echoed Dromm’s sentiment that much of the backlash Carranza has received is a nature of his progressive agenda. Gonzales said the New York Post is trying to “discredit” the chancellor as he pushes a progressive agenda.

“Everything that’s been happening in response, I don’t think now that any of this was a response to any particular one thing,” Gonzales said. ‘It’s just a response to who he is, and how bold he has been about identity, how that informs the work he does, and the prioritization of a racial justice agenda.” 

Carranza, who is of Mexican descent, said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on June 11 that the letter is “just a distraction.” He said he will continue to work on making sure all students have access to the same opportunities, a goal outlined in the 62 recommendations the city accepted.

“It’s always often kind of rich when there are inequities happening in a system and the minute you start pointing out those inequities and actually working to change those inequities it becomes divisive,” Carranza said on the show. “I’ve never seen how you can improve a system without identifying what the issues are in the system, and you can’t fix the inequities without talking about them.”

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by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Approved by City, ‘Culturally Responsive’ Charter School Alleges State Bias Against Plan to Expand https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8557-culturally-responsive-charter-school-alleges-state-bias-against-attempt-to-expand https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8557-culturally-responsive-charter-school-alleges-state-bias-against-attempt-to-expand ember charter2

(image: @EmberCS_BedStuy)


[Update (6/3/19): shortly before the Board of Regents meeting on Monday, June 3, Ember Charter School's application to expand was added to the agenda]

[Update (6/5/19): the Board of Regents sent application back the city DOE with comments, no final decision has been made]

The founder of a black-led charter school in Brooklyn with a focus on African and African-American cultural education is alleging the New York State Education Department (SED) is surreptitiously blocking the school’s application to grow. As the next school year approaches, leadership of the Ember Charter School for Mindful Education, Innovation and Transformation is claiming plans to revise its charter to expand programming into high school are being denied, not on formal grounds, but through procedural techniques that have kept it off the agenda of the state’s Board of Regents, where approval is needed.

Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II, the founder and managing partner of Ember Charter School, claims his is the only school to apply for a revision or renewal of its charter this year and not receive it, despite having authorization from the city’s Department of Education. The DOE, as the school’s “authorizer,” is required by law to ensure its charter changes meet certain criteria, like whether it will satisfy educational standards and improve outcomes, before sending its recommendation to the Board of Regents, which presides over SED, for final approval.

With that step accomplished, Kalam Id-Din II says the state rebuff is a new chapter in SED’s hostility towards his school and aversion to its “culturally responsive” mission. He argues that SED is far more friendly to traditional, large charter networks, often run by white executives who enjoy less scrutiny and more unquestioned support from the state power structure.

Ember, which prides itself on having black leadership, embraces an educational model centered around the experiences of its students, who are predominantly black and labelled “at-risk” to be underserved. After the DOE authorized Ember’s proposal to expand its programming, it was apparently sent to SED to be placed on the Board of Regents’ May agenda, but the May meeting passed and the June meeting is approaching without any sign that Ember’s application will be taken up.

The inaction from SED hints at the degree of discretion that may exist between the agency’s mandate to ensure high educational standards and the traditional procedures intended to produce those results.

“We are being treated in a way that is completely different than every other charter school is being treated,” Kalam Id-Din II told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

Kalam Id-Din II believes Ember’s charter revision application was ready to be considered by the Board of Regents at its meeting in May, but it was left off the agenda while another school with an application submitted at the same time was discussed and approved. Through Assembly Member Tremaine Wright, whose district includes Ember, Kalam Id-Din II says he learned this month that Ember’s application would again be left off the Board’s June calendar. (Wright’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

“The New York State Education Department is working closely with the New York City Department of Education to evaluate this revision request to expand this school to a high school and ensure that all students in New York City have access to high quality educational options,” J.P. O’Hare, deputy director of communications at SED, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

But in a draft memo provided to Gotham Gazette by Kalam Id-Din II, authorizing Ember’s charter revision, the DOE wrote, “This issue will be before the P-12 Education Committee and the Full Board for action at the May 2019 Regents meeting.” O’Hare did not respond to a follow-up email from Gotham Gazette asking whether it would be on the agenda of the board’s June 3 meeting Monday, and Kalam Id-Din II had no word from SED as of 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 30. The school community is planning to protest at the Regents meeting scheduled for Monday, June 3, in Albany.

