final countdown

City unveils long-awaited rezoning proposal for the Upper West Side — and a new plan for schools in Harlem

PHOTO: Department of Education
The city's final plan for rezoning District 3.

The New York City Department of Education on Wednesday released its final proposal to rezone schools on the Upper West Side — and advanced a new, separate plan to shift school zones in Harlem.

The Upper West Side proposal is sure to be controversial: It includes the city’s previous plans to move P.S. 452 to a new site about 16 blocks away, and cuts some families from the Lincoln Towers development out of the zone for high-performing P.S. 199.

Parents at both schools have railed against those changes in a fight that has forced the district to reckon with the fact that many of its schools are deeply segregated by race and class.

In the southern end of the district, the rezoning is needed to address those issues, according to the DOE, and to relieve overcrowding.

“The District 3 elementary school zones have long failed to reflect the neighborhoods served by schools in the district, and it’s our obligation to find solutions that provide the strongest learning environments for all students,” schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. “This proposal gets at persisting issues around overcrowding and segregation.”

Along with the zoning changes, the department announced additional supports and a new gifted program for P.S. 191. The city’s plan to shift students to that school from nearby P.S. 199 has drawn sharp resistance from parents.

P.S. 191 has struggled on state tests; its students are mainly black and Hispanic, and poor. P.S. 199, on the other hand, is high-performing, majority white, and has a student poverty rate of less than 10 percent.

Additional elements of the plan for the Upper West Side plan include:

— A smaller zone size for P.S. 87, to help address overcrowding.

— A new proposal to move M.S. 247 from its current space at P.S. 84 into the space being vacated by P.S. 452. The move will allow P.S. 84 to potentially expand its pre-K classes and dual language programs.

In the northern end of the district, the city’s new proposal divides the zones lines for Harlem’s P.S 241 among three neighboring schools. The department has previously announced the proposed merger of P.S. 241 with P.S. 76.

While parents on the Upper West side have known for more than a year that a rezoning was in the works, details of the Harlem plan were revealed for the first time on Wednesday, giving parents there little time to weigh in on the changes.

The Community Education Council must vote to approve or reject the new zone lines, and members of the volunteer group have said they hope to have a plan in place by the time kindergarten applications open on November 30.

Joe Fiordaliso, president of the CEC, said he is disappointed that after months of debate, parents in the northern end of the district will have a relatively short time to consider the city’s plan before voting.

But, he said, a zoning decision is needed so that parents of next year’s kindergarten students know where their children will be headed.

“Our commitment is to make sure that their voices aren’t left behind,” he said.

pipeline problems

City pols’ report questions the fairness of starting new gifted classes in third grade

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, left, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, right, hosted a task force to discuss issues in gifted education and specialized high schools.

When the New York City education department recently opened new gifted classes in historically underrepresented neighborhoods, it altered its approach to admissions.

By starting the programs in third grade rather than kindergarten and changing how students got in, experts said enrollment would be more fair. Black and Hispanic students make up only 27 percent of students in gifted classes, though they comprise close to 70 percent of students citywide.

But a report released Wednesday by the Bronx and Brooklyn borough presidents questions that approach, suggesting that starting in third grade is too late.

“Why deprive all gifted students of a chance at early advanced coursework?” the report asks. “Couldn’t additional services lessen the gap between ability and achievement at a young age?”

Most gifted programs start in kindergarten, with admission based on the results of formal tests. Historically, students in poorer neighborhoods take and pass the tests in much lower numbers than those in wealthier school districts.

In spring 2016, the education department opened new gifted classes in four districts that had gone years without — districts 7 and 12 in the Bronx and 16 and 23 in Brooklyn. Those programs admit students in third grade based on their classroom grades and teacher recommendations.

Using multiple measures instead of a single test score and starting the process later could make it less likely that students are admitted based on solely on the advantages they bring from home — such as the ability to prep for a test.

“This is good news that they’re using multiple measures and they’re opening up access to these programs,” researcher Allison Roda said at the time, though she added that she has reservations about separating students into gifted classrooms in the first place.

But the new report on gifted education from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. raises questions about whether the changes are truly fair. Basing admissions on teacher recommendations may be problematic, the report argues, because bias could play a role in classifying students as gifted or disabled. And, most New York City students still enter gifted from a very early age.

