diversity plans

12 more New York City schools will experiment with admissions rules to boost diversity

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

A dozen New York City schools have joined a pilot admissions initiative to promote student diversity, according to information released Thursday by the Department of Education.

For the first time, the “Diversity in Admissions” program includes middle and high schools, with a total of 19 schools now participating.

“I believe that increasing school diversity means improving our students’ education, and I am personally committed to this work,” schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

After an initial pilot at seven schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the city gave all schools the opportunity to apply for the program starting in spring 2016. Under the program, schools set aside a percentage of seats for students who are poor, are English learners or meet other criteria, such as having an incarcerated parent.

The new admissions policies will be in place for students applying to schools for the 2017-2018 school year.

Matt Gonzales, who focuses on school diversity issues for the social justice nonprofit New York Appleseed, applauded the expansion of the program. But he also said the wide array of targets — from 10 percent of seats set aside at one school to more than 60 percent at others — highlights the need for the DOE to create citywide policies for integration.

“There are limitations to not having having clear accountability standards,” he said.

The education department also announced that three new schools have been approved for PROSE diversity mini-grants. The PROSE program was negotiated with the United Federation of Teachers to give schools flexibility to pursue changes in admissions criteria and teacher evaluations, among other policies.

Here are the new schools that have joined the program:

* East Village Community School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch or are learning English will have priority for 50 percent of pre-K and kindergarten seats.

* P.S. 361 The Children’s Workshop School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch or are learning English will have priority for 50 percent of pre-K and kindergarten seats.

* P.S. 3 Charrette School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for pre-K and kindergarten seats after all zoned students are admitted.

* P.S. 527 East Side School for Social Action, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for pre-K and kindergarten seats after all zoned students are admitted.

* P.S. 77 New American Academy, Brooklyn: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 40 percent of pre-K and kindergarten seats.

* Brooklyn School of Inquiry: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 40 percent of Gifted and Talented seats.

* East Side Community School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 62 percent of seats.

* East Side Middle School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 10 percent of seats.

* M.S. 447 The Math and Science Exploratory School, Brooklyn: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 30 percent of seats. The school will also change its admissions process to accept more academically diverse students.

* M.S. 839, Brooklyn: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 40 percent of seats.

* Harvest Collegiate High School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free lunch will have priority for 64 percent of seats.

* Central Park East High School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free lunch will have priority for 64 percent of seats.

under study

No longer at the bottom: These 20 schools are Tennessee’s model for turnaround

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Whitehaven Elementary School students work on a robotics project. The Memphis school has moved off of the state's list of lowest-performing schools.

When Education Commissioner Candice McQueen gave a stinging assessment this week of Tennessee’s school turnaround work, she cited a small number of schools as the exception.

Twenty have improved enough in the last five years to move off of the state’s list of “priority schools” that are in Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent.

Of those, the State Department of Education has conducted case studies of 10 former priority schools in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Hardeman County:

  • Chickasaw Middle, Shelby County Schools
  • Douglass K-8, Shelby County Schools
  • Ford Road Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Gra-Mar Middle, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Hamilton Middle, Shelby County Schools
  • Treadwell Middle, Shelby County Schools
  • Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, Hamilton County Schools
  • Whiteville Elementary, Hardeman County Schools
  • City University Boys Preparatory High, Shelby County Schools
  • Springdale Elementary, Shelby County Schools

The first six are part of state-supported innovation zones in Memphis and Nashville. Two schools — in Chattanooga and Hardeman County — have received federal school improvement grants. The last two did not receive federal or state interventions but were studied because their scores improved at a faster rate than 85 percent of schools in 2015.

Ten other former priority schools, all in Shelby County Schools in Memphis, have improved with only local or philanthropic support. The state plans to examine these closer in the coming months:

  • Alcy Elementary
  • Cherokee Elementary, Innovation Zone
  • Hickory Ridge Middle
  • Manassas High
  • Manor Lake Elementary
  • Memphis Academy of Science & Engineering High (charter school)
  • Memphis School of Excellence High (charter school)
  • Oakhaven Middle
  • South Park Elementary
  • Whitehaven Elementary
PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A classroom at Ford Road Elementary in Memphis, which is among those that have exited the state’s list of lowest performing schools.