The Ember Charter School was launched in Brooklyn in 2011, serving kindergarten through first grade under the name Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter School. The school has been expanding its program ever since, first incorporating a second grade class in 2012 and reaching grade six by 2016. When it changed its name to the Ember Charter School in 2017, its goal was to continue to expand through grade 12, according to its website.

The school’s board of trustees decided to formally pursue the expansion into high school in October 2018, which would allow it to increase enrollment by 176 students from its current K-8 program to roughly 970 total students. Both the extension through twelfth grade and the growth in enrollment require the school to submit an application for a “material revision” to its charter through the authorizing agency -- in this case the city DOE -- which is responsible for making a recommendation to the Board of Regents.

As the authorizing agency, the DOE must certify that the application meets the requirements under the state’s Education Law; that the applicant demonstrates the ability to operate the school soundly; that the changes would improve student learning; and that the school district consents to the proposal in districts where charter school enrollment makes up more than five percent of total enrollment.

On April 4, 2019 the DOE held a mandated public hearing in the school’s auditorium to solicit feedback from parents and the community about the proposed changes. Fifty-five people attended the hearing and eight spoke, seven of whom were in favor of Ember’s proposed expansion, according to the DOE’s draft memo.

Following the hearing, and after completing its required assessment of Ember’s charter revision application and authorizing it, the DOE appears to have sent the proposal to SED to be taken up by the Board of Regents.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, Kalam Id-Din II said Ember Charter School “relied on the long-standing practice that our authorizer’s decision in this matter would be dispositive and that the Regents would act to effectuate their decision.” But this did not happen in May, and looks like it will not be on the Board of Regents’ Monday meeting agenda either, even as families with high school-age students prepare for the upcoming school year.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, O’Hare of SED wrote that the city DOE has informed SED that if the charter revision request is not approved, all matriculating eighth grade students at Ember will be matched to a placement in a DOE high school for the next academic year.

In May, Assemblymember Wright allegedly told Ember’s leadership that the application was being tabled out of consideration for a nonbinding resolution passed by a number of local and citywide education councils calling for a moratorium on charter authorizations throughout the city. According to Kalam Id-Din II, Wright also cited concerns that Ember’s math test scores trailed the state average, and its enrollment of students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged did not reflect the make-up of the school district it is in.

Kalam Id-Din II disagrees with those characterizations. In the email to Gotham Gazette, he points out that the community education council in Ember’s school district declined to adopt the charter moratorium resolution, and questioned the motives behind holding up only one charter school application on that basis. “[I]t defies any sense of equity or fairness that Ember would be the only charter school whose material revision and expansion were scrutinized and impeded” because of the non-binding citywide moratorium voted on by the citywide education council, he wrote.

Kalam Id-Din II also argues Ember’s state test scores should be evaluated with respect to the school district it serves, rather than the state as a whole, and in comparison to similar black and Latino student populations. “In both of these measures, Ember’s overall math state test performance meets or exceeds these indicators,” he wrote in the email, an assertion that is supported by test score data he provided, as well as information available on SED’s website.

Ember Charter School’s student body is predominantly black and almost exclusively black and Latino: according to DOE data from the 2017-18 school year, it’s students were 79 percent black and 19 percent Hispanic. The school embraces its blackness by gearing its curriculum towards the experiences of its students of color with an emphasis on “culturally relevant” and “economically relevant pedagogy,” according to its website.

Data from the city DOE indicates the total student population in the city is 26 percent black and 40.5 percent Hispanic, whereas, according to the New York City Charter School Center’s analysis of SED data, 53 percent of the city’s charter school students are African-American and 38 percent are Hispanic.

In terms of the school’s “special populations” enrollment figures, Kalam Id-Din II points out that a significant portion of its student body has been exposed to trauma, but that this is not captured in the data on students with disabilities. He added that a vast majority of charter schools approved for renewal or revision had enrollment figures that lagged behind their school district’s in at least two special population categories. Nevertheless, Kalam Id-Din II says Ember is working with the DOE to implement an enrollment preference for students with disabilities next year.

