Taking Stock

City took steps to boost academic diversity in 2015, new report shows

The city quietly took steps to diversify dozens of middle and high schools last year, according to an education department report released Wednesday.

The department stopped most middle schools in three districts from screening applicants based on their academic records, and allowed 51 low-performing middle schools to recruit students from beyond their normal catchment areas, the report said. The department also added 20 new “educational option” high school programs designed to enroll students at different academic levels, according to the report, which listed several efforts to boost student diversity across the system that had not previously been announced.

In an email, David Tipson, executive director of the school-diversity advocacy group, New York Appleseed, singled out the increase in educational option schools as a “significant achievement” that “reverses the trend under the previous administration.”

The new report, he added, will “inform and elevate an important debate about the role of public policy in fostering school diversity.”

The report is a requirement of the School Diversity Accountability Act, a local law signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in June, which followed a headline-grabbing 2014 study that said New York City has one of the nation’s most segregated school systems.

The tendency of students to attend separate schools based on their race and class gained renewed attention in 2015, thanks to media coverage, grassroots integration efforts, and flare-ups over school zones. But many of the city’s efforts to boost school diversity focus on potential proxies for race and class — such as students’ home language or their academic performance — and on disabilities.

For instance, the “ed opt” high schools admit a certain percentage of students with above-average, average, and below-average academic skill levels in an attempt to develop a diverse population. In contrast, many of the city’s most sought-after high schools only accept applicants with strong academic records. With the new additions, 146 of the city’s roughly 700 high school programs now use the ed-opt admissions system.

The districts that will mostly do away with academic screening at middle schools beginning next fall are District 7 in the Bronx and Districts 16 and 22 in Brooklyn, according to the report.

The 51 middle schools that can now recruit students from throughout their entire boroughs, not just their local zones or districts, are part of the city’s “Renewal” program for struggling schools. It’s unclear whether that policy, which is meant to address the very low enrollment at those schools, will be enough to draw in new students — much less a mix of students from different backgrounds.

To promote linguistic and perhaps ethnic diversity, the city added new dual-language programs this year that mix together native and non-native English speakers. It also began publishing admissions materials in multiple languages and calling Spanish-speaking families to encourage them to enroll their children in school.

The report also said the city launched a new pilot program this fall that set up support centers for homeless students during certain high school admissions fairs. Individual eighth-graders who live in temporary housing were invited to visit the support centers during the fairs to receive personal counseling, according to the report.

The integration of students with special needs into classes with non-disabled peers continued to be a focus.

The city expanded a program that mixes together students with and without autism, and added new bilingual special education classes. It also gave schools enrollment targets for students with disabilities, though the report does not indicate what share of schools hit those targets.

Some of the new initiatives are designed to spur socioeconomic diversity. Most notably, the city will allow seven elementary schools to pilot admissions policies where they reserve a portion of seats for low-income students or English learners.

It also was awarded the first portion of what could amount to $10 million in new state grants this year intended to revamp low-performing schools partly by filling them with more higher-income students. The city is planning to do that by adding enrichment programs at eight target schools. However, some experts have questioned the city’s plans, saying they fall far short of real integration efforts.

The report also lists enrollment data for every district and school, including the share of students who have disabilities, live in shelters, qualify for subsidized lunches, and who are still learning English. It also tallies the racial breakdown of each school and how its students performed on state tests. Most, if not all, of that data was already publicly available — but now it is compiled into a single document that may make it easier to compare schools and spot trends.

Education department spokesman Harry Hartfield said there is “no single solution” to the lack of diversity at many of the city’s schools, but that the agency would continuing working with lawmakers, educators, and families “to foster more ideas on how to create diverse schools.”

City Councilman Brad Lander, who co-sponsored the diversity bill, said in an interview before the report was released that this first installment would serve as a baseline to measure the city’s progress over time.

“We know we have segregated schools,” he said. “It’s going to show us that in fine-grained detail.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”