integration lessons

Study finds explosion in the number of school districts working on integration

A new report by the Century Foundation found that 100 school districts and charter schools are currently pursuing socioeconomic integration plans. (Image by the Century Foundation)

School integration can be politically treacherous, tricky to define and hard to achieve. But more and more school districts are willing to give it a try.

A study released Friday by the Century Foundation, a think tank focused on inequity, found that 100 school districts and charter schools across the country are currently pursuing socioeconomic diversity plans — a number that has more than doubled since 2007.

Among the districts profiled is New York City, one of the most segregated school systems in the country but also home to a growing number of advocates pushing for more diverse schools.

“There’s been a big growth in the number of school districts that are pursuing socioeconomic diversity,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the foundation and a contributor to the report. “New York has made an important and good start in this effort.”

The report highlights some recent strides: The city has factored student diversity into recent rezoning proposals, allowed schools to implement their own admissions plans to enroll more disadvantaged students, and now requires annual reporting of demographics and integration efforts.

Still, the report says: “Systemic progress has been slow.”

“Despite this mounting pressure from community organizations and local leaders, Department of Education leadership has largely resisted any commitment to the politically contentious work of systematically revamping neighborhood school zones or the admissions policies that have contributed to citywide school segregation,” the report notes.

In an emailed statement, department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the city is “focused on increasing diversity at our schools through both systemic and localized approaches.”

She highlighted more than 80 new bilingual programs started under the current administration, and an increase in the number of students with disabilities in general education settings and in screened high schools. She also echoed comments by Mayor Bill de Blasio that the city is working on a larger diversity plan — but, like the mayor, provided no details.

“Across the city, there is a range of meaningful conversations and real steps forward around different approaches to increasing diversity,” Kaye wrote. “As we’ve already stated, we’re going to put forward a larger plan on increasing diversity in our schools – something we believe in.”

The Century Foundation report was released ahead of a national conference in Washington, D.C. — hosted by the foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Coalition on School Diversity — where education leaders will share best practices for integration.

“Like math, reading, science, social studies, and the arts, diversity is essential for helping our students get ready for the world they will encounter throughout their lives,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary John King said in a statement. “The school districts and charters pursuing socioeconomic integration highlighted in this report demonstrate what is possible when we embrace the richness of our diversity.”

The report includes case studies from across the country that offer potentially valuable lessons to New York.

One takeaway, for instance: Setting system-wide integration goals and ensuring diversity at the individual classroom level are essential.

The report also notes that policies that encourage choice over compulsory integration, an approach that New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has favored, have proven successful and even popular.

Take Louisville, for example. In the 1970s, 98 percent of suburbanites opposed busing plans for integration, the study reports. Now, Louisville uses a choice system that includes consideration of student diversity — and 89 percent think the school district should “ensure that students learn with students from different races and economic backgrounds.”

A close look at districts in Cambridge and Hartford found that magnet schools, which offer instruction around specialized themes, can lead to an uptick in public school enrollment and more diverse student bodies.

“Many districts are able to marry choice and integration quite successfully,” the report notes.

study says...

Do ‘good’ parents prep their kids for gifted exams? The answer varies by race, study finds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a citywide gifted and talented program, learn how to read a number line in Nov. 2016.

Is getting your child into a gifted-and-talented program a mark of good parenting? How you answer may depend largely on your race or ethnicity, according to new research.

Allison Roda, an assistant professor of education at Molloy College in Long Island, interviewed more than 50 white, black, and Hispanic parents at an unidentified New York City school to learn about their attitudes towards gifted programs. (Her sample did not include any Asian parents.)

She found that the white parents view applying for gifted programs and preparing their children to score well on the admissions test as hallmarks of good parenting.

For the black and Hispanic families, being a good parent had more to do with choosing a diverse classroom for their child and not “gaming” the system by practicing for the gifted test, according to the report, which appeared recently in the peer-reviewed journal Teachers College Record.

The report comes as the education department and elected officials are considering how to enroll more students of color in gifted programs.

In New York City, most gifted programs are housed in separate classrooms within a larger school. Often, the two are divided along racial lines, with white and Asian students far more likely to be admitted to gifted programs. Meanwhile, black and Hispanic students — who represent 70 percent of the city’s public-school population — comprise less than 30 percent of the gifted-and-talented enrollment.

