Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/232 Sun, 21 Jul 2019 00:31:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 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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bySamantha 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.”

***
bySamantha 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
At Stonewall 50, Ensuring Students Know the Real Story of Our City and See Themselves in Its History https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8646-at-stonewall-50-ensuring-students-know-the-real-story-of-our-city-and-see-themselves-in-its-history https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8646-at-stonewall-50-ensuring-students-know-the-real-story-of-our-city-and-see-themselves-in-its-history harvey feinstein hosts

Council Member Daniel Dromm, the author (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City is among the most diverse places in the country. It is home to more than 3 million foreign-born residents, 200 languages, 80 religious affiliations, and countless individuals who are part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Our city should celebrate the diversity that defines New York, including teaching young people about our extraordinarily rich history and culture.

Fortunately, there is already a model that can show us the way forward. Culturally responsive education (CRE) aligns educational curricula with students’ backgrounds and life experiences. The education with which we equip the next generation should enable our students to connect their classroom studies to their lived experiences. Moreover, it should instill confidence in our students of their own identities so that they may see how others like themselves have contributed to America’s history.

This Sunday, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ movement. Out of this movement emerged two prophetic voices: Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Both of these transwomen of color were at the Stonewall Inn during the clashes with police and participated in numerous protest rallies and marches in the aftermath.

They were known for founding STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and supporting LGBTQ+ homeless individuals. The city will soon immortalize Johnson’s and Rivera’s places in history with a monument in Greenwich Village. However, too few New Yorkers, including students in our schools, know about these civil rights heroes and their work protecting and empowering the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our society.

CRE asks us to view the accolades of historical figures such as Harlem Renaissance performer Gladys Bentley and 1963 March on Washington architect Bayard Rustin in the context of their lives. They were queer people of color who overcame tremendous obstacles, long before Pride marches and Black Lives Matter. They are fascinating figures worthy of study precisely because of the multiple identities and the various environments they had to navigate.

Recognizing the complexity of such persons and promoting their stories allow the youth of New York City to find themselves in history. Amending school curricula and changing reading lists to reflect the contributions of a wide variety of Americans creates an environment that celebrates the richness of New York’s many communities. It also fosters a more welcoming classroom and an education that is personally relevant to our students.

In this way, CRE is truly student-centered learning. It keeps our students – particularly those who feel least included – engaged in and attuned to the accomplishments of those sidelined by the traditional narrative of American history and culture.

City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has agreed to accept the School Diversity Advisory Group recommendation to have CRE imbedded into all schools for all grades, welcome news indeed. I encourage the New York City Department of Education to implement it as soon as possible and ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are fully integrated.

We deprive our students when we do not tell them the truth about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. All of our schools need to embrace CRE and prepare the next generation for a future where well-informed, critically-thinking citizens and residents will be even more desperately needed.

***
Daniel Dromm is a former New York City public school teacher and represents the communities of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst in the City Council. On Twitter @Dromm25.

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

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At Stonewall 50, Ensuring Students Know the Real Story of Our City and See Themselves in Its History 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
As Public School Parent Leaders, We Say Don’t Raise the Charter Cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8529-as-public-school-parent-leaders-we-say-don-t-raise-the-charter-cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8529-as-public-school-parent-leaders-we-say-don-t-raise-the-charter-cap students with signs

(photo: Governor's Office)


There has been much discussion that the state Legislature and Governor Cuomo may raise the cap on charter schools, especially since the sub-cap of 235 charter schools in New York City has now been reached. As public school parents and co-chairs of the Education Council Consortium, which represents the elected parent leaders of Community Education Councils across the five boroughs, we overwhelmingly oppose raising the cap because this would have a seriously detrimental impact on our public schools.

Privately-run charter schools in New York City are already costing the Department of Education more than $2.1 billion a year. In addition, the city is required to pay for private space for all new and expanding charter schools if they are not given space in our already overcrowded public schools – the only district in the state and the nation that is so obligated. The cost to the city for this private space is rising fast, as our existing charters continue to expand to new grade levels.

