A chart in a civil rights complaint about the city's specialized high school admissions process shows the acceptance rates for students of different racial groups. (Click to enlarge.)
It seemed like a good strategy: To boost the tiny number of black and Hispanic students at the city's most elite high schools, the city this year expanded access to programs meant to prepare eighth-graders for the schools' admissions test.
But that approach is fundamentally broken, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which today filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.
"More tutoring and more test prep is not the answer," said Damon Hewitt, LDF's director of education. "We need a real paradigm shift."
The complaint calls for a new way of admitting students to the city's eight specialized high schools. The schools have long screened students by ranking their performance on a one-time exam, a practice that was written into state law in 1972 for the three schools that were then open.
But that approach has yielded student bodies that do not reflect the city's demographics — or even the demographics of the students who take the test. Last year, black and Hispanic students made up 45 percent of test-takers, but they represented only 14 percent of admitted students. At Stuyvesant High School, the most selective and least racially diverse, just 25 black and Hispanic students were offered seats.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky walked reporters through a powerpoint presentation on the city's latest test score results.
This afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg enjoyed what could be his last opportunity to point to clear gains on city test data.
The state is overhauling its testing program next year, and year-to-year comparisons favored by Bloomberg's test analysts will soon become futile.
Until then, city officials are championing the small gains almost every group of students made on this year's state tests, calling the scores a sign that some fledgling school initiatives are already working.
Breaking the test results down by race, grade level and students with disabilities, each group saw gains of one to four percentage points for the numbers of students scoring proficient on the literacy and math exams. But students of color are still performing well below their white peers, and the number of English Language Learners scoring proficient in literacy actually dropped by 1.8 percentage points.
"There is still a gap, and it is unacceptable, inexcusable and it is our responsibility to rectify it," Bloomberg told reporters this afternoon. He speculated that the ELL scores dropped because the city has begun declassifying greater numbers of ELL students who have become proficient in English.
When Principal Jonathan Foy wanted to improve college readiness for Eagle Academy's 500 male students, he added more advanced classes and staffed a college counseling office.
Atleast two Brooklyn schools have done the same, and more, in a similar quest to boost achievement: At the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice, boys can take field trips and converse with their male teachers after school through the "Young Men's Association."
And one of the educational capstones of Bedford Academy's curriclum is Perspectives in Leadership, an elective taught by the principal to help male students to think about their roles in the world.
The motivation behind each of these programs is similar, the high schools' principals say. It's the knowledge that only a small fraction of the city's black and Latino youth, particularly young men, are graduating from high school on time and ready for college.
The Brooklyn high schools are among the 80-some schools that city officials and prominent education researchers say are already making strides towards solving the decades-old problem which has received new attention with the advent of the new college readiness progress metric and the mayor's Young Men's Initiative.
Last week all three of them were awarded $10,000 by the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, a national nonprofit, for their progress addressing the educational needs of young men of color. And two of them are among the 81 schools eligible to apply for the city's Expanded Success Initiative.
The principals told GothamSchools they think one key to tackling this problem is creating single-gender spaces where young men are asked to think critically about their actions and plan for their futures.
Critics of school closures were not the only ones taking aim at the Bloomberg administration's education policies today. A Massachusetts-based education foundation declared that the city's schools systematically shortchange poor students and students of color.
Those students, who make up the vast majority of city enrollment, are less likely to attend top-performing schools as a result of educational "redlining," according to a report released today by the Schott Foundation. The foundation gives grants to education advocacy groups across the country, including New York's Alliance for Quality Education, a lobbying group formed to help win extra funds for city schools through the successful Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
The term "redlining," coined in the 1960s, refers to the practice of discriminating against people in certain neighborhoods or of certain races when deciding who should receive loans or other services. Writes New York University professor Pedro Noguera in a foreword,
While the term “redlining” might seem strong given that it implies a deliberate attempt to deny certain communities access to educational opportunities, this report will show that evidence of blatant disparities amount to Apartheid-like separations that have been accepted in New York for far too long. Rather than being angered by the language used, my hope is that readers of this report will be outraged by the fact that education in New York City is more likely to reproduce and reinforce existing patterns of inequality than to serve as a pathway to opportunity.
Using a methodology it has applied to other cities and research questions, the foundation assigned each of the city's 32 school districts an "Opportunity to Learn Index" based on how likely it is that middle school students in the district attend schools in the top quarter citywide. It found that students in districts with many black and Hispanic students had a lower chance of attending top-performing schools.
America's schools systematically fail to educate black males as well as they educate other students, according to a new report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Given Half a Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males.
If Black students did poorly in all schools, we would plausibly seek solutions to the problem of their achievement among those students themselves. The same would be the case if, in schools with majority Black enrollments, Black students did poorly and the other students did well. But in reality, Black students in good schools do well. At the same time, White, non-Hispanic students who attend schools where most of the students are Black and their graduation rates are low, also do poorly. The crisis of the education of Black males sits squarely in the middle of the crisis America faces as we work to create a world-class public education system that will support and maintain the values of a fair and equitable democratic society.
According to the report, in New York State, 39 percent of black male students graduated from high school in 2005-06, compared to 75 percent of white male students, and far more black male students performed at the Below Basic level on all sections of the NAEP tests compared to white male students. Also, as the report points out, on the eighth grade NAEP reading assessment, "virtually none reach the Advanced level." Furthermore, black males in New York State are about 5 times less likely to be placed in Gifted and Talented programs, and nearly 3 times more likely to be classified as mentally retarded.