acceptance day

‘Did you get in?’ High school offer letters bring smiles, a few tears to Bronx classrooms

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Eighth-grade students at M.S. 244 in the Bronx receive their high school admission letters.

Anticipation held eighth-graders at the edges of their seats at The New School for Leadership and Journalism in the Bronx on Friday afternoon.

The roughly 300 students, along with more than 76,000 of their peers across New York City, were seconds away from opening up their high school acceptance letters, informing them where they would spend the next four years. (See Chalkbeat’s guide to high school admissions debates.)

“I can’t do this,” shouted a boy at the back of the room, shaking as he clenched the white envelope in his hands.

After the school’s principal and guidance counselor finished passing out all of the letters, they signaled to the class to open them simultaneously. A clamor of shouts, cheers and sobs erupted across the room. Some students sprang up in excitement, while others sank into their desks in dismay.

Chalkbeat spoke with students at the school, also known as M.S. 244, about their high school offers as they were still reeling from the news.

Mariam Djaballah (left), an eighth-grader at M.S. 244, reacts to being admitted into the Beacon School.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Mariam Djaballah (left), an eighth-grader at M.S. 244, reacts to being admitted into the Beacon School.

Mariam Djaballah
First choice: The Beacon School
Accepted into: The Beacon School

Miriam Djaballah started crying immediately after opening her letter Friday afternoon. With hands covering her face, she appeared extremely disappointed. But Djaballah was simply overcome with emotion after winning a spot at one of the city’s most selective high schools.

“I am shocked. I am so happy,” Djaballah said. “This is a dream come true… Getting into Beacon really proves to me that hard work pays off, and I am so happy that my future is planned out right now.”

“Getting into a successful high school means that I’m that much closer to accomplishing my dreams,” she added. “It all starts now.”

Kevin Hilario (right) was comforted by friends and teachers after not getting into Talent Unlimited.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Kevin Hilario was upset after not getting into Talent Unlimited.

Kevin Hilario
First choice: Talent Unlimited
Accepted into: Celia Cruz High School

After opening his letter, Kevin Hilario stood at the back of the room with his arms crossed and his eyes fixed on the ground.

“I am feeling upset and disappointed right now,” Hilario said. “I was hoping to get into Talent Unlimited.”

In his audition for the performing arts school back in December, Hilario drew from his studies in music theory and hoped that Talent Unlimited would be the place where he would hone his skills.

“Not getting accepted makes me feel like there’s something I could’ve done better,” he said, adding that he plans to re-audition for Talent Unlimited in the fall.

Kadijah Belcher (right), hugs her friend after finding out she was admitted into LaGuardia High School.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Kadijah Belcher (right), hugs her friend after finding out she was admitted into LaGuardia High School.

Kadijah Belcher
First choice: Frank Sinatra School of the Arts
Accepted into: LaGuardia High School (specialized) and Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts

“For the whole week I couldn’t sleep,” Kadijah Belcher said, adding that she even considered not coming to school on Friday. “The whole day, I was like — this is the day that I find out if I’m a failure or if I pass.”

Belcher said she was shocked by her acceptance to highly competitive LaGuardia High School because she had felt that her singing audition had not gone well, so she had ruled it out as a possibility.

“It was so surprising,” she said. “One of my closest friends also got into LaGuardia… I’ve got a few of my buddies.”

Erika Corniel found out she was not admitted into any public high schools during the first round of applications.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Erika Corniel found out she was not admitted into any public high schools during the first round of applications.

Erika Corniel 
First choice: Fashion Industries High School
Accepted into: No schools (second round applicant)

Along with 25 other eighth-graders at M.S. 244, Erika Corniel was pulled out of her first period class on Friday and told by the school’s guidance counselor and principal that she wasn’t accepted into any of the school she listed on her application.

“My mom is going to be so disappointed. She already has so much on her plate,” Corniel said as she planned out how she would break the news at home.

When Corniel went through the application process, she said she ranked her choices based on her interests in fashion, dance and forensic law. Corniel said she hopes to keep her grades up for the rest of the school year to get into a good school during the second round.

“This marking period, I’m trying to get more than an 80 in all of my classes so I can get into the schools that I wanted to,” she said.

Bernie Urena is comforted by students and one of his teachers at M.S. 244.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Bernie Urena is comforted by students and one of his teachers at M.S. 244.