On average, charter schools enroll far fewer special needs students and English Language Learners than other public schools. If the Legislature allows charters to continue to proliferate, our public schools will be even more concentrated with the highest needs students in less space and with fewer resources to educate them. Some of the fastest growing charter chains, including Success Academy, have been sued repeatedly for pushing out students and violating their civil rights, especially children with disabilities. The State Education Department has recently ordered that Success adopt a corrective action plan to cease these discriminatory practices.

The charter school waiting lists of 50,000 students are often cited as a reason to raise the cap. However a few points about these lists should be made: First, no one audits the figures claimed by charters and many students are double or triple counted if they apply to more than one charter school, as commonly occurs.  When charter waiting lists are audited, as happened in Boston, their figures were found to be inflated. We also know from a recent research study that 50 percent of the students accepted by lottery to Success Academy do not end up enrolling in their schools; which means that thousands of students are accepted off their waiting list without any need to raise the cap.

Some charter schools spend thousands or even millions of dollars on advertising on radio, subways, bus stops, social media, and glossy mailings to build up their waiting lists. This process is encouraged by the mayor, who allows charter schools, including Success Academy, Uncommon, KIPP, and Achievement First, to use Department of Education mailing lists to send promotional materials to families to market their schools.

Success Academy itself has what is described as a “full service brand strategy, marketing and creative division” including an advertising staff of more than 30 creative directors, designers, copywriters, strategists and project managers, an expense which no public school can afford.

Even so, the city’s public schools have longer waiting lists. This year, there were more than 155,000 instances in which the city’s 8th grade students applied but weren’t admitted to 21 of the most popular public high schools for lack of space. Many of the students who landed on these waiting lists were probably double- or triple-counted of course, just like students on the charter school waiting lists.  Yet this represents only a small fraction of the waiting lists at the 1,800 public schools across the city, which spend no funds on advertising or glossy mailings.

What is tragic is how, unlike charter schools, the city’s most popular and successful public schools, are prevented from expanding or replicating by insufficient space and funding, which would be further diminished if the charter cap were raised. 

As a city and a state, we must focus on supporting and improving our public schools, rather than encourage the growth of privately-managed charter schools that pull resources from them.

Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy and it is the Legislature’s responsibility to acknowledge that fact by keeping the cap on charters in New York City and statewide.

***
NeQuan McLean and Shino Tanikawa are Co-Chairs, of the Education Council Consortium. On Twitter @CNequan & @estuaryqueen.

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

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As Public School Parent Leaders, We Say Don’t Raise the Charter Cap Sun, 19 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Social Workers for Homeless Kids is Not the Place to Skimp https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8520-counselors-for-homeless-kids-is-not-the-place-to-skimp https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8520-counselors-for-homeless-kids-is-not-the-place-to-skimp mayor bdb edu

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


Last year, nearly 38,000 New York City students arrived in the classroom having woken up in a shelter. That’s more students than the total enrollment of the Buffalo public schools, the next largest school district in the state.

Many had been exposed to domestic violence, one of the driving forces of homelessness. Many were forced to transfer schools mid-year, some multiple times, after being placed in a shelter in an entirely different borough. Some were in placements with no kitchen or laundry machine. More than half missed the equivalent of an entire month of the school year due to absences.

Imagine being dropped abruptly mid-year into a classroom where you know no one and have to get used to a new school—all while wondering how long your family will have to stay in a shelter. Imagine having 50 students in this situation—two full kindergarten classrooms of children—come into your school every day, and not having any additional staff to focus on supporting them.

For many students and schools, this is reality.

As the number of children experiencing homelessness has skyrocketed, it is essential that schools serving large numbers of students living in shelter have trained professionals dedicated to meeting their needs.

