the day after

How educators are handling this complicated, emotional day in America, in their own words

PHOTO: Christina Veiga

It’s a complicated, emotional day in America, and educators are on the front lines.

So many woke up to the news that Donald Trump is the president-elect only to rush off to school — leaving teachers and students to work through what the news means together. In many schools, that means attending to the worries of immigrant students, or young women, alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric. In others, it means guiding students to express their excitement gracefully.

Here’s a glimpse of what the day has looked like so far, from teachers and education leaders who’ve begun to share their thoughts publicly.

Readers, if you see a perspective worth sharing, or have one of your own (tweet-length or otherwise), please share with us here.

Already, the morning proved challenging for many.

What do I say as you wait for me greet you at the classroom door that can ease your mind, to make it right? Will it help if I tell you I spent last night preparing for a special social studies lesson on the election- letters to the next president of the United States- Hillary Clinton. Should I mention, yet again, that I was adamantly “with her” in this election because I was decidedly “not with him.” I had planned for you to write to Madame President, congratulating her but also urging her to change the racist and exclusionary policies that disenfranchise, disempower, and lock up communities of color across the country. Now, I don’t know where to start.

— Emmy Bouvier of Teachers Unite

Today my class of primarily black, Hispanic and female students entered school wondering “How could anyone vote for him?” So, we decided to try to understand the reasons why voters chose Donald Trump as our next president. Amongst questions of if their families would be deported, we looked up why people said they voted for Trump. My students came to the conclusion that many Trump voters are “scared of their futures just like we are.” It was a tough day to lead with a smile, but I also got to witness my students face their fears with grace, compassion and open-minds. The election has made it clear that there is much to teach this next generation, but there is much to learn from them as well.

— Kellyn Platek, fifth-grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada

Others are consumed by bigger-picture worries about what Trump’s win will mean, or how to talk about it.

And a few offered words of hope or explained their next steps.

I will give my English students literature – poetry and novels and plays and essays – because the way we learn about the world is by listening to other people and watching and thinking about how they act and think in situations far different from our own. When we read, we see how different we are from others, and of course, how much we are all exactly the same. We all want to be safe, to be loved, to do good in the world, to be respected, and realizing our sameness helps us to love and care for each other better. I will offer the words of the greatest writers in human history and help my students to understand them. Because I’m a teacher.

— Evva Starr, teacher at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Maryland

Sending love and strength to all of you at this incredibly trying time. Honestly not sure where things go from here, but, as a start, let’s tell our children we love them and that we’ll show them what it looks like to live by a code of values when our “leaders” do not.

— Jonas Chartock, CEO of Leading Educators, charter school policy-maker

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.”

making plans

New York City is finally releasing its school diversity plan. Here’s what it says about pre-K and middle school admissions

PHOTO: Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Sunnyside Community Services Pre-K in Queens on March 14, 2014.

After months of anticipation, New York City will soon get its first glimpse at a plan to address school segregation — starting with the youngest learners.

As part of a larger plan to be released Tuesday, some details of which were shared with Chalkbeat, the education department will allow privately run preschools to join its Diversity in Admissions initiative. Schools that apply to that program are allowed to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are low-income, learning English, or meet other criteria.

Another element of the long-awaited plan, according to education officials: allowing middle schools to open up enrollment borough-wide. The changes would apply in the 2017-18 application cycle.

Whether either proposal will lead to significant integration is an open question.

While schools in the Diversity in Admissions program have mostly met their targets for admissions offers, it’s not yet clear whether the schools have successfully changed or maintained the diversity of their student bodies.

And while opening middle school enrollment could encourage students to leave segregated neighborhoods, it won’t necessarily change the makeup of schools. The city already allows open enrollment at the high school level, yet those schools remain starkly segregated by race, class and academic achievement level.

Met with growing demands for school integration, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised in August to release a “bigger vision” to address the problem. The city’s full proposal is being called “Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools.”

Until now, only public pre-Ks have been able to apply for set-asides under Diversity in Admissions. But a majority of seats in the city’s Pre-K for All program — 60 percent — are provided through community-based organizations.

“Increasing the diversity of classrooms from pre-K through 12th grade is a priority,” Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said in an emailed statement.

Opening up the process could be especially significant since a recent study found that pre-K classrooms are more segregated than kindergartens. Halley Potter, who completed the study for the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, said that integration in pre-K is important because students are just beginning to develop awareness around race and class.

Research has shown that diverse pre-Ks have cognitive benefits and can help combat prejudice.

Potter had not seen the city’s Diversity in Admissions plan. But, speaking broadly about ways to integrate pre-Ks, she called that initiative a “great first step.”

“We need to think about efforts like the pilot diversity program as really important to help move some schools communities forward,” she said. “But in order to really move the needle in a much wider range of schools, those lessons needs to be applied in a broader way.”

As one example, she suggested offering transportation for families to widen their pre-K options.

Some have criticized the set-aside approach as piecemeal and say the education department hasn’t studied the potential impact of the initiative on other area schools. Only 21 schools so far have joined the initiative, out of about 1,800 across the city.

The city did not provide specifics on its plans for opening up middle school admissions. Parents in multiple districts have already been discussing ways to make the process more fair and less stressful for parents. Among them: District 2, which includes much of lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side; District 3, which includes the Upper West Side and part of Harlem; and District 15 in Brooklyn.