your turn

Weigh in on the city’s plans to merge, close, or shrink 19 schools at these public meetings

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Teacher Aixa Rodriguez speaks at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in 2016.

In the coming days, the public will have a chance to weigh in on the city’s plans to close 14 schools and merge or shrink five others — the largest round of school closures under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

As in previous years, city officials plan on holding at least two public meetings at each school: One to allow community members to ask questions about the changes, and a “joint public hearing,” required by state law, where members of the public can offer input that will be delivered to the Panel for Educational Policy, which must sign off on the education department’s proposals.

While the meetings are a chance to ask questions or raise concerns, the PEP typically approves the city’s plans even when community members oppose them at these hearings.

The first round of community meetings are already underway, but most will happen over the next two weeks. The joint public hearings have not all been scheduled, an education department spokesman said, but you can find the dates and times for those that have below.

Here is a list of all the scheduled meetings, which will each take place at the affected school:

Eubie Blake School Closure 12/19 — 5 p.m. 2/5 — 6 p.m.
Gregory Jocko Jackson School Merger 12/21 — 4 p.m. Not yet scheduled
Coalition School for Social Change Closure 1/3 — 4 p.m. Not yet scheduled
P.S. 050 Vito Marcantonio Closure 1/3 — 5:30 p.m. Not yet scheduled
New Explorers High School Closure 1/8 — 4 p.m. Not yet scheduled
Felisa Rincon de Gautier Institute Closure 1/8 — 4 p.m. Not yet scheduled
High School for Health and Career Sciences Closure 1/8 — 6 p.m. Not yet scheduled
Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research Merger 1/8 — 6 p.m. Not yet scheduled
Urban Science Academy Closure 1/8 — 6 p.m. Not yet scheduled
KAPPA IV Closure 1/9 — 5 p.m. 2/12 — 6 p.m.
P.S. 092 Bronx School Closure 1/9 — 5 p.m. 2/7 — 6 p.m.
Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School Closure 1/9 — 6 p.m. 2/8 — 6 p.m.
Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts Elimination of middle school 1/10 — 6 p.m. Not yet scheduled
Academy for Social Action Closure 1/10 — 6 p.m. Not yet scheduled
P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam Closure 1/10 — 6:30 p.m. Not yet scheduled
Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation Closure 1/11 — 6 p.m. 2/5 — 6 p.m.
M.S. 53 Brian Piccolo Closure 1/11 — 6:30 p.m. 2/7 — 6 p.m.
Brownsville Collaborative Middle School Merger 1/16 — 4 p.m. Not yet scheduled
Entrada Academy Merger 1/17 — 5 p.m. Not yet scheduled
East Flatbush Community and Research School Merger 1/17 — 6 p.m. Not yet scheduled
Accion Academy Merger 1/18 — 5 p.m. Not yet scheduled

get out the vote

Can schools encourage students to be more involved citizens? A new study suggests yes they can.

Democracy Prep charter network superintendent Seth Andrew at a 2012 admissions lottery event.

In a city of roughly 1,800 schools, many have names that have little to do with what students experience.

Not so for Democracy Prep, a network of charter schools that a new study concludes makes students far more likely to vote once they turn 18.

The study, conducted by independent researchers commissioned by Democracy Prep, took advantage of New York City’s charter school admissions rules to examine the impact of applying to, getting accepted to, and enrolling in the network’s schools on later civic participation.

Looking at more than a thousand students who applied between 2007 and 2015 who were old enough to vote in 2016, the researchers found that just being selected in the admissions lottery was correlated with a slight increase in voting rates. Students who were chosen voted 6 percent more often than students who were not.

The impact was much greater on students who were chosen and actually enrolled: They voted 24 percent more often than students who applied but never got a chance to attend.

The findings suggest that Democracy Prep is achieving its explicit goal of promoting civic participation. They also offer one answer to the question of whether charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, undermine democracy.

“Democracy Prep provides a test case of whether charter schools can successfully serve the foundational purpose of public education—preparation for citizenship—even while operating outside the direct control of elected officials,” the researchers write. “With respect to the critical civic participation measures of registration and voting, the answer is yes.”

Seth Andrew, who started the network with a single middle school in Harlem in 2006, said he was pleased by the findings — and unsurprised, because the network has baked civic participation into its culture and academic program. Students must take on a personal “Change the World” project and pass the U.S. citizenship exam to graduate.