Three years ago, Mayor de Blasio launched a program to place 33 “Bridging the Gap” social workers in schools with high concentrations of students living in shelter. This year, with additional funding from the mayor and the City Council, there are 69 Bridging the Gap social workers. These social workers provide much-needed counseling to address the trauma that can interfere with the school performance of students living in shelters and work to address barriers to regular school attendance.

However, far too many schools still lack this critical support. In fact, 100 schools have 50 or more students living in shelter and no Bridging the Gap social worker.

We were baffled that, for the third year, instead of increasing funding for Bridging the Gap social workers, Mayor de Blasio omitted all funding for this program from his preliminary budget, jeopardizing its continuation.

Following an outcry from Council members and advocates, the mayor restored funding for 53 of the 69 social workers in his executive budget last month. While we were pleased that the mayor included long-term (“baselined”) funding for the 53 social workers, ending the annual budget dance, we were disheartened that 16 social workers remained at risk, especially when we need even more than 69.

Following further criticism, the administration announced that it would restore funding for the remaining 16 social workers just before the City Council began its executive budget hearings last week.

The administration has cited the restoration of the Bridging the Gap social workers as a key way that it has been responsive to the Council’s priorities. But the Council has asked for an increase—not merely a restoration—of the program.

In fact, 35 Council members, as well as shelter providers and education advocates, have called on the mayor to add $5 million to the budget to increase the number of Bridging the Gap social workers from 69 to at least 100.

Cutting funding for the program and then restoring it should not be viewed as a victory when thousands of students living in shelter lack access to the crucial help Bridging the Gap social workers can provide.

Schools alone cannot end homelessness. But, with the right support, schools can transform the lives of students who are homeless. As Mayor de Blasio has stated, a quality education is “the most powerful tool we know for lifting one’s life chances.”

To break the cycle of homelessness, the city must devote more attention and resources to the education of students living in shelter. The mayor should start by providing funding for at least 100 school social workers for students living in shelter in this year’s budget.

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Kim Sweet is Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. On Twitter @AFCNewYork.

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

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Social Workers for Homeless Kids is Not the Place to Skimp Tue, 14 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
A Solution in New York City School Turnaround is Simpler Than We Think https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8482-a-solution-in-new-york-city-school-turnaround-is-simpler-than-we-think https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8482-a-solution-in-new-york-city-school-turnaround-is-simpler-than-we-think mbdb chancellor

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Recently, amid a debate about a jarring lack of diversity in New York City’s specialized schools, jaw-dropping news broke. A RAND Corporation Report, commissioned by the Department of Education, showed that despite roughly $750 million spent on fewer than 100 “Renewal Schools,” the needle fundamentally failed to move on student outcomes.

Extraordinary resources were expended. Real results never materialized.

Now, questions abound as to how the city should move forward to improve struggling schools. Was the problem rooted in faulty bureaucratic execution and implementation that hampered the Renewal program from the beginning? Do we begin closing more schools and reopening them anew?

We need answers as tens of thousands of children of color live in poverty, more than 100,000 students were homeless last year, and countless others don’t know where their next meal is coming from. History has shown that complex social issues often yield equally complex – and exceptionally expensive – solutions, and policymakers seem to be focused on finding the sweeping, systemic “special sauce” for delivering meaningful student gains.

But the reality is that sometimes the most vexing issues can have simple answers. And what’s so often overlooked is an elegant, bread-and-butter approach to setting our kids up for success: an adult mentor.

An adult outside of the home and classroom who cares for the student and asks for nothing in return. An adult who regularly checks in with the student, offers guidance, and believes in and encourages him or her. This makes a huge difference to young students. Offering mentoring programs for students in need is comparatively very cheap and replicable, and serves as a poverty-fighting tool.

And it’s something that doesn’t exist at scale right now.

We know all of this because our organization, Student Sponsor Partners, pairs students entering high school and in extreme need with professional adults who work with them. A full 100% of kids in our program have average to below-average test scores coming into high school, 100% live below the poverty line, and 76% live in one- or no-parent households. Yet, we couple robust mentoring with scholarships to private high schools, and our kids have an 85% on-time graduation rate and 92% college attendance rate.