McQueen told lawmakers Tuesday that it’s “a little embarrassing” that only 16 percent of priority schools have moved off of the state’s 2012 and 2014 lists that identify 126 failing schools.

The case studies, in part, have informed the school improvement component of Tennessee’s new plan for its schools under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

“… We have learned that a combination of school leadership, effective teaching with a focus on depth of instruction around standards, and services focused on non-academic supports has led to strong outcomes in these schools,” McQueen said in a statement Wednesday.

Tennessee’s proposed new plan for turnaround work would gives more authority to local districts to make their own improvements before the state-run Achievement School District steps in.

One ASD school — Brick Church in Nashville — also has moved off of the state’s priority list, but was excluded from the state’s analysis because there were not enough years of test data to compare since its takeover by the state-run district.

“What we can’t do as a state is support — in terms of funding and time — district interventions that don’t work,” McQueen said. “We have to learn from what is working because we know we have much more work to do and many more students that have need.”

Chalkbeat reporter Grace Tatter contributed to this report.

Behind the numbers

New York City is touting grad rates at its lowest-performing high schools, but far fewer students are graduating from them

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
John Adams High School in Queens, a Renewal school.

When education officials announced this month that New York City had achieved the highest graduation rates in history, they made a point of highlighting the gains in high schools that have struggled for years.

At the city’s 31 “Renewal” high schools — historically low-performing schools that receive extra social services and academic support — graduation rates have increased 7 percent since 2014. That growth is greater than the 4.2 percent average boost across all high schools over the same timeframe (though at 59 percent, Renewal schools’ average grad rate is still still far below the city’s 72.6 percent average).

The city touted these figures as evidence that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Renewal program, which is projected to cost $850 million, is having an effect — good news for education officials who have struggled to point to clear signs of progress in the face of decidedly mixed results.

But despite the increase in graduation rates, Renewal schools are graduating far fewer students than even one year ago, according to a Chalkbeat review, and roughly half of Renewal schools have higher dropout rates than when the program started — a sign that the city is still struggling to persuade students to enroll and stay in them.

Just 3,371 students graduated from Renewal schools last year, 10 percent fewer than the previous year, and 18 percent fewer than the 4,121 who graduated three years ago, immediately before the program started rolling out.

August Martin High School, for instance, has boosted its graduation rate by nearly 14 percent over the past two years. But the Queens school also shed nearly a third of its 679 students over the same period.

“In one sense, it can almost be framed as a marketing problem,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Even though many Renewal schools have been losing students since before they were placed in the program, “schools that are struggling and have been identified [as Renewal schools] are not as attractive to families.”

Enrollment problems pose an existential threat. School funding is partially dependent on the number of students in the building, and as that number slips, schools may need extra cash just to offer core math and English classes — let alone extracurricular activities or art classes. And last month, the city cited low enrollment as one factor in its plan to close or merge nine Renewal schools.

Department of Education spokesman Michael Aciman acknowledged the enrollment drop-off, but pointed out that the rate of decline slowed across Renewal high schools this year. “We are explicitly working with school leaders and families to highlight improvements and help them get the word out about the strong work that is happening in an effort to reverse those trends,” he wrote in an email.

The new data also reveals that while a greater proportion of students at Renewal high schools are graduating, dropout rates have remained stubborn: Sixteen of the 31 Renewal high schools posted higher dropout rates last year than when the program started.

Partly due to enrollment declines, the raw number of students dropping out was about 25 percent lower last year than when the program started. But the overall dropout rate at Renewal schools has increased to 19 percent, about one percentage point higher than it was three years ago, and more than double the city average of 8.5 percent.

Aciman noted several efforts designed to shepherd high school students to graduation, including prep for high school exit exams, and tools that allow educators to better track students who are chronically absent or falling behind on credits.

And he pointed to data that shows progress in reducing in rates of chronic absenteeism and boosts in attendance — signs of engagement, he said, that could ultimately affect future graduation and dropout rates.

“Decreasing the dropout rate at Renewal schools will take time,” Aciman wrote, “but we’re putting the necessary structures and early interventions in place to make sustainable improvements.”