Sorting the Students

Latest Upper West Side rezoning battle renews debate over how best to integrate schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A P.S. 452 parent spoke out Monday evening against the city's plan to move and rezone the school.

This week marked the second time in less than a year that parents on the sharply segregated Upper West Side gathered in droves to protest a rezoning plan with the potential to make their schools more diverse.

This round, it was parents from P.S. 452 opposing a plan to move their school into a building 16 blocks south, where it would have more space and a new zone that could potentially include more low-income families. The school’s population is 74 percent white and Asian and 9 percent low-income, in a district that is 43 percent white and Asian and 48 percent poor.

At two meetings where the plan was discussed this week, parents wearing “Do Not Move P.S. 452” buttons explained that they had bought homes in the costly neighborhood around 77th Street to be near the high-performing school. While many said that segregation was a serious problem in the district, they found it unfair that their school should have to shoulder the burden of integration.

“Why do we have to fix that issue for the whole district?” one woman asked.

The backlash, which echoed the opposition to a different rezoning plan in the Upper West Side’s District 3 last fall, demonstrated again the conundrum facing the de Blasio administration around school integration.

The mayor has expressed support for school diversity, but he also has said the city must respect parents’ real-estate investments (a statement that at least one P.S. 452 parent repeated this week), while Chancellor Carmen Fariña has warned against forcing integration “down people’s throats.”

To city education officials, the rezoning battles reinforce a belief that they must move slowly and carefully to promote integration, letting individual schools lead the way.

But advocates question that logic. They say that some parents will always resist desegregation plans that limit their access to sought-after schools, so the city should power through the opposition and get behind district-wide plans.

“These partial, short-term solutions don’t really address the enduring problems of overcrowding, inequity, and segregation,” said Ujju Aggarwal, a member of the District 3 Task Force for Equity in Education, a small group of parents and educators pushing for an enrollment system designed to promote integration. “I think we do need strong leadership from the city.”

P.S. 452 parents showed up en masse at Monday's meeting to oppose the city's plan.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
P.S. 452 parents showed up en masse at Monday’s meeting to oppose the city’s plan.

The city’s proposal would move P.S. 452 from the building it shares with two other schools to one on 61st Street now occupied by P.S. 191. That school would shift one block west into a building currently under construction.

The move could draw more low-income families into P.S. 452 since its new zone would likely include a nearby public-housing project. While the city has not openly called the move an integration plan, officials said they considered school diversity when crafting it.

Several P.S. 452 teachers and a handful of parents said they welcomed the move. Not only would it give the school its own gym and library, but it would also allow it to serve a broader cross-section of the community.

“The one thing I’m missing in my kids’ current education,” said P.S. 452 parent Beate Sissenich, “is a mixed-income constituency.”

The plan for a multi-school move follows a more straightforward proposal last year to rezone P.S. 191 and its neighbor, P.S. 199, a hotly desired school with high test scores and mostly affluent students. The idea was to reduce severe overcrowding at 199 by shifting some families from its zone to 191’s, a high-poverty school with much lower scores.

But after P.S. 199 parents showed up en masse at hearings to oppose the plan, the city tabled it. Now, P.S. 452 parents appear to be following their playbook.

They signed up by the dozen to speak at this week’s meetings, where they explained how the move would lengthen their children’s commutes and rupture the tight-knit community they had cultivated. They also rejected any suggestion that they do not value diversity.

“Painting any opposition as classist or racist is as bad as it can get,” said Jason Jones, the former “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” comedian, near the end of Monday’s nearly three-hour meeting.

The rezoning debates have largely overshadowed calls for a “controlled choice” enrollment system that would eliminate the district’s zones and fill each school with a mix of students from different backgrounds. The resistance to rezoning just one or two schools has convinced some officials that the district is not ready for a large-scale zoning change.

Meanwhile, the local superintendent has floated the idea of requiring every middle school to enroll at least 30 percent low-income students. Already, some parents are questioning whether that plan will lower their chances of nabbing a seat at the district’s most popular middle schools.

“We think that diversity is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed in the district,” P.S. 199 parent Liz Sutherland said at a meeting Wednesday. But she asked whether the plan would achieve that, and worried that the city would place her daughter in a school “that is not a good fit for my child.”

Education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the city will continue to work with District 3’s parents, schools, and education council to come up with a plan that meets the community’s needs. She added that several public meetings are scheduled in the district, “where we expect a range of views to be shared.”

Sorting the Students

As Nashville heads to court over sharing student information with the state, here’s why Memphis probably won’t

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Nashville's Davidson County Chancery Court building where the state filed against Metro Nashville Public Schools over sharing contact information with charter schools.

Tennessee’s two largest school districts are often in lockstep on key issues. But in a recent tiff with the state about sharing student information with charter schools, the two districts are poised to part ways.

Leaders of Nashville’s school district have repeatedly defied an order from Tennessee’s education commissioner to share student addresses, phone numbers, and other information with the state’s controversial turnaround district, as required by a new state law. The state filed a lawsuit this week in response.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Memphis district have spoken out about the rule — but are preparing to comply. The district has given parents until Sunday, Oct. 22 to opt out of sharing their contact information with charter schools.

Instead of outright rejecting McQueen’s deadline last month like Nashville did, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson sought a compromise and the district has indicated contact information after the opt out window could be shared.

