the AP gap

City plans Advanced Placement expansion in high-need schools

AP_photo (5)
Chancellor Dennis Walcott moderated a panel about Advanced Placement courses at New York University today. To the immediate left, Park East senior Yailizabeth Castillo.

New York City school officials are bringing Advanced Placement courses to far more high schools in their latest effort to get black and Hispanic students doing college-level work.

Almost 58,000 students were enrolled in AP courses in 2012. Now, the city is spending $7 million on an Advanced Placement Expansion Initiative to bring 120 sections of AP classes to 55 high schools. Most of the new classes are in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, where white and Asian students far outpace black and Hispanic students.

The new initiative is a collaboration with the College Board, which designs and administers the test, and whose president is David Coleman, architect of the the state’s new Common Core standards.

At a kickoff event this morning, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the expansion reflects the goals of the Common Core, which is aimed at getting students to think deeply and critically.

“This will be Common Core-plus,” Walcott told students from schools participating in the program. “What Advanced Placement does is just take it to the next level.”

AP courses require more writing and big-picture thinking than traditional high school courses, which tend to focus on preparing students to pass tests required for graduation. Students who pass AP exams while in high school can earn college credits.

But the exams are optional, and nationally, fewer black and Hispanic who take AP classes sit for the exams at the end, according to Trevor Packer, a vice president at College Board. Locally, while students of all races have taken and passed more AP exams in recent years, black and Hispanic students have continued to pass far less often than white and Asian students.

The racial AP achievement gap is most pronounced in science and math courses, Packer said today.

That was apparent at Park East High School, one of the participating high schools that began offering AP courses last year, according to Suzy Ort, an assistant principal who coordinates the school’s AP program. She said 58 students enrolled in at least one of the three AP courses offered last year, and results from the lone science course — Environmental Science — were the lowest: Just two of 18 students earned a level three or higher on the exam.

City officials want the AP Expansion Initiative to focus on high schools that have not traditionally offered the more rigorous coursework. Of 55 participating schools, 40 percent never offered AP courses before the 2011-2012 school year and none offered AP courses in science or math, city officials said.

The AP initiative is also an effort to expand opportunities for students to receive college credits while still in high school. The city’s largest program which provides college credits for high school students, College Now, enrolls close to 20,000 students annually from more than 350 high schools. The other dual credit enrollment courses, such as the one modeled on the two-year-old Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights, have gained national attention.

Some students said today that they were giving up enrollment in College Now classes to take part in their school’s AP expansion.

“You can email your professor for College Now but you won’t actually  be able to see him until that day of the week,” said Yailizabeth Castillo, a Park East senior explaining why she prefers the daily AP classes to the weekly college classes. Castillo took three College Now courses over the last two school years but is currently enrolled in three AP courses this year. “For AP courses, you have your AP teachers there with you every single day so if you’re not sure about something you could easily just contact them or come earlier in the day to speak to them,” she said.

Ort emphasized that while the test scores are important, the class experience, modeled after a college lecture course, should also factor into success. This year, the school is offering two more AP courses under the expansion initiative — calculus and U.S. history — and Ort said she expects AP enrollment to double.

No new teachers are being hired for the new courses, so the program will rely heavily on training existing teachers. The city is partnering with the National Math and Science Initiative to support the teachers.

“There is not an AP community among teachers here,” said Gregg Fleisher, NSMI’s chief academic officer. “Not yet, but this program is going to start to build that.”

Here is a list of all participating schools, which range from highly selective and specialized schools, such as Brooklyn Latin, to non-selective schools such Park East:

Academy for Young Writers
Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School
Astor Collegiate Academy
August Martin High School
Automotive High School
Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts
Bronx Lab School
Bronx Latin
Bronx School of Law and Finance
Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment
Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School
Brooklyn Lab School
Brooklyn School for Global Studies
Brooklyn School for Music & Theatre
Brooklyn Studio Secondary School
Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School
Business of Sports School
Central Park East High School
Channel View School for Research
Coalition School for Social Change
Cypress Hills Collegiate Preparatory School
East New York Family Academy
East-West School of International Studies
EBC High School for Public Service–Bushwick
Frederick Douglass Academy II Secondary School
Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School
George Washington Carver High School for the Sciences
Green School: An Academy for Environmental Careers
Health Opportunities High School
High School for Civil Rights
High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety
High School for Medical Professions
High School of Arts and Technology
Mathematics, Science Research and Technology Magnet High School
N.Y.C. Museum School
New Design High School
New Heights Academy Charter School
Pace High School
Park East High School
Performing Arts and Technology High School
Queens Vocational and Technical High School
Ralph R. McKee Career and Technical Education High School
Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts
School for International Studies
School of the Future High School
Science, Technology and Research Early College High School at Erasmus Secondary School for Journalism The College Academy
The Marie Curie School for Medicine, Nursing, and Health Professions
The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice
University Heights Secondary School
Urban Assembly New York Harbor School
W. H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School
William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School
Wings Academy World Academy for Total Community Health High School
Young Women’s Leadership School

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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