And beyond the numbers are the stories that prove mentorship works. I am an example of just that. By the age of 12, I had been in and out of foster homes. That’s when I met Peter Flanigan, founder of Student Sponsor Partners, who became my mentor and changed my life forever. He saw potential in me, and him believing in me and pushing me to be my best self helped me get to where I am today.

From NYPD officers to executives at Fortune 500 companies, mentors make a huge difference by committing to our program and guiding students in their spare time. Often, these relationships last through high school, college, and for the rest of their lives.

A citywide mentoring program can be an anti-poverty tactic – and a tool to help diversify top public schools. Every year, our program serves nearly 1,200 students across New York City.  

But the sheer shortage of adults caring for students outside the classroom in our public schools is concerning. For every 1,000 students, there are only 4.9 support workers, far fewer than comparable cities. Nationwide, the average student-to-school-counselor ratio is a shocking 482-to-1. Our city’s “single shepherd” program, aimed to address the lack of guidance counselors, came with a $50 million price tag yet officials are unable to say if it’s made an impact.

Guidance counselors and school staff are doing what they can, but it’s virtually impossible to give children and their parents personalized attention when a support worker is responsible for hundreds of cases.

It’s no wonder that educational gaps persist.

So, as we have a citywide conversation about how to achieve equity and success, and give every student a fair shot at a great education, we may not want to search for a panacea. Instead, policymakers would do well to start by focusing on the basics.

The conversation about how to move forward after the Renewal Schools failure cannot just focus on how to achieve the right outcomes through a handful of schools or through an expensive policy. It also must focus on how we prevent a generation of children, who are deeply in need, from falling permanently behind, and how we give students most in need the academic tools to succeed long-term.

The city can start by launching a comprehensive mentoring program, linking adult New Yorkers who want to give back with kids who need support most.

It can make a world of difference to an individual child – and be game-changing across our school system.

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Debra De Jesus-Vizzi is the executive director of Student Sponsor Partners in New York City. On Twitter @DebraVizzi & @sspnewyork.

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

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A Solution in New York City School Turnaround is Simpler Than We Think Mon, 06 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Where Top City and State Officials Stand on Raising the Charter School Cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8481-where-top-city-and-state-officials-stand-on-raising-the-charter-school-cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8481-where-top-city-and-state-officials-stand-on-raising-the-charter-school-cap govcuomo capi rally

Gov. Cuomo at a charter school rally (photo: governor's office)


After several new charter schools were approved last month, the cap on such schools allowed in New York City was reached. New York State has a cap on the number of issuable charters, which allow a group to start a new charter school, the controversial, privately-run, publicly-funded schools that mostly proliferate in the five boroughs and educate roughly 10% of the city's 1 million students. Within the larger cap, there is a sub-cap for charters that can be issued for schools in New York City.

In the past few months, 18 applicants for charters in New York City made it through the initial application process and a meeting of the SUNY Board’s charter schools committee, one of the two authorizers, but there were only seven charters left to be issued under the sub-cap.

New York City Charter School Center, among others, raised concerns about this earlier this year. James Merriman, the center's CEO, called the situation “the definition of a crisis” at the time. Charter school advocates had hoped that the sub-cap would be addressed in the state budget process, but there was little talk of an extension in Albany during budget negotiations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and longtime charter school supporter, favors lifting the cap. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a second-term Democrat and longtime charter opponent, is against lifting the cap; as is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. It’s not clear how much say de Blasio, Johnson, and Williams will have, though, as the decision will be made by Cuomo and the state Legislature, where the Assembly appears cold to the idea of lifting the sub-cap while the Senate appears open to it.

While it was clear the New York City sub-cap on charter schools would be hit this year, Cuomo did not include raising the cap in his State of the State policy book or his executive budget. After the Cuomo administration declined to comment for a Gotham Gazette story in February, when the cap was about to be hit, a budget deal was reached with no mention of the cap.

