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.
Charter school applications were due on April 1, but some may still be accepting them and have space. Here are descriptions of some of the best-known charter networks and schools, and a few that are opening next fall and look promising.
We list the networks first, followed by the “mom and pops.”
The big networks
KIPP NYC is one of the city’s first charter organizations, opened in 1995. It operates four elementary schools, five middle schools and one high school in New York City. KIPP NYC is affiliated with the California-based KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) network, which now operates 125 charter schools across the United States, most in low-income neighborhoods. Students typically enter the KIPP system as kindergartners and remain in the KIPP system; new faces are now rare in middle or high school. KIPP NYC’s philosophy emphasizes rigorous academic instruction, longer school days and a focus on core values designed to foster good citizenship. Discipline is structured to make students understand the consequences for bad behavior, while good behavior is often rewarded (everything from T-shirts to class trips). KIPP teachers are typically young and energetic—necessary qualities in a demanding environment. They employ a mix of traditional and progressive teaching techniques.
If you’re unhappy with your neighborhood school, you may want to enter a lottery for a charter school. The deadline is April 1--so hurry. In most cases you can submit an application online. Get an application on the New York City Charter School Center website, on the individual schools' websites or at the school. (Some charter schools are open this week, even though the public schools are on Spring break.)
But which school? Here are tips for making your choice.
Here are some recommendations for high schools that still have room—either new schools opening in the fall or established schools that haven’t filled their 9th grade seats, according to the Department of Education "Round 2 program list."
Westchester Square Academy, housed in Lehman High School, has seats in its new honors program. Founded in 2011 by the former assistant principal of Brooklyn Latin, Westchester Square has lots of good word of mouth.
For strong students, the Macy’s honors program at Dewitt Clinton High School still has seats. Although there are some concerns about safety and discipline in the building, the smaller honors program has challenging academics.
Bronx Design and Construction Academy is a new school that's off to a good start.
Bronx Latin has high expectations and a classical education.
Bronx Collaborative High School, a new school housed in Dewitt Clinton High School, is modeled after the popular Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE) in Manhattan. Brett Schneider, former ICE assistant principal, is the new principal.
Abraham Lincoln High School has a good photography program that still has seats. Overall, the school is better than its reputation and a good place for kids who can handle the huge size.
Acceptance letters for high school went out today, and 90 percent of students got one of their choices. But if you are one of the 7,225 8th graders who didn’t get matched to a high school (or if you’re unhappy with your match) it’s time to consider one of the 16 new schools opening in the fall of 2013—or one of the established schools that still has space.
You can meet representatives from these schools at the second-round high school fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 6th and Aprll 7th at the Martin Luther King Educational Campus at 65th and Amsterdam in Manhattan.
Some of the schools will also have their own open houses. We've also compiled some recommendations for high schools that still have room.
If you’re choosing a high school, you want to know: Is the school safe? Do kids like their teachers? Do I have to wear a uniform? Will the school prepare me for college?
Our new feature, called Insidestats, has comprehensive data on 422 public high schools. You’ll be able to see at a glance how big the classes are, whether lots of kids skip school, and how many graduate on time. You can see whether they enter 9th grade ready to do high school—or have lots of catching up to do. And you’ll see whether they have demanding college prep classes--or only a bare-bones curriculum. You can watch our webinar demonstrating how to use the site.
A couple of years ago, we criticized the Department of Education’s school Progress Reports for oversimplifying the strengths and weaknesses of each school with a single “A” to “F” grade.
With Insidestats, we hope to offer a more nuanced picture, because different schools are good at different things. Some schools take high-achieving kids and push them to ever greater heights. But others do a particularly good job with kids who need special education or English as a Second Language. Insidestats shows you the difference.
Take the Bronx High School of Science. Everyone knows it’s a terrific school where just about everyone graduates on time and goes on to college. It has top students and tons of very advanced classes, and kids do well in them. But maybe you didn’t know that it has larger-than-average class size, or that one-third of the students grumble about their teachers. As for kids who need special education or English as a Second Language—well, Bronx Science just doesn’t have any.
Food and Finance High School in Manhattan is a different story. Most of the students have math and reading skills that are below grade level when they enter. Very few students take a college prep curriculum, and the curriculum is thin, as you can see on Insidestats. But the school doesn’t let kids drop out. Eventually, 93 percent graduate—even though it may take them six years. And look at the special education numbers. Nearly 20 percent of students receive special education services, and 85 percent of these graduate after six years. That’s way better than the city wide average.
Insidestats helps you see whether a school is right for you—depending on what you are like and what you need. It was made possible with grants from the Donors Education Collaborative and New York Community Trust. The design was done by Hill+Knowlton Strategies. General support for Insideschools comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the David L. Klein Foundation, Belvedere Trust and our readers.
If you’re looking for a good kindergarten but don’t love your zoned neighborhood school, you may want to consider the following options. These are schools in Manhattan and the Bronx that accept children from outside their immediate neighborhoods.
For this list, we have concentrated on schools that don’t require a "gifted and talented" exam. All a parent has to do is apply between now and March 1--and hope there are seats available. Call the schools directly for details. The Department of Education has produced a comprehensive directory of elementary school choices
(This list doesn’t include charter schools. We’ll post a list of those closer to the April application deadline)
District 1: Lower East Side
In District 1 on the Lower East Side, there are no zoned neighborhood schools. Everybody has to make a choice. Preference goes to children who live in the district, but there are sometimes spots for out-of-district children, including Brooklynites.
Long-time favorites are The Neighborhood School, The Earth School, and PS 184—which will most likely fill up with District 1 kids this year. (Note: out-of-district families who are willing to wait until August may snag a seat). Out-of-district children may have a better chance at the Children’s Workshop School and East Village Community School. Also consider PS 20, which has a nice dual language program in English and Mandarin. PS 63, also called the STAR Academy, is gaining in popularity.