The disagreement between the way the state evaluates test scores and special populations underscores the obstacles faced by schools serving communities of color with curricula that deviate from the mainstream. “We’re the only school taking these steps and really putting...the culturally responsive commitment to our black and our Latinx students at the center of our work,” Kalam Id-Din II told Gotham Gazette in the interview. There is a growing movement among black parents in Brooklyn and throughout the country towards Afrocentric schools and curricula, partially as a response to decades of failed desegregation efforts and the feeling of marginalization many black students experience in integrated schools.

Whatever the school, Kalam Id-Din II says, black-led programs are “impeded in the same particular way...I don’t think that there is a lack of desire of black, Latinx people looking to open or start their own charter schools. I think this is one of the reasons why this sector looks the way it does now. This is a huge equity issue.”

He says Ember’s focus on the experiences of communities of color has been the subject of SED scrutiny before. According to Kalam Id-Din II, when the school tried to incorporate a study abroad program in Africa into its renewed charter in years passed, SED expressed skepticism about the value and safety of bringing New York students there and sought for the language to be removed. “All of these things...really rang hollow to us given that study abroad is pretty widely accepted,” he said.

No agenda for the Board of Regents’ June meeting had been published as of Thursday, May 30 at 5 p.m., and Kalam Id-Din II still hopes the board will take up Ember’s application. Whether or not it does, Ember Charter School plans to take students, parents, and staff to the board’s meeting Monday in Albany. “Either way SED will need to deal with us, our kids, our community face to face,” said Kalam Id-Din II.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Approved by City, ‘Culturally Responsive’ Charter School Alleges State Bias Against Plan to Expand Thu, 30 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Students for School Safety: Solutions Not Suspensions, Counselors Not Cops https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8402-students-for-school-safety-solutions-not-suspensions-counselors-not-cops https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8402-students-for-school-safety-solutions-not-suspensions-counselors-not-cops mayordeblasio pay equity

(photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)


Recently, many news outlets have sensationalized the declining use of suspensions in New York City, framing young people negatively and attempting to discredit the progress that has been made. These stories discount the needs of students most impacted by punitive discipline, who have been very clear about the urgency around redefining what school safety really means.

And while suspensions are down across the city, too many schools still use ineffective tactics, choosing to exclude students rather than seeking to better understand them. Relying on tactics like suspensions, or even metal detectors, handcuffs, surveillance cameras, installing gates on windows, and hiring more school safety and police officers only fosters feelings of turmoil.

As two students currently enrolled in Brooklyn high schools, we understand the circumstances and we understand the impact of suspensions and policing on young people. We must end the school to prison pipeline for the sake of ensuring a better future for the next generation of children.

On March 20, we testified before the New York City Council to draw attention to both the financial and social cost of criminalizing young people in school. Last year the city adopted a budget that was going to spend $373 million on the School Safety Division of the NYPD. The mayor’s new preliminary budget shows a $30 million increase in that funding, now expected to reach $403 million. This would be the most that the city has ever spent on school policing. This isn’t a step in the right direction. This is a crisis.

The city needs to redirect funds toward positive and healing alternatives that work, such as more guidance counselors, clinical social workers, school psychologists, and access to restorative justice that all can boost the morale of students across campuses and increase the academic engagement of students to help them graduate.

The Department of Education recently released its 2019 data report on the number of guidance counselors and social workers in all New York City schools. According to that report, across 913 school sites covering grades 6 through 12, there are 449 schools listed that do not have a single social worker, and 40 school sites that do not have a single guidance counselor. Schools are too ready to push towards more desperate, punishing measures when it would be more positive and transformative in the long run to invest in what helps students feel whole.

Funneling public money towards ensuring students are policed in schools is not safety. Ensuring a future where people respond to problems with criminalization is not the answer.

We’ve both been to Albany to advocate for the Safe and Supportive Schools Bill that would encourage schools across all of New York State to shift away from punitive practices. We are both committed to helping build the schools people need to thrive. Supportive, respectful schools where students are treated with dignity is what will bring us safety.