“We support raising this artificial cap, but the legislature needs to agree as well,” said Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, echoing a comment he made mid-April to the New York Post.

This public support heightens the potential that there could be a change to the charter school cap before the end of the legislative session in June. Cuomo has long been a strong supporter of charter schools and his advisor’s comments mirror Merriman’s statement that the cap is “arbitrary.”

A spokesperson for Senate Democrats told Gotham Gazette, “We will discuss as a conference” while a spokesperson for Assembly Democrats said “It is not something we are considering.”

State Senator John Liu, a Queens Democrat and the chair of the Senate’s subcommittee on New York City Schools, said “The charter cap should be increased only when charter schools are held to the same accountability standards as public schools. For every family waiting for a spot in a charter school, there are more families waiting for a spot in a preferred public school.”

Before Democrats took a majority in the State Senate last year, Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference would work with Cuomo to advance charter school priorities as part of the budget process or the regular negotiations over extending mayoral control of New York City public schools.

With the new budget, state lawmakers agreed to extend mayoral control for three years, until June 2022, after Mayor Bill de Blasio will leave office, but the charter cap was left out of the deal, perhaps indicative of the new Democratic reality in Albany.

This last happened in 2017 when a deal was struck for a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools. The deal also allowed 22 revoked or surrendered charters to be reissued.

It’s unclear how hard Cuomo will push for the cap to be raised, and how receptive Senate Democrats might be. As often happens in Albany, a deal may be reached where Assembly Democrats get movement on a priority in exchange for agreeing to the cap being lifted.

Senate Democrats could also help mitigate potential opposition in key swing districts in next year’s legislative elections, when they will be trying to defend their new majority for the first time. Charter school interests are often major campaign donors -- including to Cuomo, the former IDC, and Senate Republicans -- and spenders on independent expenditure campaigns meant to influence elections.

Those charter interests have also spent heavily against de Blasio in the past. Asked for the mayor’s position on the charter school cap, a spokesperson pointed to a statement by the mayor from September and said “our position hasn’t changed.”

“I believe that the charter cap is perfectly sufficient the way it is,” de Blasio said at a press conference then, “and that our focus should not be on the expansion of charters. Our focus should be on doing the hard work of making our traditional public schools better.”

Other New York City elected officials are also against an expansion of charter schools in the city. “I have long had concerns about charter schools, which is why I do not support raising the cap. Chief among those concerns is the fact that charter schools do not have the same level of transparency that’s required of public schools, which is inherently unfair. Our focus should be on strengthening all of our schools and ensuring every student gets the opportunity to succeed,” said City Council Speaker Johnson in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

"The answer to the real issues in the NYC public school system is not to create further imbalance," Public Advocate Williams said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "I do not support the the current push to raise the charter school cap. In fact, what the Governor should do is pay the public schools of the city the money they’ve been owed for decades. I also urge the Administration to launch a full investigation into the controversial disciplinary practices seen in some charter schools to combat wrongdoings that continue to occur.”

A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a Democrat, said she is “opposed to raising the cap, period.” In previous testimony, Brewer has said that charter schools “are unsustainable education practices that serve the few at the expense of many.”

Spokespeople for other top city officials -- Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. -- did not provide comment for this story on where those officials stand on the charter school cap, despite multiple requests to each office.

Adam and Diaz Jr. have both been supportive of charter schools, while Stringer has been more cool to the privately-run, publicly-funded schools that now educate roughly 10% of the city’s students.

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Where Top City and State Officials Stand on Raising the Charter School Cap Sun, 28 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Ending the Shortage of Black Male Teachers in New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8476-ending-the-shortage-of-black-male-teachers-in-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8476-ending-the-shortage-of-black-male-teachers-in-new-york ashley schools

(photo: New York City Department of Education)


Every day I stand in front of my classroom, filled with black and brown faces, intensely aware that I am the only black man teaching at my school -- but I am hardly the only one that feels this. New York City schools employ fewer black male teachers today than 20 years ago; only 3.7 percent of city teachers share my identity.

