admissions season

Few black and Hispanic students admitted to top high schools, adding to calls for admissions rules changes

Few black and Hispanic students won seats in eight of the city’s specialized high schools this year, prompting Mayor Bill de Blasio to repeat a campaign trail declaration that the admissions process needs an overhaul.

Just 11 percent of the offers to eight of the city’s top high schools went to black and Hispanic students, though they make up about 70 percent of the city’s eighth graders. That figure is similar to last year’s, though for some schools the number of offers to black and Hispanic students continued to fall. Just seven of 952 students accepted to Stuyvesant High School are black, and 21 are Hispanic. No black students were admitted to Staten Island Tech, down from five last year.

Students get those admissions offers based solely on their performance on the Specialized High School Admissions Test. Civil rights groups and de Blasio himself have said that process contributes to inequity, since lower-income families have less access to high-quality elementary and middle schools or external test preparation,

On Tuesday, the mayor and Chancellor Carmen Fariña signaled that they would be revisiting the admissions requirements—though their time frame isn’t soon enough for some.

“Over time we’re going to have a series of steps we take,” de Blasio said. “I think ultimately we need to reform the admissions system. That’s something we’d have to do with Albany.”

That’s partially true, since three of the eight specialized schools that use the exam have their admissions rules codified in state law. But the mayor could change admissions rules for the other five, including Staten Island Tech, to include other measures like student grades at any time.

Fariña said in a statement that the department will be looking into the admissions gap “in the coming months.”

Their statements represented an official shift from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who repeatedly said that the admissions process was an equitable one because all students were judged by the same criteria.

“You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school — no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is. That’s been the tradition in these schools since they were founded, and it’s going to continue to be,” Bloomberg said in 2012.

To Lazar Treschan, the director of youth policy at the Community Service Society of New York,  today’s numbers were just the latest confirmation that the admissions process needs to reflect more than a test.

“Zero [black students] at Staten Island Tech and three at Lehman? It’s not like there are no black students in Staten Island and the Bronx,” Treschan said, referring to the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, which is not required by law to use the Standardized High School Admissions Test for admission. “It’s academic apartheid.”

Treschan co-authored a report last year with the the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that laid out options for a “fairer and more effective” process for determining who gets the city’s most-coveted high school seats. The report points out that most of the nation’s highest performing, selective high schools already use more than one measure to determine admission.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund also filed a civil rights complaint about the specialized high school admissions process in 2012. Lawyer Monique Lin-Luse, special counsel to the education group at the Legal Defense Fund, said the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights is still investigating that claim.

The civil rights complaint is one of three fronts on which the group is fighting to change the admissions policy, Lin-Luse said, including state legislation and lobbying City Hall to change the procedure for the five schools in their control as soon as possible.

“There is a sense of urgency that decisions need to be made so so that students can prepare,” Lin-Luse said. “We shouldn’t wait another year.”

The state legislation would allow city officials to determine the admissions criteria for Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, and Bronx Science. State Assemblyman Karim Camara sponsored the bill in the Assembly, where it has stalled for the last two years. But Camara said today that he’s hopeful that de Blasio’s support could help push a more ambitious, amended version through the legislature.

“Over the next few weeks we will be announcing a very specific piece of legislation,” Camara said. “What we have now is a plan that we’re developing that would lay out the measures, from expanding the pool of applicants to having more notification to children of color.”

The Department of Education also announced the results of its regular high school admissions process today, and officials said that 45 percent of eighth graders who applied got into their first-choice school—down slightly from 47 percent last year. 73 percent of applicants got into one of their top three choices.

10 percent of the applicants didn’t receive a high school match and will need to go through round two, when they can rank schools that still have available seats and apply to a group of newly announced schools.

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father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.