diversity plans

12 more New York City schools will experiment with admissions rules to boost diversity

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

A dozen New York City schools have joined a pilot admissions initiative to promote student diversity, according to information released Thursday by the Department of Education.

For the first time, the “Diversity in Admissions” program includes middle and high schools, with a total of 19 schools now participating.

“I believe that increasing school diversity means improving our students’ education, and I am personally committed to this work,” schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

After an initial pilot at seven schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the city gave all schools the opportunity to apply for the program starting in spring 2016. Under the program, schools set aside a percentage of seats for students who are poor, are English learners or meet other criteria, such as having an incarcerated parent.

The new admissions policies will be in place for students applying to schools for the 2017-2018 school year.

Matt Gonzales, who focuses on school diversity issues for the social justice nonprofit New York Appleseed, applauded the expansion of the program. But he also said the wide array of targets — from 10 percent of seats set aside at one school to more than 60 percent at others — highlights the need for the DOE to create citywide policies for integration.

“There are limitations to not having having clear accountability standards,” he said.

The education department also announced that three new schools have been approved for PROSE diversity mini-grants. The PROSE program was negotiated with the United Federation of Teachers to give schools flexibility to pursue changes in admissions criteria and teacher evaluations, among other policies.

Here are the new schools that have joined the program:

* East Village Community School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch or are learning English will have priority for 50 percent of pre-K and kindergarten seats.

* P.S. 361 The Children’s Workshop School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch or are learning English will have priority for 50 percent of pre-K and kindergarten seats.

* P.S. 3 Charrette School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for pre-K and kindergarten seats after all zoned students are admitted.

* P.S. 527 East Side School for Social Action, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for pre-K and kindergarten seats after all zoned students are admitted.

* P.S. 77 New American Academy, Brooklyn: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 40 percent of pre-K and kindergarten seats.

* Brooklyn School of Inquiry: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 40 percent of Gifted and Talented seats.

* East Side Community School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 62 percent of seats.

* East Side Middle School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 10 percent of seats.

* M.S. 447 The Math and Science Exploratory School, Brooklyn: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 30 percent of seats. The school will also change its admissions process to accept more academically diverse students.

* M.S. 839, Brooklyn: Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will have priority for 40 percent of seats.

* Harvest Collegiate High School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free lunch will have priority for 64 percent of seats.

* Central Park East High School, Manhattan: Students who qualify for free lunch will have priority for 64 percent of seats.

good news bad news

New York City is sending fewer latecomer students to Renewal schools, but questions remain

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
John Adams High School in Queens, a Renewal school.

New York City is sending significantly fewer latecomer students — typically among the most difficult to serve — to schools in its flagship turnaround program.

Over the past three years, the number of students sent to schools in the city’s Renewal program outside the normal admissions process has declined 19 percent, according to new data from the education department, outpacing a 10 percent decrease in schools citywide over the same period.

The reduction suggests that schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has stuck to her promise to stem the tide of latecomer students — often newly arriving immigrants, students with special needs, and those who struggle with homelessness — to some of the city’s most struggling schools.

But it’s unclear if that policy change is making a significant difference on the ground.

For one thing, since Renewal schools have been losing students, the proportion of latecomer students has essentially gone unchanged. Even though the city has sent a smaller number of latecomer students to these schools, roughly one in five students at Renewal schools were over-the-counter last year, just slightly less than three years ago.

“It’s a good start,” said Norm Fruchter, a researcher at New York University who authored a report that found the city disproportionately sends those students to low-performing high schools. But “one out of every five is a tough challenge for schools that are already challenged,” Fruchter added. “I would have hoped for a reduction in the percentage.”

Every year, thousands of students enter city schools outside the normal admissions process, students who are generally harder to serve and can disrupt school schedules mid-year. But since New York City’s middle and high school admissions process is largely based on a choice process, less desirable and lower-performing schools tend to have more open seats for latecomers.

When the city designated an original 94 Renewal schools as low performing enough to merit an influx of extra resources, some school staffers wondered how they were supposed to stoke “fast and intense” improvements while the city continued to send them high-need students mid-year. That’s partly why Fariña announced two years ago those schools would receive fewer latecomers.

But sending fewer students to struggling schools can also create problems, and has sparked concern among some school leaders. Most Renewal schools have been shedding students for years, so limiting the number of latecomers may contribute to enrollment problems that can result in less funding or potentially even closure.

At Harlem’s Coalition School for Social Change, for instance, enrollment has dropped 44 percent over the past three years, a main reason principal Geralda Valcin is planning to ask the city to send more students over the counter — not fewer.

