mental health 'crisis'

City’s new mental health plan includes 100 school health workers and focus on pre-K

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

New York City’s efforts to improve mental health services in schools will reach many more students by 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

De Blasio laid out a sweeping set of $850 million initiatives, including some designed to help students and improve their schools by extension. The plan, which builds on earlier efforts, includes hiring a new team of 100 health consultants designed to connect schools to education department resources and local partners, and a number of programs aimed at supporting the emotional development of preschool students.

“It means that if you’re at a school and you’re a principal or a teacher or a classroom aide and you see a child has a problem, we’ll send a mental health professional to that school to figure out with you a plan to help that child get well,” de Blasio said during an emotional press conference, where he detailed his father’s and daughter’s own mental health struggles.

De Blasio, aided by his wife, Chirlane McCray, has made mental health a focus of his mayoralty and repeatedly cited mental-health services as one way to improve struggling schools. Many low-performing schools in the city’s turnaround program, and another group the city has designated as “community schools,” have gained additional access to mental health workers. Some plan to open in-school clinics.

The announcement comes on the heels of a city report detailing the depth and breadth of mental illness in New York. Some of the paper’s most striking numbers were related to school-aged children, including that 8 percent of the city’s high school students report attempting to commit suicide and another 73,000 students said they feel sad or hopeless each month.

That report also notes the tight link between childhood mental illness and poverty. And in New York City’s public schools, where the Independent Budget Office estimates that eight in 10 qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, teachers and administrators can find themselves without the resources, staff, or knowledge to provide what students need.

The city’s plan promises to “act early” and help more students learn how to regulate their emotions and adapt to new situations as soon as pre-kindergarten. The city will training 9,000 new teachers, assistants, and school leaders over the next three years to make sure pre-K students are learning to control their emotions, expanding an effort announced earlier this month to introduce “social-emotional learning” to all classrooms by 2016.

Jennifer March, executive director of the advocacy organization Citizens’ Committee for Children, said the effort is a warranted addition of resources.

“We know from our experience that there’s a gap between supply and demand for children’s mental health services generally,” she said, “and that historically there’s been not a lot of resources committed to really young children.”

The 100 “school mental health consultants” the city will hire will be tasked with assessing schools’ needs and and connecting them to appropriate education department resources. This new team of counselors and social workers will also implement new programs in schools, according to the plan.

Another 52 schools will assess mental health service needs starting in 2017, according to the report. These services will be modeled after those now available to “community schools,” a group the city expects to grow in number by 2017.

Additionally, the plan also calls for more training of middle and high school staff to help them identify and offer assistance for children with mental illnesses.

Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, said that since teachers interact with students on a daily basis, it is crucial they are able to identify and find help for students.

“It’s important to reach people where they are,” Borenstein said. “So having in the school, a professional who can really do an intervention and help the student and the student’s family, is the best way.”

Low bar?

New York City’s school diversity goals could be met just through changing demographics, report finds

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn

When New York City recently released its plan to spur school diversity, advocates praised the city for setting specific goals while skeptics said the bar was set too low.

A new report from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School crunches demographic data and finds those skeptics may be right.

Even without undertaking any changes to the way students are assigned to schools, the city would likely meet its diversity goals simply due to demographic trends that are already underway, according to the report, “No Heavy Lifting Required: New York City’s Unambitious School ‘Diversity’ Plan.”

“These goals would be easy to achieve,” said Nicole Mader, an author of the report. “They could probably happen under the status quo, and that is concerning because there is a groundswell of support for school desegregation and integration.”

In early June, the city released a plan that set explicit diversity benchmarks and spelled out initiatives to increase racial and economic integration in schools — though the plan didn’t actually use the words “integration” or “desegregation.” Over the next five years, the goals call for increasing the number of students in “racially representative” schools by 50,000, and decreasing the number of “economically stratified” schools by 10 percent.

A racially representative school is defined as having a student body that is between 50 percent and 90 percent black and Hispanic. The report, by Mader and Ana Carla Sant’Anna Costa, notes that many of the schools within the city’s racially representative range “would still count as intensely segregated” under commonly accepted academic measures. Add in demographic trends, and the goal seems even less ambitious.

Citywide, the number of white and Asian students is growing, while the number of black students is decreasing. Given those shifts, the number of schools within the city’s racially representative range has grown by about 2.4 percent a year. Just a slight increase in pace, to 2.9 percent, would allow the city to meets its goal, the report notes.