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Gary Edwards is a high school senior and Khushayah Morris is a high school sophomore. Both students are education justice advocates with the Children’s Defense Fund - New York, and members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign of New York.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Students for School Safety: Solutions Not Suspensions, Counselors Not Cops Mon, 08 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Lessons from ‘Renewal’ and Beyond: What It Takes to Turn Around Our Lowest-Achieving Schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8401-lessons-from-renewal-and-beyond-what-it-takes-to-turn-around-our-lowest-achieving-schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8401-lessons-from-renewal-and-beyond-what-it-takes-to-turn-around-our-lowest-achieving-schools maybdbchancellorencarra

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


For decades, school and district leaders across the country have struggled to answer a fundamental question: how to turn the tide for our nation’s lowest-achieving schools. Some have resorted to school closures, choosing to start anew and relocate those students to better-performing options. Others have tried to “turn around” underperforming schools, in the hopes that an influx of resources, a greater emphasis on data, and strong leadership could spur improvements in student achievement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Renewal program, in particular, highlighted the promise of that alternative to school districts across the country. Rather than shutter 94 poorly performing schools across New York City, he provided a slew of targeted supports that included additional teacher training, new curricula, extra mental health counseling, and resources from community-based organizations. These additional services came with the conditions that schools set clear goals and remain accountable for sustained improvement.

Over the course of four years, Renewal reflected a clear commitment to supports over school closures and a systems-wide approach; important ingredients of a successful turnaround effort. However, the initiative failed to incorporate input from practitioners and community members, creating a disconnect between policies and ideals—and the actual work of teaching and learning within their classrooms.

Earlier this month, Mayor de Blasio had no choice but to end his $773 million school turnaround experiment, facing scrutiny over not only a lack of local engagement, but the nearly 75 percent of Renewal schools that failed to exhibit significant improvement over four years.

In the wake of this latest setback, district leaders and policymakers across the country are still searching for the answer to this fundamental question. Atlanta Public Schools has shifted to a broader, system-wide effort to elevate all 89 schools in the district. Rhode Island continues to grapple with the ongoing struggles of its turnaround schools, even amid promising practices like common planning time for teachers, culturally responsive curricula, and concerted family engagement efforts. And Tennessee is experimenting with approaches that range from state-run school districts to innovation zones that offer extra resources and charter-like autonomy.

School turnaround remains one of the greatest challenges in education today. Yet, in response to this challenge, we are not using tools and strategies that have actually proven to increase student achievement. Research that my colleague and I conducted last fall shows that only 11 percent of service providers supporting the work of school turnaround have demonstrated evidence of impact.

While some providers may not have been evaluated yet, and others offer consultations or services that are more difficult to measure, the key take-away here is that states and districts are prioritizing partnerships with providers that have never demonstrated evidence their turnaround tools work.

For an issue as intractable as school turnaround, shouldn’t we put our best strategies forward?

First and foremost, we need to recognize that school turnaround begs a system-wide approach, a tenet that Renewal did take to heart. New York City Department of Education officials strove to leverage an ecosystem of partners to support students’ academic, psychological, social-emotional, and basic needs. Renewal’s successor, the Comprehensive School Support initiative, will offer a similar, system-wide approach, leveraging a data-driven system to surface the resources and supports that all students need.

What is still missing from this picture is deep engagement of stakeholders across the school building and broader community. In a system-wide approach, district officials must work side-by-side with principals, educators, school support staff, health providers, out-of-school time providers, and community leaders to establish an overarching change vision for each school.

They must investigate the traditional causes of decline and failure, ranging from significant teacher and leader turnover to chronic budget cuts and a lack of community engagement. And they must take on the role of offering the evidence-based, capacity-building tools and resources that this ecosystem of partners needs to successfully off-set those root causes.   

Most importantly, they must accept that effective school turnaround is a long-term effort, not to be achieved in just three years.

Over time, we have worked with Gallup-McKinley County Schools in New Mexico, one of the largest and poorest districts in the state, which has recorded substantial, enduring increases in student proficiency. And in Ohio, a network of 20 turnaround schools demonstrated significant gains in student achievement.

Undoubtedly, school turnaround will remain one of education’s most difficult challenges. However, we now know it can be done with an attention to system-wide stakeholder engagement, evidence-based tools, and the right supports from our school districts.

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza should take note as they make their next attempt at turning around New York City’s struggling schools.

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Coby Meyers is associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development and Chief of Research for the UVA Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, an initiative that has supported effective school turnaround efforts in New Mexico, Ohio, and districts across the country.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Lessons from ‘Renewal’ and Beyond: What It Takes to Turn Around Our Lowest-Achieving Schools Mon, 01 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000