missed chances

English learners are underrepresented in New York City’s career and technical ed programs, report finds

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

Career and technical education has been shown to help students make it to graduation. But New York City’s English language learners — who consistently lag behind their peers when it comes to on-time graduation — are both under-enrolled in the city’s CTE programs and less likely to complete them, according to a new report.

Released Monday by the nonprofit Advocates for Children of New York, the report shows that while English learners made up 10.8 percent of the city’s high school students in the 2015–16 school year, they comprised only 5.3 percent of students in CTE programs. Though the number of CTE schools in New York City has increased dramatically over the past decade, the report raises the question of whether all groups of students are benefiting equally from these programs.

“The low number of ELLs in the city’s CTE schools and programs is a problem that needs attention,” said AFC’s executive director Kim Sweet in a press release. “High-quality CTE programs provide an invaluable bridge to future learning and employment paths.”

The four-year graduation rate for English learners in 2016 was roughly 27 percent — significantly lower than the citywide average of 73 percent. According to the report, English learners could benefit from joining CTE programs, as the graduation rate for ELLs who completed most or all of a CTE program last year was a significantly higher 57 percent.

Additionally, the report says, CTE programs can help English learners graduate through a pathway that allows students to take a technical exam in lieu of one of the required social studies Regents exams. This “4+1” option could be particularly helpful for English learners, according to the report, because their pass rates on Regents exams are often lower than those of non-English learners.

Those English learners who do end up in CTE programs face disadvantages, the report says, with many not making it to completion. Though the 2016 graduating class had 23,000 students who completed at least two-thirds of a CTE course sequence, only 2 percent were English learners.

“While ELLs who successfully complete a CTE program graduate at rates substantially higher than the citywide ELL graduation rate, ELLs at CTE high schools as a group appear to actually graduate at lower rates than ELLs at other schools,” the report explains.

English learners were also less likely to attend a“CTE-designated” school than a school that offered CTE programs. In the 2015–16 school year, English learners made up about 8.7 percent of students at schools that offer CTE programs, but only 5.6 percent at CTE-designated schools.

The report cited multiple ways the city could increase access to CTE programs for English learners and improve the students’ experience, such as offering extra training for CTE instructors on serving English learners, and providing bilingual CTE classes and translation services for those students. The report also called for the city to form an advisory group made up of educators, parents, students and professionals with English learners and CTE expertise to further explore the problem.

Officials in the city’s education department said they were reviewing the recommendations in the report.

There are often challenges scheduling English learners for CTE, the officials noted, since the students also need time set aside for language-related supports. But, the officials said, nearly all students who list a CTE school as the first choice on their high school applications ultimately enroll in a CTE high school. And the city’s plan to boost support for English learners in the high school admissions process could ease their access to CTE, they said. (The state has also vowed to make it easier for schools to start career and technical education programs.)

“We are committed to increasing opportunities for English language learners and career and technical education students, and building on improvements like providing all admissions information in 10 languages,” education department spokesman Will Mantell said. “While ELLs enroll in CTE high schools at about the same rate as they apply, we know there’s more work to do in attracting and serving ELL students in CTE programs.”

Hello Again

Debora Scheffel chosen by acclamation to fill State Board of Ed vacancy

State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A Republican vacancy committee unanimously selected Debora Scheffel to fill the opening left by Pam Mazanec on the State Board of Education.

Mazanec, a staunch defender of parental rights and school choice who represented the 4th Congressional District, resigned at the end of January to focus on her other obligations. Scheffel previously represented the 6th Congressional District on the board but lost that seat in 2016 to Democrat Rebecca McClellan.

McClellan’s narrow victory gave control of the board to Democrats for the first time in 46 years. Scheffel, who serves as dean of education at Colorado Christian University, moved to Douglas County, and ran unsuccessfully for school board there in 2017.

Scheffel’s selection does not change the balance of power on the state board because she replaces another Republican. Scheffel faced no opposition at the vacancy committee meeting, which took place Saturday in Limon.

