study says...

Report illustrates disparities in over-the-counter enrollment

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Percentages of over the counter students at schools that began phasing out in 2011

Students who enter city high schools outside of the regular admissions process are disproportionately sent to struggling schools, according to a new analysis of Department of Education data—something advocates for those schools have long asserted.

The statistics also illustrate how differently seats are filled in high schools across the city. At the High School for Telecommunication Arts and Technology in 2011, only 7 percent of students were enrolled “over the counter,” meaning they were assigned some time after the traditional high school choice process. At Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology, which the city has tried to close, 26 percent of students were enrolled over the counter that year.

Christopher Columbus High School, which is closing at the end of this year, had some of the highest rates in the city. Over-the-counter enrollments made up 39 percent of the school’s total in 2008, and the pace continued as the school began phasing out, with 37 percent over-the-counter enrollment in 2011.

“That is the reason we’re closing, absolutely,” Columbus principal Lisa Fuentes said. “It’s extremely challenging students—not that they’re bad students, they just have so many different challenges. Behavioral challenges, extreme academic challenges. We just couldn’t handle it.”

When potential high school students arrive in the city after the choice process is over, they head to an enrollment office where they are assigned to a school. The report by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform used Department of Education statistics that showed how many of those students were assigned to individual high schools between 2008 and 2011.

According to the Department of Education, those officials look to academic interests, programs available, and parent preferences when placing students. But the process is largely about what schools have space and available seats, and reflects the enrollment policies assigned to each school—which means small schools with capped enrollment, screened schools with admissions requirements, and very popular schools enroll few latecomers.

The report also shows a correlation between low test scores of the students who enter a school during the traditional enrollment process and high over-the-counter enrollment, especially in large high schools, as well as high over-the-counter enrollment numbers at many schools slated for closure.

“That system means some high schools become warehouses for students who have special needs or are ELLs,” said Mary Conway-Spiegel, an advocate who was worked with Columbus High School and other closing schools. “If you look at any schools that are closed or are in midst of closing, you’ll find OTC enrollment throughout the year is probably one of the top reasons. I have yet to see any type of authentic acknowledgment of that.”

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The number of over the counter students at large high schools compared to the English scores of their other incoming students

State Education Commissioner John King has consistently voiced concerns that the city has concentrated high-needs students in some schools without providing them with adequate support, including at the beginning of this school year. In 2011, the city began sending over-the-counter students to schools that wouldn’t otherwise have taken in any students midyear, though city officials said that was not related to King’s concerns.

Department of Education officials said they do not steer students to low-performing schools.

“We are a system of 1.1 million students across 1,819 schools, and schools most in demand during our high school admissions process tend to have the fewest seats available for students who enroll on the first day or midyear,” spokesman Devon Puglia said. “We make seats at high performing schools available for these students and make every effort to place them in the best schools possible.”

“Over the last decade, we’ve created new school options specifically for this student population – be it through International schools, transfer schools, dual language programs, and programs developed to effectively serve high-need students. Further, last year, every single non-specialized high school enrolled students over-the-counter. The report ignores the fact that many parents exercise choice in the over the counter process and opt for their zoned or local school,” Puglia said.

The report acknowledges that there isn’t a clear-cut profile of over-the-counter students, which include students who move to the city from other districts and aren’t all high-needs. But that population includes students who have moved to New York City from other countries and students who didn’t participate in the high school choice process because of incarceration or instability from homelessness.

Not all of the schools with the highest over-the-counter enrollment are large zoned or unscreened schools—many are designed for students learning English or were new, small schools in their first years. But any school taking in high numbers of over-the-counter students faces challenges providing necessary services for students they didn’t plan for, as well as the day-to-day instability that comes from fluctuating enrollment numbers.

Neil Dorosin, who designed New York City’s high school choice process and oversaw high school enrollment between 2004 and 2007said that deciding how to assign students who enter the system after the traditional process is a universal problem for districts with choice-based systems.

When some schools are popular enough to fill all of their seats during the choice process, assigning all of those seats is unpopular with some and saving some of them for students who haven’t even moved to New York yet is unpopular with others, he added.

“Cities have to make the following decision: Am I going to do something to intervene so that my most popular schools have some room left for kids who are hypothetical, or am I going to do nothing and let my most popular schools fill and let those who are hypothetical choose from whatever’s left?” Dorosin said. “There’s no easy win here. You can’t make everybody happy.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the report validated the union’s longstanding argument that the city set certain schools up to fail before phasing them out. “Now we have definite proof, and I think we should call for an investigation,” he said.

