By the numbers

Here are all of the co-locations that de Blasio could soon cancel

When the Panel for Educational Policy approved the co-location of Success Academy New York 4 with Brooklyn’s J.H.S. 78 last October, parents said they were upset but confident that Mayor Bill de Blasio would kill the plan.

“We’ll be back in January with the new mayor,” J.H.S. 78 parent Thomas Callahan said then.

It’s a few months later than Callahan anticipated, but the city soon find out if he was correct. Decisions about that and dozens of other pending school changes are expected to be announced soon, following de Blasio’s and Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s promises that plans approved at the end of the Bloomberg administration would be subject to a full review.

Officials won’t say exactly what window of the Bloomberg administration’s recent decisions they’re examining, so we’ve gathered them all in one place. You can check out the details in this spreadsheet, which we’ve also embedded below.

All in all, the Panel for Educational Policy has approved more than 60 space plans for 2014-15 and five for 2015-16.

Where might the changes come? Here are the most likely possibilities, given the de Blasio administration’s emphasis on maintaining stability for families — and keeping Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz on the defensive.

  • Twenty-seven of the remaining proposals focus on plans for charter schools. While the de Blasio administration has said charter schools should not be entitled to free space in public buildings the way that they essentially were under Bloomberg, it’s unlikely that it would take a sweeping approach to rolling back charter school proposals. Both de Blasio and Fariña have said repeatedly that charter schools vary in their quality and commitment to serve all students.
  • De Blasio has reserved special scorn for Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies, which are the focus of 10 of the recently approved plans, including nine new schools: seven elementary, two middle schools, and one high school. She told board members this week she thinks a few of those plans will be rolled back.
  • Five of the proposals would put elementary and high school students in the same building, an arrangement to which parents in particular tend to object out of safety concerns. (In some of those buildings, the arrangement is already in place.) Four of the new elementary-high school mashups would involve charter schools managed by networks that would likely have to pay rent under de Blasio’s proposal: Success Academy, KIPP, and Achievement First.
  • Critics of the de Blasio administration’s promise to reevaluate co-location plans say families are already counting on the new school options for their children. But at more than half of the schools with plans on the table, no students currently expect to attend. At least 35 schools among those affected by the plans have neither admitted students for this fall nor have any students operating under the presumption that they will be able to graduate from one school and start the next grade at the new, connected school.
  • Seven of the proposals would end with school buildings holding a 100 percent or more of the students they are designed for, according to the Department of Education’s own numbers. Packing buildings to — or past — their gills would work against the de Blasio administration’s stated aim to to reduce overcrowding and help schools cut class size. This week, the Department of Education also announced a plan to overhaul the way available space is calculated, suggesting that the new administration thinks the old one’s crowding estimates might be conservative.
  • Seven of the plans drew unusually sharp public criticism, with more than 300 people turning out for their joint public hearings last year. At each of those hearings, the vast majority of public comment was critical. At one hearing, for the proposed co-location of Success Academy – New York 4, more than 700 people turned out to express their concerns. If the de Blasio administration is serious about responding to public feedback, rolling back these proposals would be a way to show it.
  • Co-location plans for at least two of schools (Success Academy – New York 5 and a new district middle school in District 18 in Brooklyn) earned special censure at public hearings from emissaries of de Blasio himself. Rolling those plans back would allow him to make good on his stances as the city’s public advocate.
  • Of the 66 plans approved for this year or next, 61 were approved in June 2013 or later. Forty-eight were approved in or after October 2013. It’s possible that de Blasio will only revisit proposals made after a certain point, though he has not indicated whether that is the case.
  • Five of the plans would not take effect until September 2015 — nearly two years after they were first approved. Scrapping these plans now and reevaluating them later in the year would cost the de Blasio administration little.
  • While de Blasio has been critical of the Bloomberg administration’s emphasis on closing and co-locating schools, he has praised the new P-TECH, the high school with a six-year program that partners with CUNY and IBM and allows students to earn an associate’s degree. Two new high schools would follow the P-TECH model, making a change less likely—though there was still significant pushback from the schools that will be co-located with the new ones.
  • More generally, nine of the plans are for new high schools operated by the Department of Education. The city’s regular high school admissions process wraps up with notifications in the next two weeks, so if any changes are going to be made, that has to happen soon.

