excepted

Fewer black and Hispanic students admitted to top high schools

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Students who took the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test and were offered seats in a specialized high school this school year, by race

During a year when the racial composition of the student bodies at the city’s most selective high schools came under harsh new scrutiny, the number of black and Hispanic students admitted to the schools fell sharply.

Of the 5,229 students accepted to the city’s eight specialized high schools this year, 618 were black or Hispanic, according to data the Department of Education released today, the day that eighth-graders learned their high school placement. Last year, the schools accepted 733 black and Hispanic students, more than in the recent past.

The sharpest declines came at the city’s most selective schools. Out of 963 students accepted to ultra-elite Stuyvesant High School, just nine are black and 24 are Hispanic. Last year, the school accepted 51 black and Hispanic students. At Brooklyn Technical High School, the largest of the specialized schools, the number of black and Hispanic students accepted fell by 22 percent.

The declines outpaced another sharp drop-off, in the number of black and Hispanic students who even took the admissions test that is the single determinant of whether students can attend the specialized schools. The number of white and Asian students who sat for the exam increased slightly, but 550 fewer black students and 384 fewer Hispanic students took the test.

Overall, black and Hispanic students received 12 percent of specialized high school offers, down from 14 percent last year but up slightly from 11 percent in 2011. They made up 45 percent of test-takers and make up about 71 percent of students citywide.

“It’s disappointing that the amount of students in Stuyvesant are not reflective of New York City public schools,” said Karim Camara, chairman of the state Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. “Obviously, there needs to be serious efforts to increase enrollment of black and Latino students in these schools.”

Camara has proposed legislation that would require specialized schools to base admissions on multiple measurements, the central demand of a civil rights complaint filed last year by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The complaint, which the federal Office of Civil Rights is considering, says admission to the schools would be more fair if students’ grades, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, and life experiences were considered.

“This year’s admission numbers represent the continuation of a trend of unfairness and acute racial disparities in admissions to New York’s eight specialized high schools that has been going on for years,” Damon Hewitt, LDF’s legal director, said today. “We will not see a reversal of this trend until the schools’ admissions policy changes once and for all.”

City officials have consistently defended the admissions process — which would require legislative approval to change — and did so again today.

“We take efforts to ensure our system of great schools is diverse, but ultimately for the specialized high schools, we believe the SHSAT is the fairest measure for admission,” said Devon Puglia, a department spokesman.

The specialized high school admissions data came out at the same time as overall numbers about this year’s high school admissions process. According to the Department of Education, 90 percent of the 75,690 eighth-graders who applied to high school this year were matched with a school during the first round of the city’s admission process, 47 percent to their first-choice schools.

But for the third year in a row, one in 10 did not get into any school. The 7,225 students who weren’t matched to any school now have several weeks to apply to schools that still have space or to two dozen new schools and programs opening this fall. Many of the schools with open spots are struggling, and some of the new programs are housed in schools that the city tried unsuccessfully to close last year. For example, John Adams High School is adding selective art history and engineering programs, according to a guide to the new schools and programs that the city released today.

The admissions decisions, which schools distributed to students today, come two weeks later than the city originally intended. That’s because the city extended the deadline after Hurricane Sandy hobbled the city a the month before applications were due in December.

Students who were matched to a school this week can also apply in the second round for schools with open spots. But if they are matched to a school in that round, they’ll give up their first-round spot. Insideschools has published a guide to schools that still have seats, and the city will hold a fair for students still looking for schools in April at Manhattan’s Martin Luther King Campus.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.