First Person

First Person: When talking about race in classrooms, disagreement is OK — hatred is not

Last week Chalkbeat asked educators to tell us how they talk about race and cultural differences in their classrooms. David McGuire, principal at Tindley Accelerated Schools and previously a teacher in Pike Township, reached out. McGuire is also a co-founder of a group called Educate ME, which aims to encourage more black men to go into teaching.

Photo courtesy of David McGuire's LinkedIn profile.
David McGuire. Courtesy of LinkedIn

When talking about race in the classroom, you must first understand your audience and your students. Certain conversations about race should happen the age level of the students. The conversations about race in elementary classroom are going to look different than they would look in a middle school. Middle school conversations will look different than they do in a high school classroom.

As a teacher you must have this unapologetic transparency with your students about your feelings on race. These crucial conversations that must happen in classrooms and schools must be authentic and honest. As a black male teacher, I cannot apologize for my beliefs, and I have an obligation to teach my students from my perspective and let them know that it is OK to not understand or disagree, but it is not OK to judge and develop hatred for someone because you do not agree with them. Students only get lessons like that when they are made uncomfortable and they are forced to step outside of their comfort zone.

It is important to have conversations about race because there are studies that show people who feel good about their race do better academically. As a teacher thinking about having a race conversation in your classroom, you have to understand that this conversation is important for the development of your students. These are conversations that must be had whether you are uncomfortable or you disagree they are important.

Interested in sharing your thoughts on this topic? Email us at [email protected].

By the numbers

NYC middle schools, pre-Ks meet diversity targets — and more high schools join initiative to spur integration

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

New York City middle schools participating in an admissions program designed to encourage integration met their targets in making offers to incoming students, Chalkbeat has learned.

Additionally, two more high schools will join the Diversity in Admissions pilot, bringing the total to 21 participating schools — still a tiny fraction of the roughly 1,800 schools across the city.

This is the third school year that principals could apply to the program, which allows schools to set aside a percentage of seats for students who meet certain criteria, such as qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, which is often used as a measure of poverty. In some schools, only a sliver of seats are set aside; at others, it’s more than half.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have come under increasing pressure to spur integration in city schools, which are some of the most segregated in the country. While the education department has been eager to tout the Diversity in Admissions program, many activists have criticized the approach as piecemeal, calling instead for wider-scale approaches. The city has promised a broader plan by June, and the chancellor recently hinted that changes to high school admissions could be a part of the proposal.

The four middle schools in the diversity program all met — or surpassed — their set-aside targets in making offers to incoming students, according to data provided by the education department. However, it’s not guaranteed that all students who are offered admission will actually enroll.

Two of the participating middle schools are in Brooklyn’s District 15, where parents and Councilman Brad Lander have called for enrollment changes. At M.S. 839, 42 percent of offers went to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. At the Math & Science Exploratory School, 30 percent of offers did.

Two high schools will join the Diversity in Admissions program for the 2017-18 enrollment cycle: Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design in Brooklyn, and Academy for Careers in Television and Film in Queens. Both will set aside 63 percent of seats for students who qualify for free lunch — a higher threshold of need. Currently, 83 percent of students at Williamsburg High School qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (rates for only free lunch were not immediately available). Only about 50 percent of students at Academy for Careers in Television and Film qualify for free lunch, according to Principal Edgar Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said he has seen the school’s population slowly change since it opened almost a decade ago. Television and Film was a Title I school when it launched, meaning enough students were poor to qualify for additional federal funding. The school has since lost that status, and Rodriguez said joining the Diversity in Admission pilot will help preserve economic diversity.

“We work very hard, in the four years we have students with us, to provide them a space that gives them a sense of the real world,” he said. “The school is already diverse as it is, and I think ensuring the diversity continues, and that it’s sustained over time and deepened, just enhances that experience overall.”

The education department also shared offer information for nine pre-K sites in the Diversity in Admissions program.

Most pre-Ks in the diversity program met their offer targets, except for the Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights. The school aimed to make 10 percent of offers to students who have incarcerated parents, but the school wasn’t able to make any offers based on the students who applied and priority status given to other students.

A recent report by The Century Foundation found that the city’s pre-Ks are more segregated than kindergarten classrooms. Testifying recently at a state budget hearing, Fariña seemed to chalk that up to parent choice.

“I, as a parent, am not going to be running to another part [of the city]. So it’s a matter [of] applying,” she said. “This is parent choice — the same way you can go to private school, parochial school, charter school, you can go to any pre-K.”

The big sort

Extreme academic sorting brings vastly different graduation rates in New York City high schools

PHOTO: Monica Disare
A student signs his name at a high school table during a fair at New Heights Middle School

High school graduation rates vary by about 38 percentage points among New York City schools, depending on the school’s admissions method. That’s according to a report released Friday by Measure of America, an arm of the nonprofit Social Science Research Council.

Those schools also differ starkly in the race and ethnicity of students served, according to the report, titled “Who Graduates?”

“This study shows that the high school choice process is working well for a portion of the student body — those who apply and are admitted to the more selective high schools,” the report states. “But it is not working for far too many New York City teenagers. Our analysis shows clearly that certain groups of students are at high risk for not graduating in four years.”

The on-time graduation rate at educational option schools is below 60 percent across the city, according to Measure of America. Ed-opt schools, as they are known, are designed to admit students with a range of academic abilities. But, facing stiff competition for high-performing students, a Chalkbeat analysis has shown that the schools often enroll mostly struggling students.

Limited unscreened schools had a graduation rate of about 68 percent. Though limited unscreened schools are not supposed to use any information beyond attendance at an open house or high school fair to make admissions decisions, Chalkbeat found that some schools collect survey information or ask students to complete short answer questions.

More than half of all black and Hispanic students enrolled in ed-opt or limited unscreened schools, according to the Measure of America report.

Meanwhile, the most selective high schools, which base admissions on the results of the Specialized High School Admissions Test, had an average graduation rate above 97 percent. Those schools tend to enroll mostly white and Asian students, according to the report. Screened schools, which admit students based on academic measures, had an average graduation rate above 86 percent.

The city’s education department took issue with the study’s methodology and stressed its work to support schools with everything from additional guidance counselors to more Advanced Placement courses.

“We’ll continue to work to ensure all students and families have access to high-quality high schools,” education spokesman Will Mantell wrote in an email.

The study was done in collaboration with the New York Times, with the results featured in a story that examines the impacts of the city’s purely choice-based high school admissions system.

The result, as Chalkbeat chronicled recently, is extreme academic segregation. Fueling the sorting are hazy admissions rules that can benefit families with the time and resources to navigate the process and jump through hoops like attending school visits during working hours.

“Academic screens are a mechanism for sorting the students who have had educational privilege into places where they continue to get educational privilege,” Megan Moskop, who has served as a high school admissions coordinator at M.S. 324 in Washington Heights, told Chalkbeat recently. “And the students who don’t have that privilege continue not to have it.”

City officials have said they are not interested in expanding the number of schools that use screening methods to admit students. Mayor Bill de Blasio and education department officials also say they are working on a “bigger vision” plan to address segregation in the city’s schools.

Chalkbeat reporter Monica Disare contributed to this report.