study says...

New report challenges de Blasio’s strategy for upping diversity in specialized HSs

Students take an AP exam at Bronx Science, one of New York City's specialized high schools.

Replacing the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test wouldn’t significantly increase the diversity of the eight sought-after schools that use it, and could exclude even more black students, according to a new report.

The report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools challenges the rationale behind Mayor Bill de Blasio’s interest in replacing the exam with a broader set of admissions criteria as a way to increase the share of black and Hispanic students at the specialized high schools. In 2014, just 11 percent of the offers to those schools went to black and Hispanic students, though they made up about 70 percent of the city’s eighth graders.

“Maybe it was naive, but I thought if you switched to more holistic measures, it would diversify the admissions pool considerably,” said Sean Corcoran, a New York University researcher who co-wrote the report. “It turns out that students disproportionately offered admission to specialized high schools are the same students who get high scores on the state tests and get high grades.”

Supporters of the current admissions system have long pointed out that many of the city’s screened high schools, which look at factors like attendance and school grades when making admissions decisions, have a higher percentage of white students than the specialized schools. But there has been little information available about what would happen if Bronx Science, for example, switched to a similar system.

To find out, the researchers simulated admissions scenarios with varying combinations of state scores, school grades, and attendance criteria using Department of Education data from 2005 to 2013. Using those criteria instead of the test, the researchers found, would tip the scales in favor of girls, who made up just 42 percent of students in the specialized high schools in 2013-14. Nixing the test would also increase the share of white students and Hispanic students admitted, reduce the share of Asian students, and in some cases reduce the share of black students, too.

They also found that a little more than half of the students admitted under those rules were the same students admitted using the SHSAT, “suggesting there is considerable overlap in students who would be admitted under different rules.”

“While there are some changes under these new methods, it’s not that earth-shattering,” Corcoran said.

If the criteria were to change, though, many students would probably also change their behavior and focus their efforts on grades or attendance, something their findings can’t account for, the researchers note. Their simulations also don’t account for qualitative factors like essays that could be a part of a revamped admissions system.

Still, the findings are clear enough to become a potential roadblock for the de Blasio administration’s effort to push admissions-policy changes. Even discussions of changes have provoked protests from a number of alumni groups and alarmed elected officials who represent neighborhoods with high proportions of Asian students. Meanwhile, state legislation addressing the issue — which would be necessary to change the admissions policies at three of the eight schools — has languished for years.

Just 6 percent of eighth graders who go through the high school admissions process get an offer from a specialized school, but those schools take up a disproportionate amount of the debate about admissions and enrollment because of the long records of schools like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech of preparing students for success. If the central argument for eliminating the test turns out to be less than clear, support for sweeping changes could erode further.

“Today’s report highlights some significant challenges, but we remain committed to achieving our goal of having specialized high schools reflect the great diversity of our City,” department spokesman Harry Hartfield said in a statement.

Still, the report notes that there are other ways the city could help black and Hispanic students, girls, and members of other underrepresented groups claim more seats. Among students who scored equally high on state tests in seventh grade, students eligible for free lunch, girls, and Latino students are less likely to take the specialized high school test at all. And once they earn a seat at one of the schools, girls are 11 percentage points less likely to accept it.

Those numbers show that programs to encourage high achievers to prepare for and take the test could have a positive effect.

Hartfield said the city is continuing to analyze the data and expand access to free test prep. In December, officials told City Council members that they are asking all middle school guidance counselors to push the top 15 percent of their students to sign up for the SHSAT.

“We cannot have a dynamic where some of our greatest educational options are only available to people from certain backgrounds,” de Blasio said last year.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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