“This idea of ‘change the world’ was very central to what we were trying to get our kids prepared and excited to do,” he said.

Creating more engaged citizens takes more than just adding a civics class, said Katie Duffy, the CEO of Democracy Prep. Schools have to make democracy a part of the daily culture, she said.

“The more you talk about the importance of voting, the importance of elections, the importance of advocacy,” she said, “the more it becomes ingrained in our kids.”

The network has also long used Election Day — when district-run schools are often closed so their buildings can be used as polling stations — as a teachable moment.

In 2008, Democracy Prep students spent the day working to get out the vote in their neighborhoods. Four years later, Democracy Prep schools were among the few housed in city space that got special permission to stay open — and the network sent students out to advance the “Vote for Somebody” campaign it had kicked off in a catchy viral video. The next year, students promoted a different message — “I can’t vote but you can” — in an effort to boost the city’s 11 percent primary election voter participation rate.

The network’s influence extends far beyond its students. In 2012, six years into the network’s existence, officials estimated that students had helped 5,000 New Yorkers register to vote. Now, the network runs 22 schools in five states.

Andrew said the study’s findings about the impact of the network — which he left in 2012 to work on other civic engagement initiatives, including at the White House — offer only a start at a time when the United States lags behind other developed countries in voter turnout.

“I was thrilled with the outcome,” said Andrew. “But the as the guy that founded Democracy Prep I feel like there’s a whole lot of room to grow.”

bills bills bills

New legislation aims to diversify New York City’s elite high schools. Here are 3 reasons to be skeptical.

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
State Senator Jamaal Bailey unveiled legislation to boost diversity at the city's specialized high schools on Thursday.

Legislation introduced Thursday aimed at integrating New York City’s specialized high schools skirted one big issue: the admissions test.

Instead, the bills would create a new citywide test for sixth graders designed to help them prepare for the exam; establish a commission to study the admissions process and issue recommendations; and require that all specialized high schools admit some students who just missed the cutoff score.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing more to allow more students access to the test,” said Jamaal Bailey, a state senator who represents parts of the Bronx and crafted the legislation.

Specialized high schools have remained starkly segregated for years, despite pledges from Mayor Bill de Blasio to promote diversity at them. Last month, the education department announced black and Hispanic students accounted for just 10.4 percent of offers to the eight specialized schools that admit students based on a single exam — a number that has gone essentially unchanged since de Blasio took office more than four years ago. (Citywide, nearly 70 percent of students are black or Hispanic.)

Standing on the steps of City Hall, and flanked by the alumni foundation president at Brooklyn Tech — a specialized school — Bailey unveiled a legislative package he said would help move the needle.

But there are good reasons to be skeptical of the plan. Here are three of them.

1. Experts say changing the admissions process is crucial to integrating specialized schools. This legislation leaves it alone.

Critics of the current admissions system argue that it favors students who have time and resources to prepare for an admissions test that serves as the sole gatekeeper for the ultra-selective schools. And researchers at New York University have shown that changing the admissions requirements to offer admission to the top 10 percent of students at every middle school is one of the few surefire ways to “substantially change” the schools’ demographics.

2. The proposal doubles down on a diversity program that is already in place — and isn’t making a dent.

Bailey’s legislation requires each specialized high school to participate in the Discovery program, which allows a small set of students to gain admission even if they score just below the cutoff. The city has already expanded that program to include every specialized school and it has helped a shrinking share of black and Hispanic students in recent years. And even if it helped more underrepresented students, its impact would likely be small: Just 4 percent of all specialized school admissions offers were issued through the program last year.

3. The bill assumes preparation will help underserved students gain admission, but the city’s test prep programs haven’t made a big difference.

The legislation creates a citywide test for sixth graders that would mimic the current exam for eighth graders, giving students a head start on preparing for the exam while simultaneously increasingly awareness of it. “Many children in my district don’t know about the test,” he said. But the city has already boosted public test prep programs (which some students have said are not high-quality) and expanded outreach to increase the number of students who take the exam. None of those efforts have changed the racial balance at specialized high schools, which are just as segregated as they were before those programs were expanded.

Bailey, who is himself a graduate of Bronx Science, a specialized school, acknowledged that his proposals may not radically change the demographics at the elite schools. But he said he is “not averse” to broader changes and said he imagined the new commission created by his legislation could recommend more systemic changes.

“I believe they will pay off,” he said. “It’s more opportunities and more information for children.”