“Will it be harder with these kids coming on board? Absolutely,” Valcin said. “But with less kids I get less money” for teachers.

Education department officials emphasized that they work individually with schools, superintendents and families to find appropriate placements for latecomers, and said that enrollment declines at Renewal schools have started to level off.

“We’ve worked to support steady turnaround at Renewal schools by helping schools balance the need to grow enrollment with their ability to serve [over-the-counter] students,” Michael Aciman, a department spokesman, wrote in an email. He added that as Renewal schools see improvements, it might make sense to send them more latecomers.

Figuring out how to equitably place latecomer students has been a consistent challenge across administrations. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the city often clustered students who arrived mid-year at struggling schools and those the city was in the process of closing. Some of those problems have not completely gone away: As Chalkbeat reported earlier this year, the city sent some latecomer students to Renewal schools it planned to close, and Renewal schools still enroll more latecomers than the 15 percent city average.

The statistics education officials provided for this story does not include school-level breakdowns, making it difficult to tell if the city is still clustering lots of latecomers at certain Renewal schools, or whether struggling schools outside the Renewal program have received fewer latecomers.

City officials did not respond to a question about whether they see the current distribution of late-arriving students as a problem. But at least one Renewal school leader said it’s important for the city to pay attention to how those students are distributed system-wide — not just whether one segment of struggling schools are seeing fewer of them.

“I think all schools should be receiving students over the counter in equal and fair ways,” said one Renewal school leader. “Renewal schools should not be treated differently than others.”

Rhode rage

New study deepens nation’s school turnaround mystery, finding little success in Rhode Island

PHOTO: Anjelika Deo / Creative Commons

The country’s smallest state tried to accomplish a big task in 2012: improve its struggling schools without firing principals or making other dramatic changes.

Instead, Rhode Island gave schools the option to do things like add common planning time for teachers, institute culturally appropriate instruction for students, and expand outreach to families.

A new study on those efforts says they didn’t help — and in some cases may have even hurt — student achievement.

It’s the latest in a string of research painting a grim picture of school turnaround efforts under the No Child Left Behind waivers the Obama administration granted to states. Recent studies show that those turnaround plans did not improve student achievement in Louisiana or Michigan, though they did have a positive effect in Kentucky.

The analysis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Educational Policy, leaves states in a tough spot. Under the new federal education law, ESSA, they are still required to identify and intervene in the lowest performing 5 percent of schools. What to do, though, has perplexed education policymakers for years.

The Rhode Island study suggests one option that may not be effective, at least at raising test scores: simply letting struggling schools choose from a menu of broad changes.

The researchers, Shaun Dougherty and Jennie Weiner of the University of Connecticut, looked at two tiers of struggling schools in the state: “warning” and “focus” schools. Schools in both categories had to choose four changes to make. Focus schools, the lower-performing group, had to select from a prescribed list, while warning schools could also could come up with their own strategies.

“Almost none of the schools chose the most severe options because of none of them had to,” said Dougherty.

Based on two years of data, the results were largely discouraging. Turnaround schools did not boost reading or math scores more than comparable schools that didn’t have to make any changes. And the focus schools, which had to make even more changes, actually seemed to do worse than the turnaround schools that made fewer.

“More interventions might not always be better and may have unintended consequences that impact a school’s long term ability to improve,” write Dougherty and Weiner.

An important caveat for the studies in Rhode Island, Michigan, and Louisiana, which all used a similar method, is that it’s impossible to know how the accountability system affected schools that narrowly avoided being labeled low-performing and served as the comparison group for the turnaround schools. If those schools made extensive improvements for fear of facing turnaround in future years, that might mask gains in the turnaround schools.

Still, the latest research adds to the pile of studies showing the challenges of improving long-struggling schools.

Another Obama-era federal school turnaround program — School Improvement Grants — also showed disappointing results. Schools receiving those grants also had to implement a broad array of strategies, but had less power to choose which changes to make. The grants also came with additional federal money and in most cases required firing the principal.

There is some evidence that providing additional money and support, paired with a requirement that schools replace a significant share of staff, is a more promising approach. But this is challenging to implement in areas where teachers are scarce and can prompt fierce political and community pushback.

In fact, back in 2010, the Obama administration faced one of its first major rifts with national teachers unions after it backed the large-scale firing — consistent with federal turnaround rules — of teachers at a Central Falls, Rhode Island high school.

Few schools ended up implementing such a drastic approach, though. In Central Falls, the district ultimately agreed to rehire all of the fired teachers.