next step

Report urges next chancellor to focus on college preparation

The city’s next schools chancellor will soon have to determine his or her ultimate goal: for every student to graduate from high school? To be “college or career ready”? To graduate from college?

report released yesterday illustrates just how complicated those last two can be, as only a fraction of those who graduate from city high schools actually enter college and earn a diploma. Researchers embedded in 14 high-needs middle and high schools found a litany of roadblocks that originate before students graduate, from the limited number of advanced college-preparatory courses available to a lack of trained counselors to help students through necessary paperwork.

“What happens to our students in New York City, particularly in low-end communities, is they don’t have all of the traditional tools that middle class and upper class families do in terms of academic and social supports to actually make it through college,” said researcher Kim Nauer of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. “As more and more students have been told that they can, and should, attend college, too many of them get to college and just fall off a cliff.”

A lot of the report’s content was previewed in a panel discussion held last June. But after four years of firsthand observation, the center is recommending an action plan for the next administration.

“The next chancellor is going to have a lot of tough financial decisions to make,” Nauer said. “If college readiness is genuinely part of the goal, they’re going to have to think about how to support students in school for this process.” Some of their recommendations:

Hold schools more accountable for preparing students for college: The researchers credit the Bloomberg administration with beginning to hold schools accountable for what happens to their students after they leave, through the “college and career readiness” grade now included in school progress reports and Where Are They Now reports for principals. But even though the college-going population has jumped, many students aren’t academically ready to take—or their schools do not offer—classes that prepare them to do college work.

A Center for New York City Affairs analysis of 2011–12 Progress Report data revealed that only 28 of 342 high schools analyzed had students taking Regents exams for Algebra 2, Chemistry and Physics. Most schools offered only one or two of these courses for possible advanced Regents credit in that year—and 46 schools appeared to offer none. That said, most high schools offer at least a few advanced or college-level courses. And taking even just one course can improve the probability of success in college.

Still, Progress Reports are set up to emphasize measures that show whether students pass Regents exams that determine graduation. One teacher phrased it this way: “Too much energy is spent on short-term passing—and not enough energy on long-term college planning.”

While no one wants to see the graduation rates erode, it is important that the department move toward a more balanced set of incentives. A good first step will be to increase the value of the Progress Report’s College and Career Readiness score, which measures important things like college matriculation and the number of students with access to college prep courses.

Offer more trained help for students: The study’s analysis of data from the teacher’s union showed a 1 to 316 ratio of students to licensed guidance counselors from kindergarten to grade 12 in city schools, excluding charters. There are no standards for how many guidance counselors schools need, or a direct budget line for them.

The researchers acknowledge that there are a few schools of thought on who can best provide college guidance—the city and many principals say outside providers and teachers can do the job well. Still, the report notes significant gaps in the counseling process for many students, and recommends either a full-time trained college counselor or outside help with enough resources to really reach students.

Center researchers also observed that the College Ready Communities schools were usually thinly staffed and heavily reliant on outside nonprofit help. Over the three years we observed these schools, we saw several occasions where applications of an entire senior class were put at risk when a guidance counselor left on maternity leave or when there was a major change in school leadership. Even though nonprofit partners and other school staff stepped into the breach, there was a remarkable degree of instability in college guidance in many of these schools.

The department’s Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky has said that hiring full-time college counselors for every school would be impossible financially, though.

Support the nonprofits that are filling those gaps: At Flushing High School, a single college counselor was available for more than 3,000 students. The focus there has been on getting as many students over the bar to graduate, especially since the Bloomberg administration has tried to close the school for low performance. The organization Asian Americans for Equality helps some students fill out financial aid forms and search for scholarships, support that the school’s counselor, Maria Berber, has said is vital:

“I’m under the impression that AAFE will stay, if they didn’t, it would be a nightmare, I really, really hope they stay, because it will be at least some continuity for these kids and a face that’s familiar.”

A revealing note: For nonprofit organizations that do provide students with counseling help, there are difficult and often uncomfortable decisions to be made about how to allocate limited resources.

“If a student is a junior in high school with a GPA of 70 and has never written a research report, there are real ethical questions about exactly what colleges he should go to or if he will even get into one,” a former Cypress Hills Local Development Cooperation staffer. “Is it really fair to send this student to college if he may not be able to even pass out of remediation?”

Thus organizations face a Hobson’s choice: Try to help students catch up academically or give up on college and help them find a different post-secondary pathway.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”