You can see all of the details for every plan that the de Blasio administration could possibly be reconsidering in our chart below. A few additional notes: We’ve excluded the few plans on the agenda for this March, since the de Blasio administration has made its plans for those schools clear. We also excluded plans approved last year that already went into place for the 2013-14 school year and plans that were taken off the table by the schools themselves after being approved. Also unlikely to be revisited, though we’ve included them here, are five proposals to cut grades and one proposal to add grades in a school with its own building, since those have been uncontroversial and don’t impact other schools. Did we mis-tally or miss something altogether? Let us know at ny.tips@chalkbeat.org.

here's the plan

After long wait, de Blasio backs plan to overhaul admissions at New York City’s elite high schools

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Stuyvesant High School will begin participating in the Discovery program this year.

After sustained pressure from advocates, Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing a two-step plan to reform admissions at eight of the city’s elite high schools and endorsing a specific replacement for the single-test admissions system.

The city’s specialized high schools — considered some of the crown jewels of New York City’s education system — accept students based on a single test score. Over the last decade, they have come under fire for offering admissions to few students of color: While two-thirds of city students are black or Hispanic, only about 10 percent of admissions offers to those schools go to black or Hispanic students.

De Blasio’s solution, laid out in an op-ed in Chalkbeat, would set aside 20 percent of the seats at the eight schools for students from low-income families starting next school year. Students who just missed the test score cut-off would be able to earn one of those set-aside seats through the longstanding “Discovery” program. Just 4 percent of seats were offered through that program in 2017.

The mayor also said he plans to push state lawmakers to change a law that requires admission at three of the schools to be decided by a single test score. That’s something de Blasio campaigned for during his run for mayor in 2014 but hasn’t made a priority since.

Most significantly, de Blasio says for the first time that he backs a system of replacing the admissions test with a system that picks students based on their middle school class rank and state test scores. The middle-school rank component is especially notable, as an NYU Steinhardt report found that the only way to really change the makeup of the elite high schools would be to guarantee admission to the top 10 percent of students at every middle school.

If all of these changes were implemented, de Blasio says that 45 percent of the student bodies at the eight high schools would be black or Latino.

Together, the proposals reflect the most specific plan yet to change a system that, year after year, becomes a symbol of New York City’s racially divided schools. But the changes de Blasio is proposing won’t come easily — and might not come at all.

The part of the plan that the city is promising to do on its own, expand the Discovery program, will only modestly improve diversity by the city’s own admission. And the plan’s more ambitious elements would require buy-in from state lawmakers who have repeatedly resisted de Blasio’s agenda and attempts to change admissions rules.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s plan does not include a move that many legal experts consider to be low-hanging fruit: changing the admissions rules at five of the eight schools without state approval.

While the city’s official position has long been that admissions at all eight schools are set by law, only three schools — Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School — are specifically mentioned, leaving room for the city to reclassify the others. (De Blasio recently said he would ask lawyers about that change, but has not signaled he plans to act.)

The Discovery program has also proved problematic for de Blasio, in part because it is open to all low-income students — something that is not equivalent to black or Hispanic in New York City. The de Blasio administration has already tripled the program’s size since taking office, but its share of black and Latino students has also shrunk.

A lot of questions about the plan remain unanswered. It’s not clear whether the 20 percent of set-aside seats will be spread across the eight schools evenly, for one, or whether some schools like Stuyvesant will have fewer seats earmarked for Discovery. De Blasio doesn’t explain exactly how an admissions system reliant on middle-school grades and standardized test scores would work.

It’s also unclear how the mayor plans to push against opposition from alumni groups and parents who may worry that changing the admissions rules will lower academic standards, though his rhetoric was sharp in the op-ed.

“Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative,” de Blasio wrote. “It’s a narrative that traps students in a grossly unfair environment, asks them to live with the consequences, and actually blames them for it.”

So far, de Blasio’s incremental steps to boost diversity at specialized high schools have made little change to the overall student body — and therefore garnered little pushback.

It’s unclear whether the lackluster results caused him to switch strategies. More recently, de Blasio has also been under pressure to address school segregation in the city as a whole.

