study says...

New report challenges de Blasio’s strategy for upping diversity in specialized HSs

Students take an AP exam at Bronx Science, one of New York City's specialized high schools.

Replacing the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test wouldn’t significantly increase the diversity of the eight sought-after schools that use it, and could exclude even more black students, according to a new report.

The report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools challenges the rationale behind Mayor Bill de Blasio’s interest in replacing the exam with a broader set of admissions criteria as a way to increase the share of black and Hispanic students at the specialized high schools. In 2014, just 11 percent of the offers to those schools went to black and Hispanic students, though they made up about 70 percent of the city’s eighth graders.

“Maybe it was naive, but I thought if you switched to more holistic measures, it would diversify the admissions pool considerably,” said Sean Corcoran, a New York University researcher who co-wrote the report. “It turns out that students disproportionately offered admission to specialized high schools are the same students who get high scores on the state tests and get high grades.”

Supporters of the current admissions system have long pointed out that many of the city’s screened high schools, which look at factors like attendance and school grades when making admissions decisions, have a higher percentage of white students than the specialized schools. But there has been little information available about what would happen if Bronx Science, for example, switched to a similar system.

To find out, the researchers simulated admissions scenarios with varying combinations of state scores, school grades, and attendance criteria using Department of Education data from 2005 to 2013. Using those criteria instead of the test, the researchers found, would tip the scales in favor of girls, who made up just 42 percent of students in the specialized high schools in 2013-14. Nixing the test would also increase the share of white students and Hispanic students admitted, reduce the share of Asian students, and in some cases reduce the share of black students, too.

They also found that a little more than half of the students admitted under those rules were the same students admitted using the SHSAT, “suggesting there is considerable overlap in students who would be admitted under different rules.”

“While there are some changes under these new methods, it’s not that earth-shattering,” Corcoran said.

If the criteria were to change, though, many students would probably also change their behavior and focus their efforts on grades or attendance, something their findings can’t account for, the researchers note. Their simulations also don’t account for qualitative factors like essays that could be a part of a revamped admissions system.

Still, the findings are clear enough to become a potential roadblock for the de Blasio administration’s effort to push admissions-policy changes. Even discussions of changes have provoked protests from a number of alumni groups and alarmed elected officials who represent neighborhoods with high proportions of Asian students. Meanwhile, state legislation addressing the issue — which would be necessary to change the admissions policies at three of the eight schools — has languished for years.

Just 6 percent of eighth graders who go through the high school admissions process get an offer from a specialized school, but those schools take up a disproportionate amount of the debate about admissions and enrollment because of the long records of schools like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech of preparing students for success. If the central argument for eliminating the test turns out to be less than clear, support for sweeping changes could erode further.

“Today’s report highlights some significant challenges, but we remain committed to achieving our goal of having specialized high schools reflect the great diversity of our City,” department spokesman Harry Hartfield said in a statement.

Still, the report notes that there are other ways the city could help black and Hispanic students, girls, and members of other underrepresented groups claim more seats. Among students who scored equally high on state tests in seventh grade, students eligible for free lunch, girls, and Latino students are less likely to take the specialized high school test at all. And once they earn a seat at one of the schools, girls are 11 percentage points less likely to accept it.

Those numbers show that programs to encourage high achievers to prepare for and take the test could have a positive effect.

Hartfield said the city is continuing to analyze the data and expand access to free test prep. In December, officials told City Council members that they are asking all middle school guidance counselors to push the top 15 percent of their students to sign up for the SHSAT.

“We cannot have a dynamic where some of our greatest educational options are only available to people from certain backgrounds,” de Blasio said last year.

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.