Future of Schools

Only 10 percent of offers at New York City’s specialized high schools went to black and Hispanic students

PHOTO: Monica Disare
A high-school choice fair in Brooklyn in 2016.

Four years after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio railed against the way students are admitted to some of the city’s top high schools on the campaign trail, black and Hispanic students are still rarely accepted into the elite schools.

Only 3.8 percent of offers to attend eight specialized high schools went to black students and 6.5 percent went to Hispanic students this year, according to data released Wednesday, though those populations comprise about 70 percent of city students. The vast majority of eighth graders who received offers were white or Asian.

Students are admitted to eight of the specialized high schools based only on their scores on the high-stakes Specialized High School Admissions Test. And while those schools represent just one subset of New York City’s top high schools, their long history of serving top students — and the rapid decline of diversity at those schools over the last two decades — has put them at the center of a contentious debate about whether the city is doing enough to help black and Hispanic students succeed.

This year, a total of 5,078 students received offers to the eight schools, about the same number as last year. Only one black student was admitted to Staten Island Technical High School, and 13 were admitted to Stuyvesant High School, two of the schools where the number of black students admitted has recently been in the single digits.

“While there are many promising trends this admissions cycle … it’s clear there is much more work to do,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

Since state law requires the test-based admissions system at some of the schools — and support for changing that law has been meager — the city’s plan to boost diversity focuses on test preparation and encouraging most black and Hispanic students to take the exam.

The six-point plan, announced in June, includes more test preparation programs, an “SHSAT day” at certain schools, and student outreach. Twenty-six percent of black and Latino offers went to students who participated in the DREAM program, which prepares students for the SHSAT and the city plans to expand.

The city noted that more students took the test this year in districts and schools the city targeted for SHSAT outreach. The number of students testing at schools that piloted a SHSAT day increased over 50 percent.

Approximately 28,000 students took the test last fall, with an increase among Latino test takers, according to the city’s data.

The city also plans to change the test itself to make it “fairer and more equitable.” Starting this fall, the test will be lengthened and some unpopular sections, like scrambled paragraphs, will be scrapped.

Though a lack of diversity at the city’s eight specialized high schools has been the focus of public discussion, there is also a gap among all New York City high schools.

A Chalkbeat analysis found that over half the students who took and passed the eighth-grade state math exam wound up in less than 8 percent of city high schools. Meanwhile, nearly 165 of the city’s roughly 440 high schools have five or fewer incoming ninth-graders who took and passed the state math test.

New Arrivals

In a letter to Betsy Devos, Michigan officials highlight the plight of refugee students — and ask for testing waiver.

PHOTO: Warren Consolidated Schools
Students at Warren-Mott High School in the Detroit suburbs. Officials there say that many students are arriving at the school from refugee camps, including 11th graders who had no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Such students would currently be required to take a state English test during their first year in school.

To teachers who work with recently arrived refugee students, the problem is clear: Although their students will eventually learn English, their language skills at first aren’t comparable to those of native speakers.

They’re hoping federal education officials will come to the same conclusion after reading the state’s detail-rich request to delay testing new immigrant children in English.

Michigan is the second state to ask for a waiver from a federal law that requires children who arrived in the U.S. this year to take standardized English tests a year after arriving — even if they’re just being introduced to the language. The law also requires states to count such students’ scores in decisions about whether to close low-performing schools.

“We wanted to balance between presenting hard data and some anecdotes,” said Chris Janzer, assistant director of accountability at the Michigan Department of Education. “We’re hoping that the case we present, with some of the stories, will win us approval.”

The state’s request includes stories from the Detroit area, which is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arabic speakers, including many newly arrived refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East. This population is unique in more ways than one: It includes more than 30,000 Chaldean Christians who arrived after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 — the largest such population in the world outside Iraq. And many of its children must deal with the aftereffects of violent displacement even as they attempt to attend school in what is in many cases an entirely new language.

The state’s waiver request offers Hamtramck, a hyper-diverse city enclave in Detroit, as an example:

Hamtramck has many recent arrivals from war-torn regions in Yemen and Syria and has students from remote villages with no formal education background, as well as many others with interrupted learning. New students can have toxic stress and can even be suicidal, and often require wraparound services. Older students are also often burdened with the responsibility of helping their families financially, emotionally, and with childrearing.

Even the luckiest new arrivals would benefit if Michigan receives a waiver from parts of the federal Every Students Succeed Act, says Suzanne Toohey, president of Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

“The intent of the waiver is for the most needy students, but it will help all students,” she said, adding that it typically takes 5-7 years for an English learner to catch up to her native-speaking peers.

With that in mind, Toohey says current federal requirements don’t make sense.

“It would be like an adult who is many years out of school, and who took French for two years of high school, going to France and trying to take a college course,” she said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Following the same logic, Michigan officials are asking U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to put the brakes on federal requirements for testing recently arrived English learners. If the waiver request is approved:

  • In their first year in Michigan schools, those students wouldn’t be required to take the state English language arts exam.
  • In their second, they would take the test, but schools wouldn’t be held accountable for their scores.
  • In year three, the growth in their scores on the English exam would be factored into school ratings.
  • And in year four their overall score — known as proficiency — would be counted as well as their growth.

That’s still too soon to begin testing English learners, Toohey said, noting “the waiver is a start, but we haven’t gotten all the way there.”

Even so, the proposed change still faces substantial obstacles. New York’s request for a similar waiver was denied by the U.S. Department of Education in January. In its response, the department said it was holding New York to its responsibility to “set high expectations that apply to all students.” Janzer says his staff studied New York’s waiver and concluded that Michigan’s should include more details to humanize the situations of the affected students.

Michigan officials are currently working to incorporate public comments (there were seven, all of them supportive, Janzer said) into its request, which is expected to be submitted in the coming weeks. A decision isn’t expected from federal officials for several more months.

Whoever reads the 10-page document in Washington, D.C. will be confronted with details like these:

  • Lamphere Schools, of Madison Heights, MI, has received a significant influx of students from Iraq and Syria, and at least one elementary school’s student body is roughly 70 percent recently arrived students from these two nations. Lamphere reports that some students initially undergo temporary “silent periods,” a researched stage of second language acquisition, where children are watching and listening, but not yet speaking.
  • Warren Consolidated Schools, of Warren, MI, reports that they have many students from refugee camps, including students who are testing in 11th grade after having no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Warren Consolidated has received 2,800 students from Syria or Iraq since 2007.

Read the full document here. Most local details are on pages 7-9.

live stream

WATCH: Candidates for Detroit school board introduce themselves live

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Detroiters at IBEW 58 wait for candidates for school board candidates to address them.

The nine candidates for Detroit school board are gathering Thursday evening at IBEW 58 in Detroit to make their cases in advance of the November general election in which two seats are up for grabs.

The candidates have already introduced themselves in video statements, but this is one of their first chances to address the public in real time.

We’re covering the event — including a live stream the candidates’ opening statements, which should start around 7 p.m.

Click below or check out our Facebook page to see what they have to say. The candidate speeches begin at around the 12:00 minute mark.