He may also have been pushed by his new schools chancellor, who has been outspoken on the subject since taking the helm of the school system about two months ago. Chancellor Richard Carranza has been talking about the issue since his very first media interview, and has repeatedly hinted that he is interested in changing their admissions process.

“From my perspective it’s not OK to have a public school in a city as diverse… and that you have only 10 African-American students in a high school,” Carranza said in April. “So I’m looking at that, absolutely.”

sorting the students

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Our specialized schools have a diversity problem. Let’s fix it.

PHOTO: Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a town hall in Brooklyn in October.

I visit schools across this city and it never fails to energize me. The talent out there is outstanding. The students overflow with promise. But many of the smart kids I meet aren’t getting in to our city’s most prestigious high schools. In fact, they’re being locked out.

The problem is clear. Eight of our most renowned high schools – including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School – rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.

If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.

Let’s select students for our top public high schools in a manner that best reflects the talent these students have, and the reality of who lives in New York City. Let’s have top-flight public high schools that are fair and represent the highest academic standards.

Right now, we are living with monumental injustice. The prestigious high schools make 5,000 admissions offers to incoming ninth-graders. Yet, this year just 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers. This happened in a city where two out of every three eighth-graders in our public schools are Latino or black.

There’s also a geographic problem. There are almost 600 middle schools citywide. Yet, half the students admitted to the specialized high schools last year came from just 21 of those schools. For a perfect illustration of disparity: Just 14 percent of students at Bronx Science come from the Bronx.

Can anyone defend this? Can anyone look the parent of a Latino or black child in the eye and tell them their precious daughter or son has an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools? Can anyone say this is the America we signed up for?

Our best colleges don’t select students this way. Our top-level graduate schools don’t. There are important reasons why. Some people are good at taking tests, but earn poor grades. Other people struggle with testing, but achieve top grades. The best educational minds get it. You can’t write a single test that captures the full reality of a person.

A single, high-stakes exam is also unfair to students whose families cannot afford, or may not even know about, the availability of test preparation tutors and courses. Now, I’d like to stop and say, I admire the many families who scrape and save to pay for test prep. They are trying in every way to support their children.

But let’s ask ourselves: Why should families who can ill afford test prep have to spend their money on it? Why should families who can easily afford test prep have an advantage over those that cannot?

My administration has been working to give a wider range of excellent students a fair shot at the specialized high schools. Now we are going to go further. Starting in September 2019, we’ll expand the Discovery Program to offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats to economically disadvantaged students who just missed the test cut-off.

This will immediately bring a wider variety of high-performing students, from a wider number of middle schools, to the specialized high schools. For example, the percentage of black and Latino students receiving offers will almost double, to around 16 percent from around 9 percent. The number of middle schools represented will go from around 310 to around 400.

This will also address a fundamental illogic baked into the high-stakes test. A great score and you might be in, but beware a point too low and you might be out. Now, a disadvantaged student who is just a point or two shy of the cut-off won’t be blocked from a great educational opportunity.

For a deeper solution, we will fight alongside our partners in the Assembly and Senate to replace the SHSAT with a new admissions process, selecting students based on a combination of the student’s rank in their middle school and their results in the statewide tests that all middle school children take.

With these reforms, we expect our premier public high schools to start looking like New York City. Approximately 45 percent of students would be Latino or black. As an example of growing geographical fairness, we will quadruple the number of Bronx students admitted.

I’ve talked a lot about bringing equity and excellence to our schools. This new admissions process will give every student in every middle school a fair shot. That’s equity. The new process will ask students to demonstrate hard work over time, and show brilliance in a variety of subjects. That’s excellence.

Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative. It’s a narrative that traps students in a grossly unfair environment, asks them to live with the consequences, and actually blames them for it. This perpetuates a dangerous and disgusting myth.

So let me be clear. The new system we’re fighting for will raise the bar at the specialized high schools in every way. The pool of talent is going to expand widely and rapidly. That’s going to up the level of competition. The students who emerge from the new process will make these schools even stronger.

They will also make our society stronger. Our most prestigious public high schools aren’t just routes to opportunity for deserving students and their families. They are incubators for the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. The kind of high schools we have today, will determine the kind of New York City we will have tomorrow.

Bill de Blasio is the mayor of New York City.