diversity plan

The country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated — just released its ‘school diversity’ plan. Here are the highlights

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

New York City’s long-awaited plan for school diversity was released Tuesday morning, with surprisingly little fanfare. While some observers hailed aspects of the plan as a major step forward, others questioned the city’s relatively modest approach to the massive problem of school segregation.

Responding to a push from advocates, the city announced a policy statement prioritizing “diverse and inclusive” schools, and establishing explicit integration goals.

In an emailed statement, City Councilmen Ritchie Torres and Brad Lander called the setting of those goals “a bona-fide breakthrough.”

“We are not aware of any other big city that has voluntarily set such goals,” the statement said.

But other integration supporters question whether the plan goes far enough. For example, Matt Gonzales, who leads school integration efforts for the nonprofit Appleseed, described the city’s changes to high school admissions as “tinkering” around the edges.

“I don’t see that as leading towards some larger change,” he said. 

The 13-page document makes no mention of “integration” or “segregation,” opting instead to define the city’s goal as supporting “diversity,” which includes students who have disabilities, are learning English or live in temporary housing.

“We are sorry to see that the plan does not use the words ‘segregation’ and ‘integration,’” Torres and Lander wrote in their statement. “We will not break the cycle of segregation if we cannot even name it.”

Here are some the highlights from the plan:

Includes a policy statement. City council members have been asking the city to declare its commitment to integrated schools since at least 2015. Here’s the statement:

“The New York City Department of Education is committed to supporting learning environments that reflect the diversity of New York City. We believe all students benefit from diverse and inclusive schools and classrooms where all students, families and school staff are supported and welcomed. This work is essential to our vision of Equity and Excellence for all NYC students.”

Eliminates the “limited unscreened” admissions method for high schools. Chalkbeat has written extensively about how the high school application process favors families with the time and savvy to navigate an opaque process. This change, which will impact students starting high school in fall 2019, requires schools to stop giving admissions preference to students who attend open houses or high school fairs.

Sets measurable goals, as requested by advocates in a letter sent to Chancellor Carmen Fariña late last month. The city’s goals are to increase the number of students in racially representative schools by 50,000 over the next five years (there are more than 1 million students enrolled in city schools), while decreasing the number of “economically stratified” schools by 10 percent over the next five years. The city also aims to increase the number of “inclusive” schools that serve students who are learning English and students who have disabilities.

The city defines “racially representative” schools as those where black and Hispanic students make up at least 50 percent but no more than 90 percent of the population. Currently, black and Hispanic students make up about 70 percent of the student body citywide and only 31 percent of schools meet the city’s definition of being racially representative, according to the education department.

Creates a School Diversity Advisory Group. The body, which will include diversity experts, parents and students, will evaluate the city’s current goals and come up with formal recommendations by June 2018.

Expands on the city’s efforts to get more black and Hispanic students into specialized high schools by offering the entrance exam on a school day. The city is also boosting test prep and a program for kids who just missed the cut-off on the specialized high school exam, but none of these efforts have been shown to significantly change the makeup of students offered seats at the elite schools.

Expands the “Diversity in Admissions” initiative to private pre-K providers. The Diversity in Admissions program allows schools to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are poor or meet other criteria. Community organizations account for 60 percent of pre-K providers.

Establishes a “community stakeholder engagement process” in districts where school integration work is already underway. District 1 on the Lower East Side and District 13 in Brooklyn have been working on district-wide integration plans with the help of a state grant, though some parents feel the city education department has interfered with that process.

In Brooklyn’s District 15, parents have called for a public process to come up with changes to the middle school application process. Similar work is being led by parents in District 3, which includes the Upper West Side and part of Harlem, as well as District 2, which includes much of Lower Manhattan, Chinatown and the Upper East Side.

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!