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In Manhattan’s vast District 2, some parents seek a district-wide integration plan

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
District 2 held a forum Monday about school segregation and the impact sorting students into different programs or schools based on their academic records.

The next New York City school district to come up with its own plan to combat school segregation could be Manhattan’s vast District 2, where some schools do not reflect the district’s diversity.

At a public forum Monday about integration, parent leaders argued that the selective admissions systems used by many of the district’s middle schools have worked to sort students along race and class lines.

For instance, East Side Middle School on the Upper East Side, which admits only high-achieving students, is 83 percent white and Asian and just 11 percent low-income. But City Knoll Middle School in Hell’s Kitchen, a new school that accepts any District 2 resident who applies, is just 28 percent white and Asian and 73 percent poor. (Overall, the district’s middle-school students are about two-thirds white and Asian and 44 percent low income.)

Several districts across the city are probing the link between school admissions policies and segregation, and considering alternative enrollment systems that would promote diversity. Now some parent leaders are hoping that District 2, which includes some of the city’s wealthiest enclaves and its most sought-after schools, will join them.

“There are so many ways to skin this cat,” Shino Tanikawa, president of the district’s community education council, told the crowd Monday. “The first thing we have to do as a district is at least start the conversation on diversity.”

Districts 1 and 3 in Manhattan and District 13 in Brooklyn are exploring a type of admissions system known as “controlled choice,” which is designed to curb school segregation. That model matches students with schools based on their preferences as well as information such as their family’s income level, so that high and low-income students are spread evenly among the district’s schools.

Funded by state integration grants, Districts 1 and 13 are months into a public planning process around new admissions systems. While the city education department has not committed to adopting their final plans, officials have said they will at least consider them.

On Monday, Tanikawa said she hopes her district will begin a similar process of reevaluating the way its students are assigned to schools. She said that could include setting school diversity goals, recruiting under-represented families to enroll at specific schools, and changing the admissions policies at the district’s middle schools.

“I’m hoping this is the start of a series of conversations on this,” Tanikawa said, adding that she would like the district’s education council to form a diversity committee and to apply for one of the state grants.

District 2’s grade 6-8 middle schools vary in terms of their racial composition. “S” represents schools that screen students based on test scores and other criteria; “LU” stands for limited unscreened schools that do not consider applicants’ academic records. (Graphic courtesy of Shino Tanikawa/District 2 CEC)
District 2’s grade 6-8 middle schools vary in terms of their racial composition. “S” represents schools that screen students based on test scores and other criteria; “LU” stands for limited unscreened schools that do not consider applicants’ academic records. (Graphic courtesy of Shino Tanikawa/District 2 CEC)

The majority of District 2’s schools with middle grades screen at least some of their applicants using a variety of criteria, including the students’ state test scores, attendance records, interviews, and writing or math assessments. Some of the highest-performing middle schools — including East Side, The Salk School of Science, and the Clinton School for Writers and Artists — enroll smaller shares of black, Hispanic, and poor students than the district average.

The discussion about admissions policies and diversity has lately centered on a new West Village middle school, known as 75 Morton Street, set to open in 2017. Some parents have called for the school’s catchment area to be drawn so that it enrolls a mix of students from different backgrounds.

Josephine Ishmon said Monday that she is searching for a diverse, high-quality middle school for her daughter, whose ethnic background is Puerto Rican, African American, and Japanese. But she said she is worried about finding one, since many of the district’s top schools are “predominantly white.”

“My question is, as parents, how do we do something to change that?” she said. “Are we just waiting around for the good will of principals?”

Carol Burris, the former principal of South Side High School in Long Island, gave a presentation at the forum about her former district’s yearslong effort to phase out separate classes for high and low-performing students. She summarized years of research showing that mixed-ability classes benefit lower-skilled students and do not harm their higher-skilled peers.

“When you have a middle-school system that sorts and selects,” she said, “there is so much promise that you are missing.”

desegregation dilemma

Silicon Valley’s school integration paradox: More black and Hispanic students get to college — and get arrested

PHOTO: Thomas Hawk / Creative Commons

New research on schools in the heart of Silicon Valley comes to a familiar conclusion: Poor black and Hispanic students get a leg up academically by attending a less segregated school.

But the results come with a significant downside. Those students who left their hometowns to attend wealthier schools in places like Palo Alto were also more likely to be arrested.

The study, which was conducted by Columbia professor Peter Bergman and has not been formally peer-reviewed, speaks to both the promise of integration and the complicating factors — including discrimination — that can dampen its effectiveness.

“Policies that aim to integrate schools … could reap long-run benefits in college enrollment,” writes Bergman, who himself attended public school in Palo Alto. “These policies should simultaneously consider programs to mitigate the potential risks for participating students as well.”

Bergman examined an initiative created after a 1985 lawsuit settlement required several northern California school districts to allow a small number of students from Ravenswood, a largely low-income district, to transfer to more affluent schools in places like Palo Alto and Menlo Park. (Technically, the program can be used in both directions, but only two students have ever transferred into the less-affluent districts.)