Scheffel has said she wants to continue Mazanec’s work on behalf of rural schools and in support of parent and student choice, as well as work to protect student data privacy, a cause she previously championed on the board.

The district takes in all of the eastern Plains, as well as the cities of Longmont, Greeley, and Castle Rock.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis struggles to balance how much money schools need with what people will pay

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Without a massive influx of cash from taxpayers, Indianapolis’ largest school district could be in dire financial straits. But the fate of the referendums asking voters for more money is in limbo.

Even as the Indianapolis Public Schools board revealed plans to reduce how much money it is seeking from voters, the administration portrayed the district’s financial future as precarious. During a board discussion Thursday, officials underscored how critical it would be for the tax increase to pass. It’s unclear, however, whether the district will get the extra cash it needs to avoid making painful cuts.

Critics have suggested the request — $936 million over eight years — is too high and that the district has not offered enough detail on how the money raised would be spent. With only tepid support for the tax plan, district leaders appear poised to reduce the amount they are seeking. That move could win over new allies, but it could also undercut their efforts to gain support.

Next year, the administration is expecting spending could outpace income by more than $45 million. The plan for filling that gap hinges on raising more than $46 million from a referendum that will go before voters in May.

Without that extra money, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said, the district would have to burn through its savings or make vast cuts that could include freezing teacher pay, cutting school budgets, and reducing transportation.

The district would need to begin making cuts immediately, said board member Kelly Bentley. “It’s just going to get worse the next year, and the next year,” she added.

The district’s future will look brighter if leaders are able to win public support for more funding, although it’s no longer clear how much money they will ask for. The original plan, which was approved by the board in December, includes two referendums to raise property taxes. One would ask voters to give the district as much as $92 million more per year for eight years for operating expenses such as teacher pay. Another measure, which the district is not expected to change, would pay for $200 million in improvements to buildings.

Ferebee said the amount he originally proposed was based on what the district needs rather than what would be politically feasible. In the face of community feedback, however, the district is crafting a plan that would have a lower price tag. Next, the district will need to explain what services will be cut to keep down costs, he said.

“I anticipate people will want to know, ‘what are the tradeoffs?’ ” Ferebee said. “We owe it to the community to provide that explanation, and we will.”

Indiana districts have pursued more than 160 property tax referendums since 2008, when state lawmakers created the current school funding system. About 60 percent of those referendums have been successful, according to data from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

Stephen Hiller, who has been studying referendums with the center for nearly a decade, said that it’s likely that many districts have had to reconcile how much money they would ideally want with how much taxpayers might be willing to pay. But that conversation likely happens before a referendum is announced and approved by the board.

“I think IPS has it a little more difficult here that it’s happening in the open after they’ve approved it in a very public way,” he added.

School board president Michael O’Connor said that the district’s willingness to change the plan is a sign that local government works.

“We live in the community within which we serve, and all of us have heard pretty plainly and clearly, ‘we think that number might be too big,’ ” he said. “We are being responsive to our constituents.”

Reducing the referendum could be enough to win over many supporters. Several groups that have supported the current administration in the past have not yet taken a stand.

Tony Mason of the Indianapolis Urban League said in a statement that the district needs more money to pay high-quality teachers and meet the needs of its diverse students. But he raised concerns about the potential impact of the tax increase on residents with fixed- or low-incomes.

“IPS will still need to continue in its efforts to make the case for the substantial amount it is requesting,” Mason said. “The IUL is an avid supporter of education, particularly for urban schools that struggle with unique challenges.”

Chelsea Koehring, who taught in the district and now has two children at the Butler Lab School, shares the view that the district needs more money. But leaders have not offered enough details about how the money would be spent, she said, and changing the request raises red flags.

“People, you should’ve had this together before you asked,” she said. “Lowering it at this point — I don’t know that that’s going to instill confidence in anyone that they have any clue what they are doing.”

Correction: February 17, 2018: This story has been corrected to reflect that Indiana districts have pursued more than 160 property tax referendums since 2008. Some districts have held multiple referendums.