another round

In a growing push to promote school integration, New York announces new round of grants

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Carry Chan, left, will become acting superintendent in District 1 when Daniella Phillips, right, leaves this month to join the central education department.

New York State education officials on Tuesday announced they will launch the second round of a grant program that attempts to improve struggling schools by integrating them.

Called the Socioeconomic Integration Pilot Program, or SIPP, the initiative was eventually replicated at the federal level before being axed by President Trump’s education department. In New York City, the program helped spur a district-wide integration plan on the Lower East Side.

The state will award up to 30 districts with the new grants, whose purpose has expanded beyond just economic integration. At a Board of Regents meeting Tuesday, Assistant Commissioner Ira Schwartz said the state also wants to achieve a more even racial and ethnic balance in schools, in addition to a better mix of students who have disabilities or are learning English.

Richard Kahlenberg, who reviewed applications for the first round of grants in 2015, applauded the program’s expansion.

“Socioeconomic integration is a powerful lever for improving academic achievement, and racial and ethnic integration is an important way to strengthen our democracy,” said Kahlenberg, a senior research fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. “So I think both goals are important and should be pursued.”

Extending the grant program is just the latest indication that state officials are serious about fostering diversity in New York, which has been described as having the most segregated education system in the country, according to a widely-cited 2014 report by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. The state’s many school districts span wealthy suburbs, poor rust-belt neighborhoods and New York City — with students largely separated by race and class in their schools and classrooms.

State officials are also working on a policy statement affirming their commitment to integration and plan on creating a commission of policymakers, researchers and educators who will help develop integration recommendations. And in its plan for improving low-performing schools that each state was required to submit under the new federal education law, New York listed integration as one of its interventions.

Mike Hilton, who reviewed grant applications for the initial pilot, said the moves make New York State unique.

“New York State is special in that there is no court order saying that the state has to pay attention to diversity or pursue these kinds of remedies,” said Hilton, who works on education policy for the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, and the National Coalition on School Diversity. “This is New York State leading the way.”

The state has not said how much it will spend on what officials informally called “SIPP 2.0,” which is funded through federal school-improvement money. Applications will open within the next month.

Initially, the funding will be used to provide district leaders a crash-course in integration research, policy and best practices. Each will receive between $30,000 and $50,000 and spend six months training and sharing ideas in what the state calls a “professional learning community.”

The community was created in response to feedback from districts in the pilot program, said Angélica Infante-Green, a deputy commissioner with the state education department.

“We heard back from the participants that they would have liked a little more support,” she said. “So we built that in so that they can create a community, learn from each other and learn from experts.”

District leaders can then apply for additional funding to turn their ideas into full-fledged integration plans, and a final round of grants would go towards carrying out those plans.

In the first pilot program, 25 schools across New York participated, using the grants for initiatives like creating magnet programs or conducting outreach to families.

In New York City, the grant served as the foundation for what became a district-wide integration plan in District 1, which includes the Lower East Side and East Village. Starting next school year, every elementary school will give preference to students who meet certain indicators of poverty or wealth, in an attempt to enroll a similar percentage of needy students across the entire district.

Putting the grant-funded integration plans into action has not always gone smoothly.

In District 1, planning fell far behind schedule and parents often clashed with city officials over how to carry out a new enrollment system. In Rochester, the grant was used to devise an interdistrict plan to attract families from the suburbs to schools in the city, but paying for transportation costs has been a major barrier.

In one of his last acts as state education commissioner, John B. King launched New York’s grant program. Experts said it was the first known state program of its kind.

King went on to become secretary of the U.S. Education Department, where he implemented a similar model. But in March, the department announced an end to the $12 million program — called Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities. Federal officials told the Washington Post that it was a poor use of tax money since the funds were used for planning and not implementation.

“The federal climate and the lack of federal leadership on key education issues reinforces the importance of New York leading on issues like this,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust – New York. “There’s a lot that New York can and should be doing.”

sorting the students

‘Why are we screening children? I don’t get that’: Chancellor Carranza offers harsh critique of NYC school admissions

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Chancellor Richard Carranza

New York City’s schools chief expressed a fundamental critique of the school system on Wednesday, arguing that sorting students by ability is “antithetical” to public education.

“I think the very fact that we’re talking about screening is an issue,” Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said at a press conference in the Bronx. “Why are we screening kids in a public school system? That is, to me, antithetical to what I think we all want for our kids.”

A large chunk of the school system Carranza is running operates exactly that way. In New York City, about one quarter of middle schools and one third of high schools “screen” students which means they select for admission based on factors like test scores, interviews, attendance, grades, or artistic talent. Several renowned high schools — the “specialized” schools that include Stuyvesant and Bronx Science — only admit top scorers on an entrance exam.

Carranza’s comments reflect his interest in integrating schools, as academic sorting also means that black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in many of the city’s selective schools. They also may signal that he’s on a collision course with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has not exhibited much enthusiasm for sweeping changes to the city’s schools — and with affluent city parents who see selective schools as a condition of their participation in public school system.

The education department did not say Wednesday whether Carranza planned to introduce new policies to reduce the number of schools screening students. Spokeswoman Toya Holness said he would continue to support ongoing work with superintendents to promote alternative admissions methods.