Bernie Urena
First choice: Frank Sinatra High School
Accepted into: Pelham Lab High School

“I got into my third pick, and I have mixed feelings,” Urena said. “When I first opened up my letter I was upset because I wanted to get into Frank Sinatra.”

Urena said he was drawn to the band program at Frank Sinatra High School, where he hoped he could grow as a bass guitarist. But after talking to his teachers, Urena began to imagine some new possibilities at Pelham Lab High School.

“I’m feeling happy about getting into Pelham Lab now. My counselors and teachers are telling me it’s a good school,” he said, adding he was surprised to be accepted there because he didn’t think his grades were good enough.

Naylean Miranda was accepted into Fashion Industries High School.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Naylean Miranda was accepted into Fashion Industries High School.

Naylean Miranda
First Choice School: Fashion Industries High School
Accepted into: Fashion Industries High School

“I’m feeling emotional right now because I got into the school of my dreams,” Naylean Miranda said. “I worked really hard to get here.”

As part of her application, Miranda submitted a fashion portfolio that included images of mannequins dressed in her designs and was also interviewed by the school.

“Fashion is very personal for me, and I’m glad I have the chance to continue with it,” she said.

Di’Anna Bonomolo and Ahmed Hassan react to getting into their top choice specialized high schools.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Di’Anna Bonomolo and Ahmed Hassan react to getting into their top choice specialized high schools.

Ahmed Hassan
First choice: Bronx High School of Science (specialized) and Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering
Accepted into: Bronx High School of Science (specialized) and Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering

When Ahmed Hassan’s older brother wasn’t admitted into Bronx Science, he said it pushed him even harder to aim for one of New York City’s most elite public high schools.

“He actually is the one who helped me the most,” Hassan said. He wasted most of his summer helping me prepare for the exam” — the Specialized High School Admissions Test.

“I’m feeling very happy right now, very excited,” he said. “I really want to show this to my brother,” he added, holding his acceptance letter.

disintegration

In most U.S. cities, neighborhoods have grown more integrated. Their schools haven’t.

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Sold signs can be seen on many of the homes in Stapleton on August 1, 2018, in Denver, Colorado.

Between 1990 and 2015, Seattle’s neighborhoods saw a notable decline in racial segregation.

It would make sense, then, to think that the city’s public schools had also become more integrated. Not so.

In fact, they were headed in the opposite direction. In 1990, only 3 percent of schools were intensely segregated — that is, at least 90 percent of students were nonwhite — but by 2015, that number had spiked to 17 percent.

That’s not entirely surprising. During that time, a high-profile Supreme Court case made it more difficult for Seattle to integrate its schools by race. But new research looking at America’s 100 largest cities shows that the diverging trends in Seattle — neighborhoods growing more diverse, as their schools grow more segregated — is not an anomaly.

The analysis finds that, between 1990 and 2015, 72 percent of U.S. cities saw their neighborhoods grow less racially segregated, by one measure. Sixty-two percent saw their schools grow more segregated over that same period.

“There is this incredibly striking trend,” said Ryan Coughlan, a professor at Guttman Community College, CUNY, who conducted the research. “It raises all kinds of alarm bells and questions as to what that’s about.”

Most cities did not see schools segregate as much as Seattle did. And 27 cities, like Durham, North Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee, saw both their schools and neighborhoods grow less segregated in concert over that 25-year period. But overall, the study finds that integrating neighborhoods didn’t predict integrating schools in those same cities.

The analysis has significant limits, particularly when looking at single cities. It uses one of several possible ways to measure segregation: the degree to which the racial breakdown of students in individual schools or neighborhoods mirror the demographics of the rest of the district or city. In most cases, charter schools are not included. That makes the data less useful in places like Detroit, where charters now enroll half the city’s students.

The big-picture trend matters, though. More integrated schools have long been shown to improve academic outcomes for low-income students and students of color. Living in a more integrated neighborhood has also been linked to long-run benefits for younger kids.

“Because of the connections between integration and educational opportunities, the dramatic increase in school segregation alongside the decrease in neighborhood segregation requires the immediate attention of school leaders, policymakers, and the public as a whole,” Coughlan wrote.

What’s behind those trends?

The analysis, published last month in the peer-reviewed Peabody Journal of Education, can’t say why that’s happening. The end of many legal desegregation orders during that time likely played a role. Coughlan also hypothesizes that the rapid increase in school choice, through charter schools and other means, had something to with it.

“These are 100 different urban areas with very different circumstances,” Coughlan said.

