New York

Fariña: SHSAT should count for some, not all, of specialized HS admission decisions

Chancellor Carmen Fariña during a talk at Harvard University.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told a group of Harvard students Thursday that she thinks the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test should continue to play a central, but not exclusive, role in admissions decisions to those schools.

“I do not believe in eliminating the test, at all,” Fariña said at the event, a forum hosted by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “I believe in assessments. I believe the specialized high schools have a place to play in the city.”

“I believe the percentage may not be 100 percent,” she continued. “That’s something the mayor and I have discussed. What percentage is valid? I certainly think between 60 and 70 percent for the test makes sense.”

Her comments are in line with Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s past statements in support of an admissions system that would look at criteria beyond the test, but offer new detail about what Fariña would like to see instead.

This year, just 5 percent of offers to eight of the city’s specialized high schools went to black students and 7 percent went to Hispanic students, numbers that the mayor and civil-rights advocates have said are far too low. Fariña and de Blasio endorsed a legislative effort at the state level last year that would require specialized high schools to use more than a single test as their admissions criteria, something they said could help increase diversity. (Three of the schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech — have admissions rules set by state law.)

Fariña has not put forth a proposal of her own, and department spokesman Harry Hartfield said her comments didn’t reflect a settled position from the department, which is continuing to evaluate options for increasing diversity at the schools.

A recent report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools found that replacing the Specialized High School Admissions Test altogether with other criteria like state test scores, school grades, and attendance wouldn’t significantly increase the share of black and Hispanic students offered seats. That analysis didn’t look at what what would happen to the share of black and Hispanic students if the SHSAT was used in conjunction with other measures.

At the event, Fariña repeated that the city is focused on increasing access to test-prep programs, especially DREAM, a two-year tutoring program aimed at preparing low-income students.

“I don’t want students moving into those schools who will not succeed,” Fariña said.

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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