“As Chancellor Carranza has said, we are committed to equity and excellence for all students in New York City and central to that work is making the admissions process fairer for families,” she said.

Screened schools proliferated under previous Mayor Michael Bloomberg, though a small number have existed for decades. According to data compiled by Sean Corcoran of NYU Steinhardt, less than 16 percent of school programs screened students for academics in 2002; by 2009, it was more than 28 percent.

Proponents say those schools allow top students to access a more rigorous curriculum than is possible in a school with students of mixed ability, and they encourage wealthier families to stay in the public school system — and bring their political and financial capital along with them.

But a Chalkbeat analysis in 2016 detailed how screening has led to extreme academic sorting. Over half of the students who took and passed the state eighth-grade math exam in 2015 were clustered in less than 8 percent of city high schools. Meanwhile, nearly 165 of the city’s roughly 440 high schools had five or fewer ninth-graders who took and passed the state math test.

This, in turn, contributes to segregation along racial and socioeconomic lines. Low-income students of color are less likely to earn passing scores on state tests and may have more challenges navigating the city complicated admissions rules. The New York Times published an analysis in 2017 that shows as admissions methods get more competitive, schools become increasingly white and Asian.

When asked about the city’s intense academic sorting a few weeks into his tenure, Carranza said he wanted to tackle the problem.

“That is not acceptable,” he said during an interview with Chalkbeat. “And as I wrap my head around the data, those are conversations that I’m looking forward to having with my colleagues.”

Mayor de Blasio was reluctant to make more than incremental changes to those systems in his first term. Officials eliminated an admissions method that benefited students who could attend open houses and added a “blind ranking” element to some admissions systems to increase fairness.

But on Wednesday, de Blasio appeared to back Carranza, who is in his second month on the job.

“We’re certainly going to look at the screened schools because that’s something that deserves to be evaluated,” de Blasio said.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.

Sorting the Students

Another integration plan for Upper West Side middle schools is met with some support, but also familiar concerns

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A parent spoke in favor of integration plans for Upper West Side and Harlem middle schools at a Tuesday Community Education Council meeting.

The education department on Tuesday presented yet another proposal for integrating Upper West Side and Harlem middle schools, drawing both support and concern from parents.

Under the latest proposal, every middle school in District 3 would offer a quarter of seats to students who have low test scores and report card grades, and qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch — a commonly used proxy for poverty. Since race and class are often linked to academic performance, the proposal could integrate schools on a number of measures.

The district has gained nationwide attention for its integration efforts, which have drawn heated pushback from some parents who worry their children will be shut out of the most sought-after schools.

But many others have applauded the push for change in a diverse yet starkly segregated district — including a number of local principals. On Tuesday, five school leaders stood in support of pursuing integration plans.

“This is a move towards diversity, towards equity, and it’s a great thing,” P.S. 84 Principal Evelyn J. Lolis told the crowd. “The choice is yours.”

The district’s 16 middle schools don’t have attendance zones. Instead, students currently apply to the schools of their choice, and most schools set admissions criteria based on factors such as an interview, attendance, or test scores.

District leaders originally proposed only considering student test scores in their integration proposal. Just last week, they presented two alternate proposals that look at a combination of test scores, report card grades, and whether a student attended a school with many other needy students.

The new plan was presented after some raised concerns about the plan not taking into account low-performing students who attend less needy schools. This latest proposal considers whether an individual student is considered poor — rather than the demographics of his or her entire elementary school. At high-performing West End Secondary School, there would be a 13-point increase in the number of poor, struggling students who are offered admission — up from only 5 percent.

The plan didn’t quell all of the parent complaints, though the evening lacked the fireworks of earlier meetings. Some wondered whether schools will be able to serve more struggling students in the same classrooms as higher performing students, and how schools will support those classes. Though diversity has generally been shown to benefit students, Andy Weinstein, a parent at P.S. 84, pointed to studies that showed negative effects when students were mixed by ability levels.

“The research suggests it won’t work and in fact may backfire,” he said. “I think mandating academic diversity and taking a one size fits all approach is a disservice.”  

Community Education Council member Genisha Metcalf echoed the concerns of other parents who said that the district’s plans ignore some of the highest-needs schools. A simulation of the latest proposal shows that many schools with lower test scores would remain essentially unchanged.

P.S. 149 Sojourner Truth, a K-8 school, would actually get more low performing and poor students, according to an education department proposal — from 68 percent of students to 70 percent. Community Action school would go from having 64 percent poor and struggling students, to 63 percent.

Metcalf said the district should focus on providing those schools with much-needed resources.

“I think we’re conflating some issues. Equity is providing all schools with equal opportunity, equal access to resources,” she said. “Equity is not taking a few students from the highest needs schools and sending the message that we need to shuffle kids out of their community.”

For each integration proposal, the education department says more families would receive an offer to a more preferred middle school choice than under the current admissions system. Under the latest proposal, about 113 families — about 5 percent of the total — would not get matched to a school they chose, compared with 78 families last year.

The education department’s goal is to have a final plan in place by June, when families start the middle school selection process.