annals of transparency

De Blasio signs law requiring new school diversity reports

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen FariƱa is set to step down within the next few weeks.

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill into law Tuesday that will require the city to release more detailed information every year about the diversity of its schools.

The law, known as the School Diversity Accountability Act, will require the city to release demographic data related to individual grade levels and programs within schools, including gifted and talented and dual-language programs. The law will also require the city to account for any steps it takes to advance diversity in schools and programs citywide.

“This is a step further in our efforts to ensure that our schools are as diverse as our city and people of all communities live, learn, work together,” de Blasio said.

The law, originally sponsored by Brooklyn Council member Brad Lander, came months after the education department reported familiar disparities in offers to gifted and talented programs and the city’s specialized high schools, and a widely publicized 2014 report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA said the city’s schools are among the most segregated in the nation.

The new annual reports will include what percentage of students within each grade or program at a city school receive special education services and qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Elementary and middle schools must also provide percentages of students who are English language learners, reside in temporary housing, and are attending a school outside of their home district by individual grade.

The city will also be required to report the number of latecomer students enrolled at each high school outside of the traditional admissions process. Those “over-the-counter” students often pose extra challenges and have traditionally been clustered at low-performing high schools, and reporters have had to formally request data on their enrollment in the past.

The city will also have to provide demographic breakdowns of its pre-kindergarten programs by race, ethnicity, and gender. The diversity of the city’s pre-K programs, which have seen a rapid expansion under the de Blasio administration, has earned fresh scrutiny in recent weeks. In a May report, researcher Halley Potter said the city’s pre-K admissions policies do not encourage significant integration and recommended that the education department collect data to track and encourage diversity.

“It’s a really important first step,” Potter said of the transparency bill last month. “Particularly in schools in neighborhoods with shifting demographics, the schoolwide, overall racial and socioeconomic balance can look really different than one particular grade.”

The education department will also have to report any other criteria being used for high school admissions decisions, including waitlists and “principal discretion.” In 2013, the education department promised to increase monitoring of admissions practices after an audit by former Comptroller John Liu found some selective schools straying from selection criteria published in the high schools directory.

The education department’s first report is due to the Council by the end of the calendar year.

farewell

Head of Denver Preschool Program resigning after more than five years

PHOTO: Eric Lutzens/Denver Post
Jennifer Landrum, president and CEO of the Denver Preschool Program

Jennifer Landrum, who oversaw the Denver Preschool Program for the last five and a half years, announced Friday that she’s leaving for personal reasons.

During Landrum’s tenure, Denver voters increased the sales tax that supports the program, allowing it to cover summer tuition costs and serve more children, and extended it through 2026. Landrum also oversaw the redesign of the tuition credit scale, expanded scholarships and awards for teachers and directors to better support quality improvement efforts, and developed a new strategic plan.

Landrum said she was leaving not for a new job but to take care of herself and her family after experiencing “extreme loss.”

“I need time to pause, reflect and recharge,” she wrote in an email to supporters of the program.

The Denver Preschool Program provides tuition subsidies that scale according to family income and preschool quality for students in the year before they enter kindergarten. The largest subsidies go to the poorest families enrolled in the best preschools. The program also supports quality improvement efforts, including for younger students, part of a broader shift in focus in the early childhood sector. It is funded by a voter-approved 0.15 percent sales tax and has become a model for communities around the state.

“Jennifer has served with vision, boldness, and a constant and deep commitment to improving the lives of Denver’s young children and supporting Denver families,” preschool program board chair Chris Watney wrote in an email. “The board, staff, and community are going to miss her in this role. The board of directors firmly supports Jennifer’s decision and wishes her all the best.”

Deputy Director Ellen Braun will serve as the interim director while the board conducts a search process for a new leader this spring.

Deadlines

Chicago school applications are due midnight Friday. Here’s your last-minute cheat sheet.

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff
At a fall open house, students at Benito Juarez Community Academy greeted visitors. As more students choose schools outside their neighborhood, schools have to work harder to impress families.

Families have until 11:59 pm Friday to apply to schools outside of their neighborhood through Chicago’s online portal, GoCPS.

On Thursday afternoon, wait times stretched nearly 10 minutes for callers to the Office of Access and Enrollment, which serves as a help-desk for GoCPS.

Families interested in options beyond their assigned neighborhood school must apply to attend magnet schools that draw students based on lottery, selective enrollment programs that require tests, and specialized programs such as dual-language or International Baccalaureate.

The application process is particularly fraught for students entering high school. Eighth-graders can choose from among 250 programs in nearly 150 high schools. Demand varies widely, with some schools receiving thousands of applications beyond what they can accommodate and others receiving too few.

While choosing a high school is serious business for students, their collective choices can become a do-or-die point for schools competing for a shrinking pool of students. The dozens of Chicago high schools labeled as under-enrolled risk falling into an unforgiving downward cycle. Schools losing enrollment also lose district revenue, which is doled out per student, and then they find it even more difficult to offer popular programs to appeal to applicants.  

Here’s some of our other coverage on the universal application system, which is now in its second year:

  • To see how many students applied to each high school last fall and compare it to the number of offers made this spring, click here.
  • To read how the race to impress students is leading high schools to behave more like small colleges, with swag bags, mariachi bands, and flashy brochures, click here.
  • To find our coverage of the first in-depth research report that evaluated the GoCPS system, click here. The system is mostly working as intended, according to an August report released by the University of Chicago Consortium of School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The majority of high school students who used GoCPS ultimately got one of their top three choices. But the study also disclosed problems that the district now faces: There are too many empty seats in high schools.
  • To follow-along in the discussion about high-quality neighborhood options, read this story about a recent meeting at Kelly High School, which we covered here.
  • To learn more about a controversial school inventory report made public in August that shows that fewer than half of Chicago students attend their designated neighborhood school, click here.
  • To look up the latest round of SAT scores by school, click here. To find our database of high school graduation rates, click here.