the AP gap

City plans Advanced Placement expansion in high-need schools

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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

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.