For schools receiving high numbers of over-the-counter students, questions remain about how to serve them best. At the Academy for Scholarship and Entrepreneurship in the Bronx, a meeting is scheduled for the end of October for parents to explain the issue.

“As an un-screened choice high school A.S. E., is mandated to take all new comers,” the announcement says. “Yet how will this consistently improving school continue to successfully educate this population while facing various challenges; the inability to cap enrollment, overcrowded classrooms, brand new Common Core requirements, budget cuts and other limitations beyond the schools control?”

To and Through

Newark’s post-grad paradox: More students are entering college, but few earn degrees

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wants 25 percent of residents to have college degrees by 2025, up from 19 percent today.

When it comes to college, Newark faces a good news-bad news paradox.

More students than ever are graduating high school and enrolling in college, according to a new report. Yet fewer than one in four Newark students earns a college degree within six years of graduating high school — leaving many with limited job prospects in a city where an estimated one-third of jobs require a four-year college degree.

Now, city officials are promising to build on the report. They want to ramp up the rigor of high-school classes and create more early-college programs to increase the odds of students entering college and leaving with a degree.  

“How do we teach our children to perform — to graduate?” Mayor Ras Baraka asked at a press conference Wednesday to mark the official release of the report of Newark students’ college outcomes. “We got them in the door,” he said of students who attend college. “Now how do we make them stay?”

The city’s plans, to which Superintendent Roger León is lending his support, reflect a growing recognition that simply getting students into college is not sufficient — and can even backfire if they drop out before graduation, leaving them with college debt but no degree.

Until recently, the charge given to high schools in Newark and across the country was to foster “college-going cultures.” And these efforts showed promising results: On average, 51 percent of Newark Public School students who graduated high school between 2011 and 2016 immediately enrolled in college, up from 39 percent who did so between 2004 and 2010, according to the report by the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, or NCLC, and Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.

But entering college didn’t guarantee its completion. Of those students who started college straight after high school, only 39 percent earned a degree within six years, the report found.

As a result, educators and policymakers have begun to think harder about how to help students “to and through” college — to ensure they actually earn degrees. Toward that end, Baraka and the NCLC — which includes roughly 40 colleges, schools, nonprofits, and corporations — has set a goal of 25 percent of Newark residents earning college degrees or comparable credentials by 2025.

Today, just 19 percent of Newark adults have associate degrees or higher — compared to 45 percent of adults across New Jersey and 40 percent nationally.

Superintendent León, who began overseeing the city’s schools on July 1, said his main strategy for supporting these efforts will be to expose students to challenging work early on.

“If we don’t do something dramatically in classrooms to improve instruction and make it rigorous,” León said after Wednesday’s event, then students are “getting into college but they’re not completing it.”

Source: “Post-Secondary Outcomes of Newark High School Graduates (2011-2016)” report. Note: The four-year rate is an average of the classes of 2011 to 2013. The six-year rate is from the class of 2011. Graphic: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

For starters, León said he wants high schools to offer more college-level classes. In the 2016-17 school year, just 21 percent of Newark students were enrolled in one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — compared to 42 percent of students statewide.

He also vowed to raise the quality of instruction in the district’s traditional high schools. Only 14 percent of their graduates earn college degrees within six years, compared to 42 percent of graduates from the city’s selective magnet schools, the report found.

To do that, León said he will create specialized academies within the traditional schools modeled on the magnets, which have specialized themes such as science, technology, or the arts. The academies, which will partner with colleges, will most likely feature admissions criteria similar to those of magnet schools, which select students based on their academic and attendance records, León added.

And, for the first time, all ninth-grade students this academic year will take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, León said Wednesday. An additional 1,100 eighth-graders who passed at least one of their seventh-grade PARCC exams will also take the PSAT when it’s administered on Oct. 10.

Since 2016, the district has provided the PSAT to all 10th and 11th-grade students. But León said that giving the test to younger students will focus their attention on college and help identity those who are ready for advanced classes. The PSAT is designed to help students prepare for the SAT, which is used in college admissions, and to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

The district, which was under state control for 22 years until February, is getting some assistance in its effort to improve students’ college outcomes.

For instance, KIPP, the national charter-school network with eight schools in Newark, is sharing its strategies for helping students choose the right college with guidance counselors at three district high schools.

And the higher-education institutions in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, including Essex County College and Rutgers University-Newark, plan to create more “dual-enrollment” programs that allow high-school students to earn college credits, said NCLC Executive Director Reginald Lewis.

“We’re all going to do a better job,” Lewis said, “of making sure that once Newark residents get in our doors, that we help them persist.”

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”