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A group of public school parents and community groups filed a complaint today with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights alleging that New York City’s high school admissions policy discriminates against black and Hispanic students by concentrating them in low-performing schools where they are more likely to fail.
Filed by the Educational Law Center in Newark, N.J., on behalf of 13 parents, the Alliance for Quality Education and several community organizations, the complaint takes aim at the city’s complex system of school choice which assigns students to 386 high schools across the five boroughs.
Excluded from the complaint are the eight specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, which require an entrance exam. Admission to those schools is governed by state law, not city policy. Also excluded from the complaint are “international” schools, which serve new immigrants, and transfer schools, which serve students who have been unsuccessful at traditional schools.
“Of the 386 high schools at issue in this sweeping federal complaint, 242 schools (or 63%) have a student population that is more than 90% African American and Latino. Thirty-seven of the 386 high schools (or 10%) have a student population that is more than 24% white, thus more than double the percentage of white students in the district,” the Alliance for Quality Education said in a press release.
Some scholars, including Bruce Fuller, Richard Elmore and Gary Orfield in their 1996 book "Who Chooses? Who Loses?," have suggested that an unfettered free market of school choice tends to increase racial and economic segregation because the best educated and wealthiest parents are best equipped to navigate a complex admissions process.
The Parthenon Group, a consulting firm hired by DOE to examine its NYC high school admissions, wrote in a 2008 report that concentrating students with high needs in any one school increases the overall chances of student failure and school closure. “Yet, despite this evidence DOE has continued to concentrate the highest-need students in minority schools, creating a vicious cycle that has doomed more minority schools to closure,” the press release said.
The Bloomberg administration dramatically expanded high school choice, closed low-performing schools and created hundreds of new small schools in the hopes that competition would force bad schools to close and allow good schools to flourish. Rather than attending school based on their address, all students must now apply to high school. Some selective or “screened” schools rank the students they want to admit based on their test scores and grades; others schools are assigned students at random. Some popular schools may have 5,000 applicants for 125 seats and attract high-performing students; unpopular schools struggle to fill their seats and get mostly low-performing students
The complaint calls this a “hands-off” approach to school assignment which results in disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic children being assigned to low-performing schools. “There are, apparently, no controls to ensure a distribution of students that will not overwhelm certain schools with high concentrations of students with high needs,” the complaint states.
As a proposed remedy, the complaint suggests the city could institute a system of "contolled choice" that limits the number of high needs students in any school.
The DOE responded by saying that choice has “empowered” families and suggesting that critics wanted to “turn back the clock.”
"This administration inherited an unequal system-–where zip code often determined a child’s fate,” deputy chancellor Marc Sternberg said in a press release. “Today, because of our nationally recognized high school admissions process, every student has the freedom to apply to any school throughout the city.” Sternberg said that graduation rates had increased for black and Hispanic students during Bloomberg’s tenure.
A copy of the complaint can be downloaded below.
Fifth-graders around the city should find out today or tomorrow where they have been accepted to middle school. That's several days earlier than the May 20 date posted on the Department of Education's calendar.
Public elementary schools are picking up the letters at the enrollment offices on Thursday and will distribute them to children. If you don't get a letter today or tomorrow, contact your parent coordinator. Private school students should get their school assignments in the mail; if you don't receive a letter, go to the nearest enrollment office for help.
Unlilke the citywide high school application process, middle school admission varies by district. Some districts have zoned schools where children are assigned to middle school based on their address. Other districts have school choice and no zoned schools. A few, such as District 2, offer both zoned and unzoned schools. All students are guaranteed a seat at a school in their district. Those who apply to citywide, charter or other non-district choice schools may be accepted at several schools.
If you're not happy with the school to which you have been matched, you can appeal. Public school students should ask their elementary school guidance counselor for an appeal form; private school students may get one at the enrollment center. Wednesday, May 29 is the deadline to appeal.
Insideschools would like to hear from families who have appealed their middle school assignments in the past. Parents would like to know how the process works and whether appeals are generally successful. This is information that the Department of Education does not make public...at least they have not done so in the past.
Q: Is there any point in going to a college fair? I went to the NACAC fair held last week at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. My friends and I waited on line for half an hour just to get in! Then there were hundreds of booths, and huge crowds, and colleges I’d never heard of. The colleges I had heard of had lots of people crowded around so you couldn’t really get to talk to the reps. I got a lot of brochures, but don’t feel I gained any in-depth knowledge about the schools.
A: There are many types of college fairs, and the one you went to is not designed to provide ”in-depth knowledge” but rather to give a huge array of colleges and universities exposure in a large urban market. That is why these large NACAC fairs are held in major cities across the country. For most students, this will be their first exposure to the many possibilities out there in the word of higher education. It’s a good place to start, to browse, and get a general idea. So the purpose of this was to 1) provide publicity for the colleges and 2) to get students to write, go to the website or visit for more information.
The kids in Manhattan's richest neighborhoods are even more gifted than we imagined two weeks ago--and poor kids still don't make the grade.
At least that's according to the latest results of the city's Gifted & Talent exam--recalculated after Pearson testing company botched the original grading of the exam.
The new data shows that 40 percent more prospective kindergartners in District 2, which includes the East Side of Manhattan and the West Side south of 59th Street, qualified for citywide gifted programs than they did in April--593 compared to 418. Children must score in the 97th percentile or higher to be considered for a citywide gifted program.
