DOE to close four more schools, including Jamaica HS

Jamaica High School, a long-beleaguered school in central Queens, is among four more schools the Department of Education today said it would phase out beginning at the end of the school year.

The other schools are the School for Community Research and Learning, a Bronx high school; the Academy for Collaborative Education, a middle school in the Bronx; and PS 332, a neighborhood K-8 school in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. All four schools have poor state test scores and problems maintaining enrollment and discipline, according to the department. They join four other schools whose proposed closures were announced yesterday.

According to the school governance law passed in August, the proposed closures must be given public hearings and approved by the city school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy. The panel has never rejected a DOE policy proposal.

At more than 1,500 students, Jamaica is the largest school the department has so far this year indicated it would close. It has jumped on and off of the state’s list of “persistently dangerous” schools, and its graduation rate has hovered below 50 percent. This year, it has more than 500 ninth-graders but fewer than 200 twelfth-graders, according to DOE enrollment data.

Back in September, Arthur Goldstein, who teaches at Francis Lewis High School, offered some recent history about Jamaica’s trials in a column on GothamSchools asking why more wasn’t being done to help Jamaica improve. He wrote:

The city labeled Jamaica a “priority” school, and then an “impact” school. Ultimately, the state labeled the school “persistently dangerous.” Under NCLB, this triggered a letter home to all Jamaica parents, offering them an opportunity to transfer their kids to another school. Understandably, the school population dropped precipitously. Was Jamaica persistently dangerous, or was it just reporting more incidents than its neighbors? …

The DoE’s position was that Jamaica needed surveillance cameras, police, and metal detectors to improve. [UFT chapter leader James] Eterno felt it would’ve benefited more from additional counselors, teachers, and social workers. But that was not to be the case.

Below are the city’s bullet-points about why it is moving to close the schools, taken from an e-mail sent to reporters by a DOE spokesman, William Havemann:

Phase-out of PS 332 (23K332):

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of PS 332 Charles H. Houston, an elementary and middle school in District 23 that currently serves students in grades K-8. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new kindergarten classes starting in September 2010.
  •  The school has earned a C grade on its annual progress report for three consecutive years.
  • Student performance at PS 332 lags behind student performance district-wide:
    • In 2008-09, 51.8% of PS 332 students were proficient in ELA, compared with 58.9% of students district-wide.
    • In 2008-09, 61.2% of PS 332 students were proficient in math, compared with 85.9% of students district-wide.
  • Demand for the school is low.
    • Only 60% of the students attending the school are zoned to the school.

Phase-out of the Academy of Collaborative Education (05M344)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the Academy of Collaborative Education (ACE), a middle school in District 5 that currently serves students in grades 6-8. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new sixth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • ACE earned a C on the 2007-2008 Progress Report and a D on the 2008-2009 Progress Report, including Fs in both the Environment and Student Progress sections.
  • There is widespread dissatisfaction with the school across all constituencies:
    • The school earned zero points out of fifteen on the Environment section of the 2008-09 Progress Report.
    • Only 44% of students feel that their teachers inspire them to learn, and only 27% of students feel safe at school.
    •  Zero percent of teachers feel that order and discipline are maintained at the school.
    • Only half of the school’s parents indicated that they were satisfied with their child’s education.
  • Safety is a serious problem at the school:
    • The school was named to the State’s list of “Persistently Dangerous” schools in August 2009, even though other schools in the same building do not experience the same level of safety incidents as ACE.
  • Student achievement at the school is consistently low:
    • In 2008-09, only 38.1% of ACE students were proficient in ELA.
    • In 2008-09, only 47.0% of ACE students were proficient in math, a more than 10 point decline from the 2007-08 in a year when most schools experienced significant gains on State math exams.

Phase-out of Jamaica High School (28Q470)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of Jamaica High School, a Queens high school that currently serves students in grades 9-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The graduation rate at Jamaica High School has stagnated below 50% for years:
    • In 2008, the graduation rate was 44.5%.
    • In 2009, the graduation rate increased slightly to 46.2%. This slight increase still leaves the school twenty points below the projected Queens average of 67%.
  • Jamaica received a C on its 2006-2007 Progress Report, a C on its 2007-2008 Progress Report, and a D on its 2008-2009 Progress Report, declining in all three sub-categories.
  • Students fall behind early in their education, and the school doesn’t successfully get these students back on track.
    • Only 46.7% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits in 2007-08.
    • In 2008-09, this figure declined, with only 44% of first-year students accumulating ten or more credits.
  • Demand for the school has increased slightly, but remains extremely low.
    • The school currently enrolls 1,527 students, and is significantly under-enrolled despite the presence of severely overcrowded high schools elsewhere in Queens.

Phase-out of School for Community Research and Learning (08X540):

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the School for Community Research and Learning, a high school in the Bronx that currently serves students in grades 9-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The school graduates fewer than half of its students:
    • In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 47.3%.
    • In 2008-09, the graduation rate was 43.9%.
  • The school received a C on its 2006-2007 Progress Report, a B on its 2007-2008 Progress Report, and the lowest possible C on its 2008-09 Progress Report — with a D in both the Progress and Performance sections.
  • Students fall behind early in their education and the school doesn’t successfully get these students back on track:
    • In 2007-08, 48.9% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits.
  • In 2008-09, 53.1% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits.

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”