District 2-Downtown, Midtown and Upper East Side
Forget PS 234 or PS 276 if you live out of zone. Those popular schools long wait lists even for their zoned kids. The good news: there are some new schools that may have kindergarten seats for children who live anywhere in District 2. Consider PS 267 and PS 527 on the Upper East Side, PS 281 in East Midtown and PS 51 which is moving into a new building in Hell’s Kitchen in the fall. PS 33 in Chelsea and PS 59 on the Upper East Side may squeeze in a few out-of-zone students.
District 3-Upper West Side
PS 452 on the Upper West Side and PS 180 in Harlem are terrific schools that took out-of-zone children last year and probably will this year. PS 84 has both Spanish-English and French-English dual language programs open to children in District 3. French-speakers from out of district may be eligible for PS 84.
Manhattan School for Children accepts children from across District 3.
District 4-East Harlem
The birthplace of school choice, District 4 in East Harlem has welcomed out-of-zone and out-of-district children for decades. Central Park East I, Central Park East II and River East are small progressive schools that are popular with parents.
District 5-Central Harlem
District 6-Upper Manhattan
District 6 offers a number of choices for parents who want to look beyond their neighborhood school, including Muscota New School, Amistad Dual Language School, Hamilton Heights School, Washington Heights Academy and PS 178, The Professor Juan Bosch School. Castle Bridge is a new school modeled on Central Park East 1. PS 210 offers a dual language program in Spanish and English
District 7: South Bronx
District 8: Soundview-Throgs Neck
PS 304 Early Childhood School, has high test scores, involved parents and a cheerful environment.
PS 182 is one of the few schools in the Bronx that still has a functioning gifted & talented program. Students are admitted according to their scores on a district-wide test.
District 9: South-Central Bronx
Mount Eden Children’s Academy is a new school open to children from across the district.
District 10: Riverdale-Northwest Bronx
Bronx New School is a progressive school that has long attracted children from across District 10.
PS 344 the Ampark Neighborhood School, has a diverse student population and strong scores in reading and math.
PS 396 has a noteworthy special education program for children with autism.
District 11-Northeast Bronx
PS 498 Van Nest Academy, and Linden Tree Elementary School accept children from across District 11.
PS 153 Helen Keller is a reliable choice. Though the general education program mainly accepts zoned children, the gifted and talented program accept children districtwide.
Whoever wins the Democratic primary for mayor, the candidate will likely be more sympathetic to public school parents and to the unions representing teachers and principals than Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been. That's the message from a candidates' forum on education sponsored by the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, the union representing principals and assistant principals, at Baruch College on Wednesday.
The Democratic candidates--Council Speaker Chris Quinn, Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, Comptroller John Liu and former comptroller Bill Thompson--all criticized Bloomberg's dismissive attitude toward parents and his tough-guy stance on the unions. (Also on the panel was publisher Tom Allon, who recently became a Republican to run for mayor. The other Republican candidates, former MTA chair Joseph Lhota and Gristedes owner John Catsimatidis didn't attend.)
The candidates criticized the mayor's policy of closing failing schools (which forces unionized teachers and principals out of their jobs) and said struggling schools should get support instead. Liu, Thompson and DiBlasio called for an outright moratorium on school closings while Quinn suggested school closings should be used only as a last resort. DiBlasio and Liu reminded the audience that they are public school parents; all the candidates said they would put less emphasis on standardized tests and suggested that they would be more responsive to parents' concerns. Quinn described her efforts working with parents to find a new bullding for the Clinton School in Chelsea; Allon touted his work opening the Frank McCourt School on the Upper West Side.
The candidates agreed more than they disagreed, but did try to set themselves apart in response to questions by the moderators, Liz Willen (an Insideschools blogger and editor of the Hechinger Report) and NYU professor Pedro Noguera.
Every year, lots of 5th graders apply to a handful of super-popular middle schools. Naturally not everyone gets in. This year, we decided to highlight some good schools that haven’t suffered from over-exposure. Some require applicants to have good grades, but others accept kids of all abilities.
And remember: middle school applications are due on Dec. 21. There's still time to visit schools to help make up your list. Don't know what to look for? Check out our video: What to look for on a school tour and read our middle school picks after the jump.
We're offering two free workshops in Manhattan and Brooklyn this week for parents exploring their pre-kindergarten and kindergarten options. Come and learn about neighborhood schools, charter schools, gifted and talented programs, dual language programs, unzoned schools, and services for children with special needs.
I'll be speaking at the Henry Street Settlement, 40 Montgomery St. in Manhattan on Wednesday, Dec. 5, from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm. Pamela Wheaton, Insideschools managing editor, will be speaking at Brooklyn Free Space 298 Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn, on Thursday, Dec. 6, from 7 pm to 8:30 pm.
The Manhattan workshop, co-sponsored by the Community Education Council for District 1, will mostly focus on options on the Lower East Side, but parents from outside the district are welcome. I'll be talking about what to look for in a school and how to apply. Simultaneous translations will be available in Spanish and Chinese. CEC chair Lisa Donlan will share her knowledge of the schools in her district. District 1 does not have zoned schools; all parents must participate in school choice.
The Brooklyn workshop, sponsored by a cooperative pre-school in Park Slope, gives an introduction to public pre-k and kindergarten in Brooklyn, including "What do I look for?" and "How do I know which school is right for my child?" Most students in Brooklyn attend zoned neighborhood schools, but the workshop will also outline other options. Kristi Barlow, founder of nycschools maps.com, will be on hand with a copy of zone maps for parts of Brooklyn, including zoning changes in Park Slope affecting PS 321, PS 107, PS 10 and PS 133.