Without male teachers of color, thousands of students walk into schools each day where not even a single adult shares an important part of their identity. These students are missing out on the academic and social advantages of having a teacher of color. Studies show that having a race and gender match between student and teacher can help reverse some of the challenges black male students face -- higher dropout and suspension rates coupled with lower likelihood to attend and graduate from college.

It is time for New York to seriously invest in recruiting excellent black male educators.

A diverse teacher workforce had a deep impact on my life. Growing up in Miami, I was one of the few black boys in my schools. Fortunately, black educators like Mr. Carter, my mentor and role model, pushed me to become the learner and educator I am today. He validated my voice and writing in English, a subject where black boys did not typically fit in. Mr. Carter, and other black male teachers, put me on the trajectory to become a lifelong educator.

When I started educating a new generation of black students, I carried on the mission Mr. Carter sowed in me. In my classroom, I am not just a teacher or track coach. To my black students, I am a father, uncle, big brother, and mentor.

Brandon, a student from years ago, told me that having a role model that looked and spoke like him teaching history put him on the path to studying history and returning home as an educator himself. Last week, Brandon used his spring break to shadow and co-teach in my Manhattan classroom. He is joining the next generation of black educators making a difference in the lives of black kids.

When our students open their eyes to new subjects, career paths, and futures they never saw for themselves, that’s where we see our true impact. Our connection goes beyond academics and test results; I see myself 20 years ago and they see me as someone they can become.

The debate over how schools support black boys facing systemic racism and poverty often overlooks the impact teachers of color, and specifically black male teachers, can have. Our school system marginalizes our black students by suspending them at higher rates and limits their access to higher level courses.

Having a same-race teacher improves academic and social performance, shown by The Institute for Labor Economics. It found that when a black male student from a low-income background has one black teacher in elementary school they are 39% less likely to drop out of school and more likely to attend college.

Additionally, there are lessons that only a black man can pass on to a black boy -- how to survive an encounter with the police, how to code switch, how to resolve disputes with your words -- which is why studies show black students are suspended less by black teachers. Having a black male teacher is one way to address these problems and ensure our black boys are on the path to graduation, college, and success beyond.

While teachers have offered pathways to end the chronic shortage of black male teachers, New York has not done enough. Recently, Educators for Excellence-New York, a teacher-led advocacy group, released recommendations aimed at increasing teacher diversity in New York by investing in preparation programs that excel at recruiting and training excellent teachers of color. Unfortunately, state leadership continually fails to sufficiently address this issue.

Governor Cuomo and the Legislature included money in this year’s state budget to recruit 250 teachers of color by 2024 -- in a state that produces nearly 10% of all new American teachers each year. This is a small, positive step. But in a system where 40% of our students are males of color, these proposals are insufficient.

Truth be told, it goes beyond funding. It’s time for political leaders to authentically implement inclusion and expand effective initiatives that will develop, support, and sustain a pipeline for black male educators into the classroom.

As Educators for Excellence-New York recommends, it is time for the state to identify and support teacher preparation programs that are successfully recruiting and training men of color to teach. These programs must include teacher residencies that provide extended in-classroom experience in the schools that need educators of color the most.

Additionally, it is time to for school districts to prioritize hiring and retention strategies that address the unique challenges facing men of color as they enter and grow in the profession. With a sustained approach, New York can become a leader in what it looks like to address teacher shortages and close the educator diversity gap.  

Across New York, there are young men sitting in classrooms, just like I once was, whose lives could be changed by a role model at the front of their classroom that looks like them.


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Ashley Toussaint is a public high school teacher in Manhattan and a member of Educators for Excellence-New York.

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

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Ending the Shortage of Black Male Teachers in New York Sun, 28 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000