trump's america

‘Education not deportation’: Hundreds of NYC students walk out of class, march to Trump Tower in protest

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Beacon High School students marched to Trump Tower Tuesday morning.

Leaving biology, English, and calculus behind, hundreds of New York City high school students walked out of class and into the pouring rain, marching to Trump Tower exactly a week after the eponymous candidate’s victory.

The march began around 10 a.m., when well over 100 students streamed out of Manhattan’s selective Beacon High School, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Education, not deportation!” The protest coincided with others at colleges and university across the country.

Organized largely over Facebook and Instagram, New York City’s protest included at least two high schools — and was not the first time local students have walked out of class since the election.

Tuesday’s march captured the fear and anger many students have felt toward an election they could not directly influence.

“The day after the election, I was in tears,” said Hebh Jamal, a Beacon senior and one of the protest’s organizers. “A lot of my friends are disabled, a lot of my friends are immigrants, a lot of my friends are undocumented. This is scary. Everyone was just so distraught, and we all want to do something.”

After Jamal discovered a Facebook group that encouraged students to walk out of class, she helped spread the word at her school, and said teachers and staff were accommodating — even if they didn’t all support the protest directly.

Across the country, teachers have been forced to reckon with a president-elect whose rhetoric often comes at the expense of marginalized communities, and wouldn’t be tolerated in many schools.

But on Tuesday, the focus was on students. Their mile-and-a-half-long march to Trump’s soaring Fifth Avenue tower was accompanied only by a single NYPD van that blocked intersections still choked with rush-hour traffic so students could safely cross. Onlookers and tourists occasionally joined the chants, or took video as students marched past.

Beacon junior Chrys Fernandez, who participated in the march, worried that Trump’s policies could soon have a direct effect on her undocumented family members from the Dominican Republic.

“I don’t want [them] to disappear,” she said while standing in a barricaded area across the street from Trump Tower.

Fernandez, who identifies as queer, emphasized a Trump administration’s potentially devastating stance toward LGBT people. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, she pointed out, has suggested diverting HIV and AIDS funding for “conversion therapy” to reverse the sexual orientations of queer people.

“I’ve never been in a position where being queer is a bad thing,” she said. “We’re outraged that this election will affect us directly the most but we had no say in it.”

Other students wondered whether Trump might eviscerate a variety of programs and protections, including federal Pell Grant funding, Obamacare and reproductive rights.

About 30 minutes after the Beacon students left, roughly a dozen students walked out of Harvest Collegiate High School near Union Square and hopped on the subway to Midtown.

Students from both Beacon and Harvest Collegiate said their teachers did not try to block them from leaving — and some encouraged the act of civil disobedience.

“My English teacher was like, ‘It’s fine I get it,’” said Beacon sophomore Jasmine Niang.

Beacon Principal Ruth Lacey did not return interview requests. The school’s parent coordinator, Erdene Greene, said Lacey generally does not speak to the press because reporters “always twist things around.” Officials at Harvest Collegiate did not return a call.

An education department official would not comment directly on the protests, but noted that students “who leave school will be subject to appropriate consequences in accordance with the Discipline Code.”

Still, Jamal, one of the protest’s organizers, said the march left her feeling hopeful.

“The fact that [Beacon staff members] didn’t stop us was very inspiring,” she added. “If this organized event proves to students that they can organize and can be a part of something, then we can do even more next time.”

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.