“… we respectfully request you extend your deadline until October 23, 2017 to allow our families the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding their rights and to give our board an opportunity to vote on the release of the data,” Hopson said in a letter to McQueen.

The state education department says it is holding off filing a similar suit against that district, for now. The Memphis district “is still deciding whether to comply, whereas Metro [Nashville] has made its decision already,” state spokeswoman Sara Gast said. “Given that, it is appropriate to file here and then review Shelby’s decision to decide if litigation is necessary.”

Shelby County Schools declined to share how many parents have chosen to opt out so far, but said it plans to share information with its board about the effort next week.

The fight has ignited long-simmering tensions around enrollment and the state’s influence in local schools, and comes on the heels of Metro Nashville Public Schools board voting to join Shelby County Schools in its landmark funding lawsuit against the state.

Memphis leaders have also said that the issue at hand is student privacy, though a robocall to Memphis parents indicated that the main goal of the opt-out process was not to lose students to charter schools.

Memphis’ compromise stance will be good news to groups like parent advocacy organization Memphis Lift, which says it has gathered about 1,200 parent signatures urging Shelby County Schools to release the contact information.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

The legal questions at stake are the first challenge to a slight, but significant, amendment to federal rules

The Nashville school board cited two reasons for defying the state’s order in late August: One is U.S. Department of Education rule that allows districts to have discretion on who gets student directory information. The second was that when state lawmakers crafted the law that requires school districts to share student information, they did not intend for that information to be used for recruitment.

According to Frank LoMonte, a First Amendment lawyer and director of The Brechner Center at the University of Florida, said the lawsuit could have national implications.

“What we’re about to see is the first test of whether the U.S. Department of Education amended rules in 2011 are enforceable or not,” he said. What it comes down to, he said, is if a federal rule can give local districts the permission to violate state law.

The Nashville board’s second justification reflects concerns from State Rep. John Forgety, who chairs a key House education committee. He says the state is misinterpreting the law he helped create.

The state said in a statement that Commissioner Candice McQueen is seeking to confirm her interpretation of the new state law, “ensuring that families can be informed of all public education opportunities available to them.”

Below is a copy of the state’s court filing:

study says...

Do ‘good’ parents prep their kids for gifted exams? The answer varies by race, study finds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a citywide gifted and talented program, learn how to read a number line in Nov. 2016.

Is getting your child into a gifted-and-talented program a mark of good parenting? How you answer may depend largely on your race or ethnicity, according to new research.

Allison Roda, an assistant professor of education at Molloy College in Long Island, interviewed more than 50 white, black, and Hispanic parents at an unidentified New York City school to learn about their attitudes towards gifted programs. (Her sample did not include any Asian parents.)

She found that the white parents view applying for gifted programs and preparing their children to score well on the admissions test as hallmarks of good parenting.

For the black and Hispanic families, being a good parent had more to do with choosing a diverse classroom for their child and not “gaming” the system by practicing for the gifted test, according to the report, which appeared recently in the peer-reviewed journal Teachers College Record.

The report comes as the education department and elected officials are considering how to enroll more students of color in gifted programs.

In New York City, most gifted programs are housed in separate classrooms within a larger school. Often, the two are divided along racial lines, with white and Asian students far more likely to be admitted to gifted programs. Meanwhile, black and Hispanic students — who represent 70 percent of the city’s public-school population — comprise less than 30 percent of the gifted-and-talented enrollment.

The most common entry point for gifted programs is kindergarten, with admissions based on test results. The white families Roda interviewed said they felt intense social pressure to have their children take those exams.

Many of them said they questioned whether they should subject their children to such high-stakes testing, but they went along because “everyone else is doing it,” the report says. They also saw it as a pathway to competitive schools in later grades — and even college.

“They know it’s not fair,” Roda said. “They feel the need to do it to get their children on the right track.”

While the black and Hispanic parents Roda interviewed had their children tested for gifted, none reported paying for tutors or otherwise preparing children for the test. For them, having to practice for the test meant your child wasn’t really gifted.

“They know that all of the students who are in those programs were prepped,” Roda said. “So that takes away from the legitimacy of the label and the program they were placed in, and they don’t believe in that.”

Once their children started school, parents of color saw that their kids would be an extreme minority in gifted classes. They also reported that the gifted programs weren’t all that different from the education their children were receiving in general education classes. For those reasons, many opted not to retest their child if he or she initially missed the cut-off score for admission — as opposed to white parents, who repeatedly signed up their children for retakes.

“They just equate it to a way to segregate children whose parents prep them for the test,” Roda said.

Despite the time and resources white families said they poured into preparing for the gifted test, they didn’t think it was an accurate measure of giftedness. On that point, families of color agreed. Black, white and Hispanic families also agreed that school diversity was important.

Understanding those similarities and differences could be important for efforts to better integrate gifted classes and the school system more widely. While some elected officials have called for expanding access to test prep and testing all pre-K students for giftedness as a way to increase black and Hispanic student enrollment, Roda’s research suggests that may not work since parents of color told Roda they were opposed to test prep.

Instead, Roda suggests, the city should begin to spread the practices used in gifted classrooms to entire schools.

“Be more inclusive and enrich the curriculum that way,” Roda said. “And don’t be so focused on the test.”