diversity in decline

Even fewer black and Hispanic students win seats at city’s elite high schools this year

Students take an AP exam at Bronx Science, one of the city's specialized high schools.

Despite sustained pressure on the city to increase diversity to the city’s most elite public high schools, the already-small number of black and Hispanic students winning seats fell this year, highlighting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s struggle to fulfill his promise to make those schools’ populations more reflective of the city.

Just 4 percent of offers to the eight specialized high schools where admission is based solely on exam scores went to black students, while just over 6 percent went to Hispanic students, according to data released Friday by the education department. Together, those groups represent about 70 percent of the city’s public-school population.

One of the schools, Staten Island Technical High School, did not have a single black student receive an offer this year, down from 10 offers last year. And just 23 black and Hispanic students won seats at the most prestigious of those schools, Stuyvesant High School, compared to 31 students last year.

On the campaign trail, de Blasio promised to overhaul the way students are admitted to those schools by replacing the single test with multiple criteria, such as grades and work samples. However, a bill in the state legislature that would have instituted such a change seems to have stalled, and de Blasio has not focused his lobbying efforts in Albany on reviving it.

When the offer numbers were released last year, Chancellor Carmen Fariña proposed several possible ways to boost diversity at the specialized schools, such as expanding a test-preparation program and considering changes to the admissions system. However, even as the share of offers to black and Hispanic students declined this year, Fariña did not put forward any specific plans to reverse the slide — instead suggesting that the expansion of pre-kindergarten would help remedy the problem over time.

“We continue to review a variety of strategies to foster diversity at these schools,” she said in a statement Friday. “Still, we know that the best way to promote diversity at these schools is to ensure that every students gets a high-quality education starting in pre-K.”

The education department also released a different figure, which highlighted one area of diversity where it is making progress: the number of students with disabilities at selective high schools.

This year, 2,534 students with disabilities received offers to screened schools, which are separate from the specialized schools and base admissions on multiple factors, including state test scores, class grades, and attendance. That number is up from 919 students in 2012, when the previous administration ordered those schools to begin enrolling more students with special needs.

Still, the glaring lack of racial diversity at the specialized schools represents a formidable challenge for de Blasio, whose son attended the largest of those schools, Brooklyn Technical High School. During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio insisted that the schools “have to reflect the city better.”

Out of 27,000 eighth-graders who took the two-and-a-half-hour admissions exam this fall, just over 5,100 students scored high enough to receive offers. Nearly 54 percent of those students were Asian, a group that accounts for just under 16 percent of the citywide student population. About 27 percent of offers went to white students, who represent roughly 15 percent of all students.

“It’s important that our City’s specialized high schools reflect the diversity around them, and we are committed to achieving that without impacting rigorous standards,” Fariña added in her statement, hinting at the concern among some alumni that replacing the test-only admissions system would result in lower standards. They insist that a single entrance exam is the most fair and objective system.

The department also announced Friday that 93 percent of the 76,487 eighth-graders who submitted applications in December have now been matched with a high school, which is about the same percentage as last year. About three-quarters of those students received one of their top three choices (they are allowed to select up to 12 schools).

That leaves roughly 7 percent of students without matches. Those students will participate in a second admissions round, which is also open to students who are unhappy with their offers.

The city will host fairs on March 12 and 13 where students can meet representatives of schools that still have available seats. Then they must submit their second applications by March 18, and wait for a match in May.

Correction: This story has been corrected to show that just over 6 percent of offers to the eight exam-admissions specialized high schools this year went to Hispanic students, not 7 percent.

counterpoint

Some Asian American groups have backed the SHSAT, but this one says the exam should go

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Stuyvesant High School is one of the city's most sought-after specialized high schools.

In the fight to integrate New York City’s coveted specialized high schools, one source of opposition has stood out.

Asian parents and alumni have waved signs at City Hall, heckled education leaders at town halls, and marched in protest of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the test that serves as the sole entrance criteria for the elite schools.

That’s why it’s noteworthy that the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families is calling for the test to be nixed in favor of an admissions system that weighs multiple factors, releasing a report on Tuesday that attempts to bring nuance to a debate that has often played out in sound bites.