“In fact, the only barrier that may stand in the way of reaching this goal is the rapid concentration of students into the predominately white and Asian schools,” according to the report. “The number of students at those schools has increased by more than 34,000. This more than cancels out all the progress that has been made on the other end of the goal’s range, where 30,000 fewer students now attend highly segregated black and Hispanic schools than did five years ago.”

Another problem with the goal, according to the report: It allows the city to declare victory even if a school’s overall demographics shift slightly — say, from 90.1 percent black and Hispanic, to 90 percent — because that school’s entire population would count towards the 50,000-student benchmark.

There are currently 105 schools that are between 90.1 and 92 percent black and Hispanic, the report notes, citing an original analysis by The Bell podcast, which explores segregation through the eyes of New York City students. If each of those schools enrolled an average of 10 more white or Asian students, the city would meet its goal.

The findings regarding the city’s economic integration goals are similar. The number of schools with an acceptable level of economic need, by the city’s definition, is already increasing by about 4 percent each year. That natural growth would only have to increase to 4.6 percent, and the city’s goal would be met.

But again, there’s a catch: High-income schools are growing three times faster than those that fall within the city’s definition of an acceptable level of need.

The report gives a series of recommendations to make the city’s goals more meaningful.

The city could call for targets to be set at the district level, rather than citywide. That would encourage the creation of local solutions and “not mask deepening segregation” in some areas. Another recommendation: including information about the progress of individual schools in relation to integration goals on the city’s Quality Snapshots, a tool that is used to assess schools.

“If you just put this data out there, then school principals know … parents are seeing it,” Mader said. “The idea of just publishing it might be an incentive, in and of itself, to do this work.”

Charter Schools

A new study reveals which NYC charter school networks are outperforming their peers

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Leila Hadd
A KIPP school in the Bronx

All charter schools are not created equal. That’s according to a new study published by Stanford University research group CREDO, which shows some New York City charter school networks are better than others at improving their students’ math and reading test scores relative to surrounding traditional public schools.

The results are part of a broader study released this month that analyzed hundreds of charter schools and networks across 26 states to assess which types of charters are most effective in boosting student learning.

Most notably, the study found that charter school management organizations (CMOs), which CREDO defines as agencies that hold and oversee the operation of at least three charters, perform better than both traditional public schools and charters not aligned with CMOs. Academic growth was defined in the study as the change in a student’s scores from one testing period to the next.

Nationwide, students at CMO-operated charters received an equivalent of 17 days of additional schooling in math and reading compared to similar students in traditional public schools. In New York City, those rates were substantially higher, with students receiving the equivalent of 80 extra days of learning in math and 29 days in reading.

In comparison, non-CMO charter schools in New York City saw students grow only an additional 34 days in math and actually decline in reading compared to students at traditional public schools (The non-CMO reading difference was not statistically significant).

Five out of 11 CMOs in the city saw distinctly better results. Success Academy Charter Schools, which recently won the Broad Prize, came out on top, significantly outperforming most other networks in the city. Its students gained the equivalent of 228 days in math and 120 days in reading instruction compared to their peers in nearby traditional public schools.

However, the study only examined 168 students from the large network, a small share of its total enrollment of roughly 14,000 students in New York City. In an email, CREDO’s Lynn Woodworth told Chalkbeat that many Success students were excluded from the study because they couldn’t be matched to similar students in “feeder” district schools since the network takes few students after the initial enrollment period.

Icahn Charter Schools, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools New York City, KIPP New York City and Democracy Prep Public Schools all posted lower rates than Success — but still outperformed nearby district schools and the city’s average for CMOs.

Students at Icahn Charter Schools received the equivalent of 171 additional days of learning in math and 46 days in reading, compared to students at nearby traditional public schools. Achievement First students were close, with 125 extra days of learning in math and 57 in reading. KIPP New York City, Uncommon Schools New York City and Democracy Prep all posted gains equivalent to roughly 100 days in math and 50 days in reading.

Two networks — Lighthouse Academies and Public Preparatory Network, Inc. — performed closer to the city’s CMO average. And the three other CMOs — Ascend Learning, Explore Schools, Inc. and New Visions for Public Schools — performed comparably to nearby traditional public schools.

“At the average, independent charter schools show lower gains for their students than CMOs,” the report found. “Despite the wide range of CMO quality, larger organizations of charter holders have taken advantage of scale to the benefit of their students.”