By the numbers

How much does homelessness affect school performance? New York City aims to find out

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña with students at P.S. 15 in 2014.

Last year’s school-performance report for P.S. 15 in the Lower East Side paints a troubling picture: only 2 percent of students passed the state English exams, and 6 percent passed math.

But there is a telling number the report leaves out: 46 percent of P.S. 15 students lacked permanent housing the year before, making them more likely to miss class, earn lower test scores, and switch schools mid-year, experts say.

Now, the city is hoping to better quantify how many high-needs students each school serves — including homeless students, whose numbers are growing — and to factor that in when rating each school’s performance.

The city is planning to award a one-year, $100,000 contract to an outside research group to measure each school’s population of students who have disabilities, come from low-income families, or enroll mid-year, according to officials and an education department request for proposals. The group would compare each school’s share of high-needs students to the local average, and analyze how that affects its academic performance.

That data could then be used to adjust the city’s school-performance reports and its school-turnaround efforts, in keeping with the theory that schools should not be held accountable for their students’ performance without considering those factors.

“Based on feedback from families and educators, we hope to build on the available data and further refine our accountability metrics by looking at student mobility and other student population characteristics,” spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement.

The city’s request makes special mention of students who leave or enroll in schools during the academic year. Those students could include children who recently arrived in the country, spent time in jail, or live in temporary housing. Such students can present twin challenges for schools: they often enter with gaps in their schooling, and their mid-year arrival can disrupt their new classmates.

In addition, a large share of such students could make it difficult for a school to earn high marks for “strong family-community ties” and “trust” on the city’s new school-rating system, the request says.

The request comes as the ranks of homeless New York City students has swelled in recent years, with their numbers increasing by 25 percent from 2010 to 2013, according to a recent report by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. Today, some 84,000 school-age children in the city live in homeless shelters, in overcrowded apartments, or on the street, the report says. Those students switch schools mid-year at three times the rate of their peers in permanent housing, and they are far more likely to drop out of high school, according to the report.

“We certainly think it’s important that when you’re assessing the quality of a school, you really want to see if the kids who were tested in April are the same ones who arrived in September,” said Clara Hemphill, editor of the school-review website Insideschools, who advised the administration when it revamped the school reports last year.

The request says the contractor would begin gathering and analyzing school data next June, then produce a report by the start of the 2016-17 school year.

The city has worked to account for a school’s share of high-needs students in the past, creating “peer groups” of schools with similar characteristics. Those groups have been used to assess a school’s progress at raising its students’ test scores and graduation rates.

The de Blasio administration has signaled that it is aware of the difficulties that some schools face in serving mid-year arrivals, also called “over-the-counter” students, whom a 2013 report found were most often sent to low-performing schools. In June, Chancellor Carmen Fariña told the 94 struggling schools in the city’s new “Renewal” program that they would be sent fewer over-the-counter students this academic year.

The latest school-performance reports, to be released this fall, will also feature a new formula for calculating student economic need that relies on census data rather than students’ applications for subsidized school lunches. Aaron Pallas, a sociology and education professor at Teachers College, said the updated formula and the request for proposals are both efforts to create “more refined measures of student need.”

“It’s important both for being able to better serve individual students,” he said, “and also to do a better job of assessing the needs and capacity of a given school.”

What's Your Education Story?

Tips for teaching poetry in a women’s prison. ‘Remember, you are not allowed to hug anyone.’

PHOTO: Lwp Kommunikáció, Flickr CC
Inmates at the Indiana Women's Prison.

Adam Henze was one of seven educators who participated in a story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library on Sept. 5. Every teacher shared stories about their challenges and triumphs in Circle City classrooms.

A poet and educator, Henze read a poem about a day in his life as a poetry instructor at the Indiana Women’s Prison. Henze recounts the painful struggle to reconcile his experiences with the crimes for which his students were serving time — some life sentences for murder

It’s a story full of darkness, but it also offers hope that, as Henze said, “we are the sum of the things that we have done, but we’re also the sum of the things that we have yet to do.”

