tough choices

One challenge for city high schools: The process to get in

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Image courtesy of the ##http://www.newschool.edu/milano/nycaffairs/##Center for New York City Affairs##

The city’s complicated high school application process makes low-income and non-English-speaking students more likely to wind up in low-performing schools, some advocates and researchers say.

To get into high school, New York City students must navigate a labyrinthine application process that can stump even the savviest parent. The Center for New York City Affairs illustrated the process with a flow chart in its recent report about small schools.

The report found that a disproportionate number of the city’s neediest students continue to wind up in large, lower-performing high schools, even as the number of small schools has increased. Their concentration has in turn caused the large schools to struggle even more, the report concluded.

The city’s primary source of information intended to help families maneuver though the process is its annual directory of all 500-odd high schools. This year’s 640-page directory is being distributed to seventh graders before the end of the week, with one major change: Now, schools’ progress report grades and quality review ratings are included. Before last year, each school’s page included its 4-year graduation rate and its math and English Regents exam passing rates. Last year’s directory included no performance data at all.

The new data is more robust than what the directory included before, according to a department spokesman, Andrew Jacob. That’s because the progress report grades take into account graduation rates and Regents pass rates as well as other performance data, Jacob said. The reports have been criticized for being difficult to understand and not statistically sound, although their critics have said the high school metrics are more reliable.

Flimsy high school information can lead to bad choices, especially for 13-year-olds who are navigating the application process largely on their own, according to panelists speaking last week at discussion about the small schools report.

One problem is that when schools advertise, they don’t always share the complete or most accurate picture, said New York University professor Pedro Noguera.

Another problem, he said, is that middle school guidance counselors often do not have the resources they need to help students make good decisions.

Steven Duch, the principal of Hillcrest High School in Queens, agreed, saying the sheer number of high schools, combined with guidance counselors’ workloads, means the counselors have little more information than students can find in the directory. “They don’t know what the high schools look like,” he said. “They haven’t visited, they dont have information at their fingertips. They probably dont have the data.”

(One place where counselors could find a lot of this information is on Insideschools.org, the Web site that provides school reviews written by trained reporters along with comments from parents, teachers, and students. But Insideschools is set to close up shop next week unless it secures substantial new funding. I used to work at Insideschools.)

High school choice has been a mixed bag for the city’s neediest students, panelists said. “You have to have the resources to access the choice,” said Noguera.

“On the other hand, no choice meant Thomas Jefferson for all of the kids in East New York,” responded Clara Hemphill, the panel’s moderator and the lead author of the report. She was referring to the large high school in Brooklyn that the city closed in 2007 because of its poor performance.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”

D.C.

What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said