diversity push

New York state plans to use new federal education law to help integrate schools

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

New York state education officials said they want to use the new federal accountability law to encourage school integration – but have not yet decided how they might do so.

At Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, they discussed incorporating integration into the state’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law requires all states to determine how they will evaluate schools and support struggling ones. New York is looking to measure integration and possibly use it as an intervention in schools, according to a document released Tuesday.

“Promoting integrated school environments is a cost-effective strategy for raising student achievement for districts,” state officials wrote.

At the meeting, Deputy Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green delivered a presentation on how integration fits into the state’s plan. “Even though we’re the most racially diverse and socioeconomically diverse state in the nation, we have this existing situation in our school system,” she said, referencing a widely-cited UCLA study that found deep divisions in New York’s schools along racial lines. “ESSA is a prime place for us to really look at how we change that in our state.”

During the meeting, Infante-Green repeatedly said state officials were working on a policy statement that presents a framework for supporting integration and hoped to have it ready soon. State officials declined Chalkbeat’s request to interview Infante-Green about the details or broad direction of that framework.

“It would be premature to speculate on the specifics of the plan until the plan is fully developed,” said State Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

The state’s document says developing tools for measuring integration might be part of the effort.

“Once a method of measuring integration is selected, the measure can be employed in different ways to incentivize schools and districts to integrate,” the details state. For instance, diversity could be presented as part of a “data dashboard” used to inform the public, which may encourage less diverse schools or districts to address the problem.

Under ESSA, the state could opt to intervene directly to improve schools’ diversity. The materials do not specify how the state might do so, but did say there is no “one right way” and that state officials could encourage local school districts to adopt integration strategies.

Diversity was one part of a larger discussion the Board of Regents had about the Every Student Succeeds Act. State education officials plan to submit a draft plan to the Board of Regents in May.

Regardless of how the state chooses to include integration in its plan, it would be a significant addition. School integration has been a major subject of news — and controversy — throughout New York. In New York City, despite a strong push from advocates, efforts to integrate schools have been incremental. Even in neighborhoods with a racial and socioeconomic mix, school communities have been slow to integrate and parents are not always on board.

Though most Regents expressed support for leveraging the law to promote integration, several brought up the practical concerns posed by the project — specifically the fact that families often oppose integration.

“The problem is, really, you can’t legislate morality,” said Regent Josephine Finn. “Until we address that, the fears, I don’t know how we do this.”

voucher verdict

Do vouchers help students get to college? Two new studies come to different answers

PHOTO: Micaela Watts

The debate around school vouchers has exploded in the last year with the appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. That also means recent studies showing that student achievement drops, at least initially, when students use public dollars to attend private schools have gotten a lot of attention.

But supporters have countered that test scores only say so much about student performance. The real test is how students do over the long term.

Two studies out Friday offer new answers — and some ammunition for both sides.

The research looks at how students from Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. fared after using a voucher to attend private school. It found students in Milwaukee’s voucher program were more likely to attend four-colleges, but not necessarily more likely to actually graduate. In D.C., voucher recipients were no more likely to enroll in college.

Here’s what else the studies tell us.

Disappointing results for D.C. voucher program

The D.C. analysis, conducted by Matt Chingos of the Urban Institute, found that 43 percent of students who won a voucher enrolled in college within two years of graduating high school. That’s 3 percentage points lower than similar students who lost the lottery, though the difference was not statistically significant.

The research relied on that random lottery for allocating vouchers in the first two years of the program. This meant the study could confidently show that any difference between lottery winners and losers was caused by the program, which was created in 2004 and has been a source of controversy ever since.

The study notes that because the sample size of students is fairly small, it can’t rule out the possibility that the program either boosted or hurt college attendance to some degree.

The results are surprising in light of past evidence that the first groups of D.C. voucher participants were more likely to graduate high school and scored higher on reading tests. (A more recent study on the program, focusing on students who participated in later years, found that it caused substantial drops in math test scores.)

Milwaukee voucher recipients more likely to attend — but not necessarily graduate — college

The Milwaukee study offers a more positive story for voucher advocates.

Voucher students were generally more likely to enroll in college, particularly four-year universities, than students with similar test scores from the same neighborhood who were not participating in the program in 2006. For instance, among students who used a voucher in elementary or middle school, 47 percent enrolled in college, compared to 43 percent of similar students.

When it came to actually completing college, though, the results were less clear. The researchers estimated that voucher recipients had a small edge — 1 or 2 percentage points — but the difference was not statistically significant.

MPCP is the Milwaukee voucher program; MPS is Milwaukee Public Schools

In contrast to the D.C. study, the Milwaukee researchers — Patrick Wolf, John Witte, and Brian Kisida — weren’t able to use a random lottery, meaning the results are less definitive. And although the researchers try to make apples-to-apples comparisons, the estimates may be skewed if more motivated families, or students who were struggling in public schools, used a voucher.

The latest results are consistent with a previous Milwaukee study by some of the same researchers. It’s also similar to a recent Florida study suggesting that vouchers led to increases in two-year college enrollment, but had little or no effect on whether students earned a degree.

(Both the Milwaukee and D.C. studies were funded by a number of groups that support school choice, including the Oberndorf Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Walton is also a funder of Chalkbeat.)

What we still don’t know

Like the research before it, these studies won’t come close to ending the debate about school vouchers. Opponents will likely highlight the results in D.C. and the inconsistent impact on college completion in Milwaukee. School choice advocates will point to other parts of the Milwaukee study, and the fact that the D.C. voucher programs appeared to keep pace with public schools while spending less per student.

Meanwhile, these studies tell us most about these programs as they existed more than a decade ago. That’s the disadvantage of studies like these of longer-run effects, even as they provide more information about metrics more important to most policymakers and parents than test scores.

“The problem with these long-term studies is that these are the right outcomes to look at, but by the time we know it, it’s of more questionable relevance,” Chingos said.

Future of Schools

Mike Feinberg, KIPP co-founder, fired after misconduct investigation

PHOTO: Photo by Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images

Mike Feinberg, the co-founder of the KIPP charter network, has been fired after an investigation into sexual misconduct, its leaders announced Thursday.

KIPP found “credible evidence” connected to allegations that Feinberg abused a student in the late 1990s, according to a letter sent to students and staff. Feinberg denies the allegations.

“We recognize this news will come as a shock to many in the KIPP Team and Family as we struggle to reconcile Mr. Feinberg’s 24 years of significant contributions with the findings of this investigation,” the letter says.

It’s a stunning move at one of the country’s best-known charter school organizations — and one where Feinberg has been in a leadership role for more than two decades. Feinberg started KIPP along with Dave Levin in Houston in 1994, and Levin brought the model to New York City the next year. The network became known for its “no excuses” model of strict discipline and attention to academic performance.

KIPP says it first heard the allegation last spring. The network eventually hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct an external investigation, which found evidence that Feinberg had sexually harassed two adults, both alums of the school who were then employed by KIPP in Houston, the network said.

“In light of the nature of the allegations and the passage of time, critical facts about these events may never be conclusively determined. What is clear, however, is that, at a minimum, Mr. Feinberg put himself into situations where his conduct could be seriously misconstrued,” KIPP wrote in the letter, signed by CEO Richard Barth and KIPP’s Houston leader, Sehba Ali.

Feinberg’s lawyer, Chris Tritico, told the Houston Chronicle that Feinberg had not been fully informed about the allegations against him.

“The treatment he received today from the board that he put in place is wrong, and it’s not what someone who has made the contributions he’s made deserves,” Tritico said.

Read KIPP’s full letter here.