Admissions Debate

In its push for diversity, New York City is rethinking selective admissions beyond specialized schools, Mayor de Blasio says

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Richard Carranza joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray for lunch at Katz's Deli on his first day as chancellor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that the city is planning to overhaul admissions at selective schools — not just the eight elite specialized high schools that offer admission based on a single test.

“We have a tangible specialized schools proposal,” de Blasio said during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “We’re also in the process of coming up with a series of changes around the screened schools to make sure that they continue to be great schools with a more diverse student body.”

This isn’t the first time top officials have signaled wider admissions changes could be coming. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has said selecting students based on ability — something 28 percent of the city’s schools currently do — is “antithetical” to public education.

But de Blasio’s comments represent a shift from his earlier stance on integrating schools, when he insisted that housing patterns and “400 years of American history” would keep him from putting forward aggressive integration proposals. His statements Friday suggest that Carranza has the mayor’s backing to make changes.

Using test scores, grades, and other factors to admit students to public schools has contributed to extreme academic and racial segregation. And while the de Blasio administration has said it isn’t interested in expanding screened schools, they also have not significantly overhauled selective admissions methods, which proliferated under the Bloomberg administration as a way of keeping middle class (and often white) families in the system.

De Blasio’s suggestion that more changes are coming could relieve some of criticism from advocates and local officials who have argued that the city’s plan to integrate specialized high schools doesn’t address more systemic problems. Last month, for instance, city council education committee chairman Mark Treyger said he doesn’t support the specialized high school diversity plan partly because “I’m still waiting for the bigger vision and the bigger plan.”

The mayor did not offer any details about what specific changes are under consideration and when they could be made. And it’s unclear whether there is political will for more dramatic changes (the city’s current diversity plan set goals that are expected to be met through demographic changes alone).

But de Blasio did suggest that the city will get behind more local integration efforts, including one in Brooklyn’s District 15 that would eliminate selective admissions at all of that district’s middle schools.

“We’re going to build on those rapidly,” he said.

Asked why the city has not yet approved the District 15 plan, despite Carranza saying on Tuesday that it would be approved this week, de Blasio chalked it up to the chancellor’s desire to move more quickly than city government allows. De Blasio said the plan would move forward this month.

“I think in his eagerness for change,” de Blasio noted, “he said a timeline that is a little quicker than what could actually be achieved.”

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Changing fortune

Late votes deliver a narrow win for Jeffco school bond measure

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved a $567 million bond request that will allow the school district to improve its buildings.

Jeffco Measure 5B, the bond request, initially appeared to have failed, even as voters supported Measure 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, a type of local property tax increase, by a comfortable margin. But as late votes continued to be counted between Election Day and today, the gap narrowed — and then the tally flipped.

With all ballots counted — including overseas and military ballots and ballots from voters who had to resolve signature problems — the bond measure had 50.3 percent of the vote and a comfortable 1,500 vote margin.

In 2016, Jeffco voters turned down both a mill levy override and a bond request. Current Superintendent Jason Glass, who was hired after the ballot failure, made efforts in the last year to engage community members who don’t have children in the district on the importance of school funding. This year’s bond request was even larger than the $535 million ask that voters rejected two years ago.

“We are incredibly thankful to our voters and the entire Jeffco community for supporting our schools,” Glass said in a statement. “The 5A and 5B funding will dramatically impact the learning environment for all of our students. Starting this year, we will be able to better serve our students, who in turn will better serve our communities and the world.”

The money will be used to add new classrooms and equip them, improve security at school buildings, and add career and technical education facilities.