“We believe that current admissions processes to specialized high schools contribute to the problems of segregation and inequity in NYC public schools,” the advocacy organization’s report notes.

Specialized high schools enroll a disproportionate share of Asian students. Many have argued that the mayor’s plan, which aims to enroll more black and Hispanic students in the schools, pits one community of color against others. Only about 10 percent of specialized high school students are black or Hispanic, even though those students comprise about 70 percent of enrollment citywide.

The Coalition’s report offers a counter-narrative to the debate, highlighting that many Asian organizations have long called for admissions changes at the specialized high schools and arguing that Asian students would benefit from an overhaul.

But the organization stops short of endorsing de Blasio’s proposal, blasting his administration for failing to include the Asian community in its development or rollout. (One of the coalition’s co-directors is a mayoral appointee to the citywide Panel for Educational Policy.)  

“We remain highly critical of the processes that he and the Department of Education have taken in crafting and releasing those proposals to the public,” the report says.

An education department spokesman said the city looks forward to working with the coalition to eliminate the test, and said the city is presenting its plan to every community school district.

The report comes as parents are considering suing over the city’s diversity efforts and supporters of the test have hired a lobbyist to fight the potential changes.

The coalition’s stance also highlights the steep challenge de Blasio faces as he gears up to lobby state lawmakers to scrap the entrance exam, which is currently required by state law. Though Democrats managed to gain control of the Senate in the latest election, the issue doesn’t have a clear party line — and some of the mayor’s natural allies have expressed doubt, or even backed away from the mayor’s proposal.

Read the full report here

By the numbers

Enrollment is up in Tennessee’s largest school district for second straight year

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

After several years of steady decline, Shelby County Schools is continuing an upward trend in student enrollment.

About 111,600 students attend schools in Tennessee’s largest district, up about 2 percent from last year and higher than projected enrollment, according to district numbers.

That includes about 15,300 students enrolled in charter schools overseen by the local district, who now make up about 13.5 percent, a slight uptick from last year.

The increase could signal a growing trust in public school options in Memphis and that recruitment and early registration efforts are continuing to pay off. Last year was the first year the Memphis district gained students since six suburbs exited the district to create their own school systems with about 34,000 students.

However, enrollment in the state’s district for low-performing schools dipped for the second year in a row to 10,622 students. The Achievement School District, which mostly operates in Memphis, has lost about 2,000 students since 2016 as schools have closed and money for school improvement efforts has dropped off.

Note: The numbers are taken from each district’s attendance on the 20th day of school, which leaders use to determine any staffing adjustments to match a school’s student population.

Sharon Griffin, the Achievement School District’s chief, told Chalkbeat that she focused her efforts this semester on restarting the district’s relationship with the neighborhoods its serves, and that she is hopeful to see gains in enrollment throughout the year.

“Most of our schools have met their projected enrollment, but we have one or two elementaries that are struggling,” Griffin said. “Part of that is due to the fact that new charter schools and options that have opened up in neighborhoods we’re in, where there’s not enough kids in the neighborhood.”

Five charters schools opened this year as five others — a mix of district-run and charter schools — closed.

Notably, Shelby County Schools’ charter sector is growing faster than the district. The number of Memphis students attending charter schools overseen by the district increased 5.8 percent this year, while enrollment in district-run schools increased about 2 percent. Shelby County Schools did not provide a statement or an official for comment.

Nationally, the average charter school enrollment has increased from 1 to 6 percent of students between 2000 and 2015, according to federal data. That year, Tennessee charter schools enrolled 3 percent of students.

In response, the local district has looked to charter schools for recruitment strategies in an increasingly competitive environment. Over the summer, Shelby County Schools doubled down on recruitment and registration efforts by sending officials to grocery stores, libraries, summer camps, the Memphis Zoo and community centers — and has even hosted block parties throughout the city. The district also opened its online application two months earlier than last year to encourage parents to register sooner.

Those efforts resulted in 70 percent of expected students to register for school two weeks before school, which was double from the previous year.