Since the program included a random lottery, Bergman was able to compare the outcomes of students who won a spot versus those who applied but did not.

The results were fairly dramatic. Using data from 1998–2008, the study finds that students who got the chance to attend the more affluent schools were 10 percentage points more likely to go to college.

These results were driven by enrollment in two-year colleges, and the effects were largest for boys.

This is consistent with older research on integration programs, which have been shown to boost test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, and adult income for students of color.

Bergman was also able to link students who transferred school districts with their adult arrest records. Here, the results were more discouraging: The program increased the likelihood a student would be arrested by about 5 percentage points, with an even greater impact on boys and black students.

The rise in arrests was due to driving- and drug-related offenses outside the students’ hometowns, and there was no increase in violent crime. This suggests that the arrests may have less to do with any changes in criminal behavior and more to do with students doing more driving — and having more run-ins with police — in wealthier areas, where they had made connections or were attending school.

“Lurking in the background is definitely this idea of racial profiling,” Bergman told Chalkbeat. “[If] you’re driving a beat up Civic in Palo Alto and you’re minority, you really stand out — it’s all Teslas around here.”

Another potential factor: cops in affluent areas have more time and resources to prioritize traffic stops and drug enforcement.

“The Palo Alto police [are] probably facing a lot less baseline crime, so they have a lot of time on their hands,” Bergman said.

Still, the study can’t identify the cause, or explain the consequences for students, such as time in jail.

The research also doesn’t wade into other key questions about this type of integration program, including how it affects students who remain in the poorer, racially segregated schools.

It’s unclear why students who participated saw those academic gains. Research on older programs has found that the academic benefits of integration seem related to increases in school spending, potentially driven by the presence of families with greater political sway. Indeed, in this case, the more affluent California districts generally had greater resources and lower student–teacher ratios.

New layer

Tennessee cuts ribbon on its first charter school under State Board of Education

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Principal Jonas Cleaves cuts the ribbon at Bluff Hills High School's opening day ceremony. He is surrounded by students, faculty and leaders of Green Dot and the State Board of Education.

With the snip of a ribbon, Tennessee leaders helped to officially open a charter school on Tuesday in Memphis that marks a major shift in how the charter sector can grow in the state.

Bluff City High School, operated by Green Dot Public Schools in southeast Memphis, is the first charter school authorized by the State Board of Education.

The school opened last week at full capacity with 160 ninth-graders and a waiting list, despite uncertainty about its location as recently as four months ago. The plan is to grow the school to 600 students and four grades by 2020.

Bluff City’s opening adds a new layer of oversight to charter schools in Tennessee, where local school boards and the state-run Achievement School District already have that authority. Now the State Board does too under a 2014 state law that allows charter applicants to appeal to the State Board when local school boards deny their applications.

That’s what happened in Memphis last August when Shelby County Schools denied Green Dot’s application. The State Board later voted unanimously to overrule the local board.

“We felt like Green Dot really was prepared to serve this community well, and I think that’s already born out in the fact that it’s fully … enrolled even in its first year,” said Sara Heyburn Morrison, the board’s executive director.

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Math students are at work during the school’s second week.

Most students came from Wooddale and Kirby middle schools, both operated by Green Dot under the ASD. Green Dot used a lottery system to decide which of 270 applicants could attend. The operator already runs two other Memphis high schools, Fairley and Hillcrest, also under the ASD.

“Part of the reason we even applied for this school in the first place is — when the moratorium on growth for the Achievement School District happened — we were just starting our third year with Wooddale Middle and had bused 27 students across the city to Fairley. We still do that, but it’s hard for students,” said Megan Quaile, Green Dot’s executive director in Tennessee. “If they didn’t have a ride home, they didn’t get to participate in extracurriculars or sports the way you would if you were able to walk home from school.”

Quaile said her organization felt strongly about appealing the local school board’s decision. “We have been running schools since 2000, and we have a very strong high school model,” she said of the California-based operator.

Bluff City is starting with 10 classrooms and plans to build a gym this fall.

“Working with the State Board of Education has just been a very positive experience,” Quaile said. “They’re very thoughtful, they’re very responsible. We’ve worked really well with them to get everything started.”

Now the State Board will need to work with both Shelby County Schools and the ASD to align the city’s public schools and services to meet students’ needs in the Bluff City. That could be challenging given that the State Board stepped in to authorize the new Memphis school. 

“This is new territory for all of us in terms of the working relationship that we’ll need to continue to build out with Shelby County,” said Heyburn Morrison, whose team will also begin overseeing two Nashville charter schools in 2019.

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Darryl Buchanan and Adarrius Hicks are founding class members of Bluff City High School.

While the road to starting Bluff City High School was complicated, students who participated in Tuesday’s opening ceremony were mostly just interested in what lies ahead. They were excited to have a say in building the school’s culture by voting on a mascot (the wolves) and a school color (Carolina blue). Plans are also underway to establish clubs and a student government.

“I feel pressure, but this is going to make us into better leaders,” said Darryl Buchanan, 14, who wants his education to prepare him to be a politician someday. “Everyone here is going to be something and they want us to be successful. They want us to be a somebody.”