elite and out of reach

Racial gap persists for city's specialized high schools

Today’s the day that guidance counselors distribute envelopes to eighth graders with news of whether and which of the city’s top-tier high schools opened the door for them. But for minority students, the news continues to be grim.

Combined, white and Asian students account for 70 percent of the students admitted to elite schools like Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School. Hispanic students make up 6 percent of those admitted and black students 5 percent. The remainder, 18 percent, come from private or parochial schools and racial data for them was not available.

Despite repeated statements of concern from city officials about the tiny number of minority students earning entry to top high schools, the numbers have only declined in the last three years. In 2009, 744 black and Hispanic students earned seats at specialized high schools. This year, 642 made it in.

Meanwhile, the number of minority students sitting for the exams has increased. Black and Hispanic students now make up a greater percentage of test takers than they did in 2009.

The numbers are even more concerning in the schools that are the elite of the elite. This year, 12 black students earned spots at Stuyvesant High School, which is actually an improvement over last year when 7 students received offers.

In total, 5,404 eighth graders earned seats at one of the city’s eight specialized high schools that admit students purely based on their scores on the SHSAT (Specialized High Schools Admissions Test). A ninth specialized school, LaGuardia High School, auditions students for its music and arts programs. It offered seats to 962 students, about a third of whom also received offers from one other specialized school.

The Department of Education would not release the range of scores earned by students accepted to individual schools. Students are often able to figure this out on their own by comparing notes with classmates.

A spokesman said that releasing each school’s lowest score would give future applicants the impression that some schools are easier to get into than others, causing some of them to aim for schools they believe will accept them rather than the schools they really want to attend. As an example, he cited Brooklyn Technical High School, which is one of the city’s most popular elite high schools, but is also so large that it admits students with some of the highest scores and some of the lowest.

Students have until February 28 to accept an offer.

2011 Specialized High Schools – 8th Grade Students Receiving a Specialized HS Offer by Ethnicity 2009-2011

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”