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.