Check out the video below to hear Henze’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students and parents here.

Future of Schools

IPS students have made their high school choices. Here’s where they want to go.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

High schoolers across Indianapolis Public Schools have made their choices for next year, and some schools are proving far more popular than others.

With all but four high schools set to close, the district is already in the midst of an upheaval. Students’ choices this year could have far-reaching implications for the configuration of the district for years to come.

Shortridge High School had the greatest increase in demand, with more than triple the 400 students enrolled there now listing it as their first choice for next year. George Washington High School, which also enrolls more than 400 students now, is not likely to grow too much. And while Arsenal Technical and Crispus Attucks high schools are both likely to grow by hundreds of students, neither saw interest grow as exponentially as Shortridge.

The final enrollment at each school will determine such critical issues as how many teachers are hired, what courses are available to students, and how much it costs to operate the buildings. Ultimately, students’ choices are likely to shape course offerings over the next several years, district officials said.

The enrollment figures are the result of a district mandate requiring students from across the district to select high schools and magnet programs this fall. More than 90 percent of 8th to 11th grade students have made selections so far. All students will be placed in their top choice program, according to the IPS spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black.

Fewer than 500 IPS students have chosen programs at George Washington so far, according to district data obtained exclusively by Chalkbeat. In contrast, more than 1,300 students have selected Shortridge, which will house the arts magnet program currently at Broad Ripple and the International Baccalaureate Programme. More than 2,300 students have chosen programs at Arsenal Tech (currently the district’s largest high school with 1,826 students) and 1,050 have selected Crispus Attucks (which currently enrolls 695).

The uneven distribution of students did not take  Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration by complete surprise.

At an Indiana State Board of Education meeting on Oct. 4, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick asked, “What happens if you don’t have a nice, somewhat-even distribution? … What if it’s very out of whack?”

Ferebee said that the district will have room to accommodate students if a school proves especially popular. In the long term, he added, IPS may have to adjust, by replicating  popular programs and discontinuing unpopular ones.

But Ferebee also said the district was hoping to persuade students to take another look at some of the programs that might not be popular at first.

For instance, he said, “We do know it’s going to take some time to educate families on construction and engineering. So we knew out of the gate, not many students may be interested, so it will take some time to build a program.”

Here is a full breakdown of the schools and programs that students chose:

In total 5,142 IPS students chose their preferred programs as part of a broad reconfiguration plan that includes closing nearly half of the seven high school campuses because of low enrollment. The district has not provided projections of how many students would enroll in each high school. But if enrollment doesn’t shift in the coming months, some campuses will be far closer to capacity then others. While the initial deadline for choosing schools and programs has passed, enrollment remains open to any students who have not yet made their selection.

If no other students enrolled in IPS high schools, Shortridge would be nearly 89 percent full. Arsenal Tech and Crispus Attucks would each be over 76 percent full. And George Washington would be about 25 percent full.

At the four remaining high school campuses, the district is aiming to “reinvent” high school by vastly expanding specialized programs in subjects such as business, engineering, and the arts, which students will study alongside their core classwork.

Next year, every student will be enrolled in specialized programs within high schools. District leaders hope that students will choose schools based on their interests, rather than their neighborhood.

Principal Stan Law will take over George Washington next year. In an interview about the school last week, before IPS released student selections numbers, Law said that it was important for students and families to get accurate information so they would select schools based on student career interests rather than neighborhood.

“Everyone has their ideas about things, but only certain people have the accurate information,” he said.

The most popular programs are the health sciences academy at Crispus Attucks and the Career Technology Center at Arsenal Tech, where students can study subjects such as culinary arts, welding and fire rescue. Each attracted more than 900 students. The least popular are the teaching program at Crispus Attucks, chosen by  104 students, and the information technology program at George Washington, chosen by 80.

Despite its apparent unpopularity with IPS students, the information technology program fits in with a state push to prepare students for careers in computer science and related fields. Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative agenda calls for requiring high schools to offer computer sciences classes, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants computer science to be a high school graduation requirement.