However, there are far more children who qualify than seats: Citywide, 2,771 children made the cut, but there are only about 220 kindergarten seats available in the city's five citywide gifted programs after seats are assigned to qualifying siblings who get first dibs.
The rescoring didn't help many kids in low-income districts. The numbers went ever-so-slightly above the originally reported test scores – just four prospective kindergartners from District 7 in the South Bronx qualified for the citywide program, only two more than Pearson originally reported. In District 23 in the Ocean Hill - Brownsville section of Brooklyn, five qualified, compared to just one two weeks ago.
This year, The DOE adopted a new assessment -- the Naglieri Non-verbal Ability Test -- in an attempt to level the playing field for families who don't have access to tutoring for their four year olds. Children from low-income neighborhoods -- such as D7 and D23 -- are historically under-represented in G&T programs.
In total, 4,700 more children qualified for district or citywide G & T programs than originally reported. Out of the 36,000 kids entering kindergarten through 3rd grade who took the G & T test, 32.4% made the cutoff for either district and citywide programs, according to the DOE’s updated numbers. Children who score in the 90th percentile are eligible for district gifted programs.
Here are detailed break downs of the revised test score results, via the DOE: test scores by district (PDF), test scores compared to last year (PDF), and the district tallies of kids who scored in the 99th percentile (PDF).
As the May 10 deadline for parents to rank gifted and talented applications approaches, one Insideschools message board became a hotbed of anxiety. “Do you know what G&T is supposed to do with kids who get accepted to a G&T school but have IEP's requiring ICT placement?” asked one parent. “My son also has an IEP and is in ICT and is G&T. No place for him....” echoed another. The questions about inclusive gifted classes didn’t stop.
Parents want it, educators applaud it, and the DOE supports the idea—at least in theory. But a year after special education reform, there is still not a single combined G&T/ICT class in the city. No one seems to understand why.
"Twice exceptional” or "2e" kids are cognitively gifted children who also struggle with learning and attention disorders. Many of these students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) call for an Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) class, which has two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. The special education reform rolled out in all schools last year is meant to allow students to attend their school of choice and still receive needed special services, including these team-taught classes.
Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
The Department of Education is forcing most of the city’s selective high schools to accept a certain percentage of special needs students, even, in some cases, if they don't meet the eligibility requirements. Both general and special education students were assigned to top performing arts programs even though they didn't audition, infuriating some parents whose children did.
Beacon High School, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Professional Performing Arts are among the selective schools that have been assigned special needs students outside the regular admissions process, school officials said; Frank Sinatra High School and Talented Unlimited were among the selective schools that have been assigned general education students as well.
In all, the Department of Education has assigned students not chosen by the schools to about 70 different screened programs for the 2013-14 academic year, said Marc Sternberg, senior deputy chancellor for strategy and policy. Sternberg said most of these programs were assigned special needs children; a few schools with unfilled seats were also assigned general education students. In a follow-up story, the New York Post reported: "about 960 general-ed kids and 300 special-ed students were assigned," to 71 schools.
This policy is part of an effort to give children with disabilities more access to demanding academic and arts programs and to ensure that screened schools get the "right number" of students, said Sternberg.
“This is about equity and access,” Sternberg said in a telephone interview. “We want to make sure that all students across the spectrum have access to these very fine schools.”
Q: I was rejected by my #1 college choice – which I admit was a “reach” school. But what I don’t get is this: I was accepted by five other colleges, including another “reach” school! So maybe the college that turned me down made a mistake. What do you think my chances are if I ask them to reconsider? Should I tell them which other colleges have accepted me?
A: It is very, very rare for a college admissions office to change a decision. Decisions are always made by more than one person, and written notes are kept that explain (internally) why the decision was made. Unless crucial information was genuinely overlooked or considered in error (e.g. the admissions committee was looking at the wrong transcript when it voted – and this type of mistake rarely happens, if ever), they made the decision they wanted to make. Admissions committees are quite experienced in what they do, and they strive to make the best decisions they can for their college or university.
In what's become an unfortunate annual occurence for New York City families, more than 2,300 children are waitlisted for kindergarten seats at 105 schools, according to the Education Department. Two of the hardest hit neighborhoods are Sunset Park in District 15 and Corona in District 24 in Queens. In both neighborhoods, the DOE is trying a new strategy to deal with overcrowding: opening “overflow” schools to absorb some of the waitlisted kindergarteners.
One overflow school will open in Sunset Park in the fall with three kindergarten classes. The new school, Sunset Park Avenues, is unzoned and will only accept children who are assigned to the school after landing on waitlists at other area schools.
“A portion of waitlisted students from 15K094 [PS 94] and 15K169 [PS 169] may receive alternate offers” to Sunset Park Avenues, DOE spokesman Devon Puglia confirmed. The families of kindergartners assigned to the school will get letters from the DOE’s Office of Enrollment, he said.
For the first time in four years, fewer than 1,000 incoming kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile on the city's gifted and talented exams, but there are still more than twice as many top-scoring tykes than there are seats in the five most selective citywide programs. Of the 13,559 rising kindergartners who sat for G&T assessments in January and February, just under seven percent -- 921 -- scored in the 99th percentile on the nationally-normed tests.
Despite the introduction of a non-verbal exam meant to increase the number of low-income children who qualify for G&T programs, the gap in performance persists between rich and poor districts.
Scoring between the 97th-99th percentile on the G&T assessments means a child is eligible for a citywide program. But there are fewer than 400 seats for incoming kindergartners. Further decreasing the odds of entry, qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats.