By the numbers

More gifted programs join New York City’s school diversity efforts

PHOTO: Christina Veiga / Chalkbeat
A handbook for gifted and talented students from New York. Illinois is moving toward creating detailed rules around access to advanced programs.

New York City will expand its efforts to diversify its starkly segregated Gifted and Talented programs, education department officials announced Tuesday.

Starting next year, two more gifted programs will join 42 other schools that have already changed their admissions policies in an attempt to enroll a more diverse group of students.

P.S. 11 the William T. Harris School in Chelsea will reserve 30 percent of its open gifted seats for kindergarten and first-grade students who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch based on their family income, are homeless or live in public housing. At TAG Young Scholars Academy, 40 percent of seats will be set-aside for kindergarten students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

The addition of TAG is significant: As one of only five citywide gifted schools, students need a higher score to qualify for admissions, making those schools even more coveted. It joins Brooklyn School of Inquiry, another citywide gifted program that recently became a part of the city’s diversity efforts.

Diversity in the city’s gifted programs has been a challenge in New York City. Enrollment in gifted programs is almost the reverse of the overall demographics in the school system: Black and Hispanic students make up only 27 percent of students in gifted classes, though they comprise close to 70 percent of students citywide.

The city is also increasing the number of school districts that have gifted programs starting in third grade, rather than kindergarten, and use criteria other than test scores for admissions. The new districts are: 9 in South Bronx, 19 in East New York and 29 in northeast Queens. Experts say those changes are likely to make admissions more fair, since test scores for incoming kindergartners are more likely to reflect advantages in their childhood — such as their parents’ ability to pay for test prep.

But advocates who see gifted programs as crucial pipeline to the city’s specialized schools — crown jewels of the high school system that are themselves highly segregated — have questioned the wisdom of waiting to enroll some students in gifted program, while others get an earlier start.

“Why deprive all gifted students of a chance at early advanced coursework?” asked a recent report by a taskforce convened by the Brooklyn and Bronx borough presidents. “Couldn’t additional services lessen the gap between ability and achievement at a young age?”

The department also released figures that show the number of students taking entrance exams for the coveted programs remained about steady, along with the number of kids who earned a qualifying score. About 28 percent of test-takers scored high enough to apply for a seat, down just one percentage point from the previous year.

Overall, city figures show that more than 32,500 children took the gifted tests this year. That is a slight decrease compared to last year, when about 35,000 were tested. Officials attribute the decline to an overall lower number of incoming kindergarteners.

Once again, more affluent districts saw a greater number of test takers. In District 32 in Bushwick, only 159 students took the exams and 23 earned a qualifying score. (There are more than 12,000 students overall in the district.) Meanwhile, District 3, which includes the Upper West Side, had almost 1,400 test-takers. Almost 600 qualified for gifted, and the district enrolls a total of almost 23,000 students.

food fight

As government shutdown drags on, New York City vows to protect school food program

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer served lunch at P.S./I.S. 180 in Harlem on the first day of the 2018-2019 school year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has warned that federal funding for school food could end in April if the government shutdown drags on.

The historic partial government shutdown could soon threaten New York City’s school food program, which serves about a million students breakfast and lunch.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is drafting plans to keep school cafeterias open if the shutdown drags on, calling food for children “the number one thing we’re going to try to address.”

“In terms of drawing on some of our reserves, that would be a priority,” he said Thursday at a press conference to discuss the impact of the longest-ever shutdown.

The federal government provides about $43 million a month to pay for school meals in New York City, and right now the city has money on hand that would last until April.

School food is lifeline for many families. About 75 percent of New York City students qualify for free or reduced price lunch — to meet that threshold, a family of three would earn about $33,000 a year, said Liz Accles, executive director of Community Food Advocates, an organization that fought to make school lunch free for all city students.

“The real threat of [the meal programs] not being available lays bare some very real suffering,” Accles said. “The impact is pretty scary to think about.”

Other school districts are already beginning to feel the effects. One North Carolina school district recently announced it would scale-down its school lunches, cutting back on fresh produce and ice cream. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, one school district is hoping to recruit furloughed workers to fill in as substitute teachers.

The shutdown has dragged into its fourth week with no resolution in sight. President Trump and Congress are at an impasse over the president’s request for $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

De Blasio’s media availability about the shutdown’s impact comes as he appears to be trying to bolster his national reputation. His State of the City speech last week focused on larger issues of income inequality and was followed up by appearances on CNN and “The View.”

De Blasio said it’s unclear whether the city would be eligible for reimbursement if it taps its own money to fund school food programs. And he warned that it would be impossible for the city to make up for all of the federal spending on programs that help poor families, which totals about $500 million a month.

“It is a dire situation, there is no other way to say it,” de Blasio said. “It will overwhelm us quickly.”

There are other ways the shutdown could be felt by students in the country’s largest school system, with funding for rental assistance and food benefits also in the balance. New York City is already struggling with a crisis in student homelessness: More than 100,000 lack permanent housing. Payments for food assistance are expected to stop in March, de Blasio said. An estimated 535,000 children under 18 years old benefit from that program.

Such out-of-school factors can have profound effects on student achievement. Cash benefits and food stamps have been linked to boosts in learning and students’ likelihood to stay in school. In New York City, the average family receives $230 in food assistance a month, according to city figures.

“The stress that the families are under, worrying about work and when they’re going to get paid, the children sense it. They hear it. They feel it,” said Mark Cannizzaro, president of the union that represents school administrators. “We see the impacts of that.”

universal choice

Denver’s window for choosing schools opens Tuesday

PHOTO: Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Sophia Camacena sits with classmates in kindergarten on the first day of school at McGlone Academy in Denver on Aug. 15, 2018.

The one-month window for Denver families to list their top school choices for next school year starts Tuesday and runs through Feb. 15.

Denver Public Schools expects to inform families of their school placement results in late March.

Denver Public Schools has a universal school choice system that allows families to use a single online form to request to attend any district-run or charter school in the city. Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run. This year, 60 of Denver’s 213 schools are charters.

While many school districts nationwide have a contentious relationship with charter schools, Denver is known for its collaboration with them, which includes the universal enrollment system. That collaboration has been the subject of criticism from parents, teachers, and community members who see the independent schools as siphoning students and resources from district-run schools.

The 93,000-student school district especially encourages families with children going into the so-called transition grades of kindergarten, sixth, and ninth grade to fill out a choice form. Families list their top five school choices, and the district uses a lottery system to assign students.

Schools can set their own enrollment priorities. Many district-run schools give high priority to students who live within their boundary and to siblings of current students, for example.

The district also has 15 “enrollment zones,” which are expanded boundaries with several schools in them. Students who live in zones are guaranteed a spot at one of the schools in the zone but not necessarily the school closest to them.

Denver has used zones as a way to increase school integration. Many neighborhoods in Denver are segregated by race and income, and the district’s reasoning is that widening boundaries provides the opportunity for a more diverse school population.

But a 2016 district analysis found that enlarging middle school boundaries had not decreased school segregation as much as district officials hoped it would.

The district also has a school integration pilot program that gives students from low-income families priority to enroll at schools that serve mostly students from affluent families. The results have been modest, and district officials are exploring ways to expand the impact.