The paper’s starting point is 1990, before the first charter school law passed in the U.S. Since then, school choice has rapidly grown, through charters and other means.

In Seattle, though, charter schools are almost certainly not the cause of its increase in school segregation, since the city has very few.

Another city that saw a major spike in school segregation along with a modest decline in neighborhood segregation is Charlotte. Like Seattle, it’s seen a resegregation of schools in the wake of high-profile court cases.

Charlotte also has a number of charter schools; there and elsewhere in North Carolina, other research has found that charters have likely exacerbated segregation. (Coughlan’s Charlotte data does not include charter schools.) Nationally, research has shown that charters either exacerbate school segregation or have no effect on it.

“The broader literature at this point I think shows that charter schools do not integrate schools,” said Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California who studies segregation.

Other research has shown that the existence of different school options can promote neighborhood integration (also described as gentrification). That could help explain Coughlan’s results, with a family’s ability to opt out of a neighborhood school encouraging their move to a neighborhood they wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

The disconnect between housing and schooling trends has important implications. For one, it means that divided neighborhoods shouldn’t be used as an excuse to do nothing about divided schools, said Tomas Monarrez, a researcher at the Urban Institute who has studied school boundaries.

“Neighborhood segregation is the result of a long, long history of discriminatory policies both on the part of private agents and the federal government,” he said. “School systems have gotten to ride that and say segregation’s not our fault.”

Instead, he argued, school leaders should be taking affirmative steps to integrate schools, and recognize that they may have to continually adjust their policies. “School attendance boundaries don’t have to replicate neighborhood segregation,” Monarrez said. “You can gerrymander school attendance boundaries to decrease it.”

City-by-city data

You can look up how residential and school segregation changed in your city from 1990 to 2015 below. Keep in mind that a city and its corresponding school district do not always overlap perfectly — the school data for Indianapolis, for example, includes just the Indianapolis Public Schools, the city’s central district but one of 11 districts in the city.

Segregation, here, means the degree to which the demographics of students in individual schools mirror the rest of the city’s public school students. This captures whether different groups of students are spread evenly across schools in a city, but it doesn’t say much about cities where virtually all students are students of color. Most segregation occurs between rather than within school districts.

Source: “Divergent Trends in Neighborhood and School Segregation in the Age of School Choice,” Peabody Journal of Education.

counterpoint

Some Asian American groups have backed the SHSAT, but this one says the exam should go

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Stuyvesant High School is one of the city's most sought-after specialized high schools.

In the fight to integrate New York City’s coveted specialized high schools, one source of opposition has stood out.

Asian parents and alumni have waved signs at City Hall, heckled education leaders at town halls, and marched in protest of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the test that serves as the sole entrance criteria for the elite schools.

That’s why it’s noteworthy that the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families is calling for the test to be nixed in favor of an admissions system that weighs multiple factors, releasing a report on Tuesday that attempts to bring nuance to a debate that has often played out in sound bites.

“We believe that current admissions processes to specialized high schools contribute to the problems of segregation and inequity in NYC public schools,” the advocacy organization’s report notes.

Specialized high schools enroll a disproportionate share of Asian students. Many have argued that the mayor’s plan, which aims to enroll more black and Hispanic students in the schools, pits one community of color against others. Only about 10 percent of specialized high school students are black or Hispanic, even though those students comprise about 70 percent of enrollment citywide.

The Coalition’s report offers a counter-narrative to the debate, highlighting that many Asian organizations have long called for admissions changes at the specialized high schools and arguing that Asian students would benefit from an overhaul.

But the organization stops short of endorsing de Blasio’s proposal, blasting his administration for failing to include the Asian community in its development or rollout. (One of the coalition’s co-directors is a mayoral appointee to the citywide Panel for Educational Policy.)  

“We remain highly critical of the processes that he and the Department of Education have taken in crafting and releasing those proposals to the public,” the report says.

An education department spokesman said the city looks forward to working with the coalition to eliminate the test, and said the city is presenting its plan to every community school district.

The report comes as parents are considering suing over the city’s diversity efforts and supporters of the test have hired a lobbyist to fight the potential changes.

The coalition’s stance also highlights the steep challenge de Blasio faces as he gears up to lobby state lawmakers to scrap the entrance exam, which is currently required by state law. Though Democrats managed to gain control of the Senate in the latest election, the issue doesn’t have a clear party line — and some of the mayor’s natural allies have expressed doubt, or even backed away from the mayor’s proposal.

Read the full report here