“The DOE is adding third- and fourth-grade classes, but has still not committed to kindergarten, first, and second grade programs in all districts,” the report notes. “We demand this commitment to programs from the earliest ages equally throughout the city.”

Among the report’s other recommendations:

  • Universal gifted testing for pre-K students, unless parents choose to opt out.
  • Creating access to gifted classrooms in every community.
  • Expanding gifted options in middle school at either the district or citywide level. Research has found that just a handful of middle schools are major feeders for students who go on to specialized high schools, which are themselves starkly segregated.

In an emailed statement, an education department spokesman wrote: “We’ll review the recommendations in the report, and look forward to working with the borough presidents to increase access to high-quality schools.”

room for improvement

Digging into details of mayor’s diversity plan, critics see easy goals and iffy approaches

PHOTO: IntegratNYC4Me
New York City students calling for school integration rallied at City Hall on Saturday, May 27.

After waiting for almost a year, integration advocates finally learned what New York City plans to do about its severe school segregation. They were largely unimpressed.

“The tone the plan took was, ‘We encourage people to do this from the bottom-up.’ But the time for encouragement is over,” said Shino Tanikawa, a Community Education Council member in District 2 who has worked on school integration issues. “It’s time to start doing this work.”

Josh Wallack, a deputy chancellor in the education department, said the city’s proposal, released Tuesday, is the beginning of “a more intense conversation.”

“We made some really concrete steps,” he said.

Among the city’s goals: increasing the number of students in schools that are racially representative of the city. But the city’s definition of “racially representative” raised eyebrows. While the city’s students are 70 percent black or Hispanic, the education department defines racially representative schools as those that enroll between 50 percent and 90 percent black and Hispanic students, which some advocates consider too low a bar.

Even if the city reaches its goal for reducing the number of “economically stratified” schools by 10 percent in the next five years, about 60 percent would remain segregated by income.

“The goals are negligible in comparison to the scale of the problem,” Emmaia Gelman, a District 3 parent who has worked on integration efforts, wrote in a comment on a Chalkbeat report.

Some elements of the plan call for doubling down on programs that have shown little impact so far. For example, the city is expanding test prep for the Specialized High School Admissions Test, and administering the exam in more underrepresented schools.

Both have been tried, and yet there has been virtually no change when it comes to admissions offers made to black and Hispanic students. The expansion of these programs “will neither improve outcomes — just as they have not in the past — nor do they represent a public acknowledgement that the SHSAT is not the mechanism by which merit can be fairly assessed,” Lazar Treschan, who has studied specialized high schools for the Community Service Society of New York, wrote in a statement. Nevertheless, he called the department’s plan an “important” first step.

It’s unclear whether other larger-scale plans, such as eliminating the “limited unscreened” admissions method at high schools, will spur desegregation. Limited unscreened schools give admissions priority to students who express interest by attending an open house or high school fair, a system that advantages families with more time and resources.

Advocates were anxious to see how the city’s creation a School Diversity Advisory group will play out. The city has said this group will evaluate the city’s proposals thus far, come up with recommendations and help lead community engagement efforts in districts that are already working on diversity issues. The group’s recommendations are nonbinding and its representatives were selected by the city.

David Kirkland, executive director of the New York University Metro Center, said the group could “have teeth.”

But Matt Gonzales, who leads school integration efforts with the nonprofit New York Appleseed, said its success will “ultimately depend on who else is in that group.”

Part of the group’s work will be to make recommendations for the “long-term governance structure” for school diversity work within the education department. Miriam Nunberg, a parent in District 15 who has worked to make middle school admissions more equitable, said that will be important to watch as the city moves forward.

“The biggest thing missing is high-level, administrative oversight [by someone] who is financially empowered and accountable,” she said.

Tanikawa said she had hoped to see a requirement that individual school districts come up with their own plans to create and support integration.

“I wish there was a bigger, stronger commitment,” she said. “I know the chancellor has said she doesn’t like to mandate, but there are many mandates on schools. I don’t see why this can’t be a mandate that allows for a bottom-up, community-driven process.”

Hebh Jamal, a student activist with IntegrateNYC4Me, wants students to have a greater say as the city continues its work.

“We understand the problem. We see it every day,” she said. We’re going to continue to advocate for exactly the type of ideal school system we want.”