The most common entry point for gifted programs is kindergarten, with admissions based on test results. The white families Roda interviewed said they felt intense social pressure to have their children take those exams.

Many of them said they questioned whether they should subject their children to such high-stakes testing, but they went along because “everyone else is doing it,” the report says. They also saw it as a pathway to competitive schools in later grades — and even college.

“They know it’s not fair,” Roda said. “They feel the need to do it to get their children on the right track.”

While the black and Hispanic parents Roda interviewed had their children tested for gifted, none reported paying for tutors or otherwise preparing children for the test. For them, having to practice for the test meant your child wasn’t really gifted.

“They know that all of the students who are in those programs were prepped,” Roda said. “So that takes away from the legitimacy of the label and the program they were placed in, and they don’t believe in that.”

Once their children started school, parents of color saw that their kids would be an extreme minority in gifted classes. They also reported that the gifted programs weren’t all that different from the education their children were receiving in general education classes. For those reasons, many opted not to retest their child if he or she initially missed the cut-off score for admission — as opposed to white parents, who repeatedly signed up their children for retakes.

“They just equate it to a way to segregate children whose parents prep them for the test,” Roda said.

Despite the time and resources white families said they poured into preparing for the gifted test, they didn’t think it was an accurate measure of giftedness. On that point, families of color agreed. Black, white and Hispanic families also agreed that school diversity was important.

Understanding those similarities and differences could be important for efforts to better integrate gifted classes and the school system more widely. While some elected officials have called for expanding access to test prep and testing all pre-K students for giftedness as a way to increase black and Hispanic student enrollment, Roda’s research suggests that may not work since parents of color told Roda they were opposed to test prep.

Instead, Roda suggests, the city should begin to spread the practices used in gifted classrooms to entire schools.

“Be more inclusive and enrich the curriculum that way,” Roda said. “And don’t be so focused on the test.”

drinks and debate

What would an equitable high school choice process look like? Chalkbeat readers weigh in.

PHOTO: Stanley Collado
Chalkbeat hosted an event to debate how the high school admissions process could be more fair.

New York City’s choice system is supposed to give every student a shot at attending a top high school. But in reality, low-income students of color are often stuck in low-performing schools.

Last week, Chalkbeat invited a parent and student, a researcher and an admissions advocate, and two education department officials to take part in a public discussion. We wanted to know: When it comes to the high school choice process, what are the barriers separating some students from high-achieving schools — and how can those obstacles be removed?

We want you to join the discussion. Click here or keep reading to learn how.

Two competing schools of thought emerged during the talk, which about 120 people came to watch. On one side, some said the problems revolve around some families’ limited information about how to navigate the time-intensive application process, and solutions should be geared towards improving communication and guidance for families and students.

But others said the problems go much deeper: Students who attend high-needs schools often aren’t prepared to compete for seats in the most exclusive high schools, even as their families often lack the time and resources to help them find other strong alternatives.

“The whole system is flawed and it’s geared to have certain students fail,” said Tanesha Grant, a parent from Washington Heights whose daughter attends Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts. “Every child is equal. We make them unequal with the process.’”

After the discussion, audience members — who included people who work in schools and education-oriented nonprofits, along with parents — voted on ways to make the admissions process more fair.

The solution that earned the most votes was reducing or eliminating screened schools, which admit students based on their test scores, interviews and report card grades, among other criteria.

The second most popular solution was providing better information to students and families, perhaps by improving the high school directory or adding more guidance counselors in middle schools who can help guide students through the process.

Many other attendees came up with their own solutions.

Those included: expanding the role of parent coordinators, who are already stationed in schools, to help families understand the process; changing the algorithm that matches students to schools so that diversity is weighed in admissions decisions; and hiring more black and Hispanic teachers who can serve as a welcoming presence when students of color are picking schools. You can find more in the photos.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

The audience also submitted dozens of written questions about how the process is working (or not). They wanted to know how much leeway schools get to choose their students, what is being done to help immigrant families understand the process, and how the city can create more high-quality high schools in neighborhoods that lack them.

Now, we want to you to weigh in.

We distilled the audience queries into a handful of questions based on common themes that emerged. We’re hoping to follow up on some of them — but first we want to know which ones are shared by the most readers.

We’d love it if you’d use the form below to vote on which question is also puzzling you — or if there’s another you’d like us to pursue.

Thanks for joining the discussion!