Integration Bootcamp

New York’s most segregated school districts can now apply for integration training

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A meeting in Manhattan's District 1, one of 11 New York City district's eligible for the new grants.

Though New York’s schools are among the nation’s most segregated, few districts are doing much about it. But now, the state education department is making them a deal: If you commit to integrating your schools, we’ll show you how.

The state’s most segregated districts can apply for training grants of up to $70,000, which will allow school and district leaders to attend workshops on how to identify the causes of segregation in their local schools and come up with plans to reduce it, the department announced Wednesday.

Among the 22 districts eligible to apply for the grants are 11 in New York City, including ones on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Upper West Side, gentrifying sections of Brooklyn and Queens, and Staten Island. Many of those districts are home to a diverse mix of students of different races and classes, but they are spread unevenly among the schools. Other highly segregated districts, such as those in the Bronx, did not meet the state’s eligibility rules.

The grants, which officials previewed in the fall, are the latest iteration of a $1.25 million program launched in 2014 that aimed to revamp low-performing schools by helping them enroll more middle-class students. Some districts were stymied by bureaucratic delays and transportation costs as they tried to carry out their integration plans, but the grants still spurred some changes — including a new enrollment system in the Lower East Side district meant to help desegregate the local elementary schools.

The latest round of grants, worth a total of $1.4 million, expand the program’s scope beyond socioeconomic integration: They can also be used to desegregate schools with high concentrations of students of color, those who are still learning English, or students with disabilities.

“Too many schools in New York are home to troubling inequalities,” said Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a statement. “For students to reach their full potential, they must have fair and equitable access to educational resources. This program will help us get there.”  

In addition to school integration strategies, grant recipients will also learn about “culturally responsive practices” — teaching methods, curriculum materials, and school policies that recognize and celebrate students’ diverse backgrounds.

To be eligible, districts must have a poverty rate of at least 50 percent, at least one low-performing school, and be ranked among the state’s most segregated districts — measured either by the racial and socioeconomic imbalance among schools within its borders, or between its schools and those of its home county.

Districts have until Feb. 2 to apply. Those that complete the trainings, which run from February through August, can compete for additional state funds to actually carry out their integration plans.

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

testing questions

‘The needle hasn’t moved’: Regents sound off on racial gaps in 2018 test scores

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

New York State’s top education policymakers raised concerns Monday about whether the state is doing enough to address persistent racial gaps on state exams.

The discussion was the first opportunity the Board of Regents have had to discuss the results of last school year’s reading and math tests since they were released late last month. And while the Regents seemed to be in agreement that the gaps are problematic, there was little discussion of what to do about it beyond requesting more data.

The test scores released in September show just under 35 percent of black students statewide are proficient in reading, 17 points below their white peers. In math, the gap jumps to 25 points. (The gaps are similar for Hispanic students compared with their white peers.)

The gaps are even wider in New York City.

Regent Judith Johnson, who has repeatedly criticized the state tests for not reflecting student learning across different ethnic groups, said the education department is still not doing enough to analyze the causes of racial differences in proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams. Those gaps, Johnson said, will bring down the competitiveness of the American workforce.

“It’s absolutely based on poverty and color,” Johnson said. “That has not changed and that begs for analysis at this point.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia acknowledged “troubling gaps” on student achievement, but also said state officials, including the Regents, have been working on it for years. She also pushed back on the idea that the tests themselves aren’t useful, arguing they draw attention to issues of inequity.

“If we didn’t have an opportunity to see this, it wouldn’t be as high up in our mindsets,” she said.

While some gaps have narrowed slightly among certain student groups, it’s happening at a glacial rate, said Regent Luis Reyes. He pointed to a two-year period where the gap between Hispanic students and their white peers shrunk by about 1 percent on both math and English tests.

“One percent is not a revolution, it’s not a reform, it’s not a transformation,” Reyes said. “It’s ice age.”

Reducing an emphasis on state tests in how officials judge overall school performance is part of the education department’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In coming up with school ratings, officials will consider factors such as how often students are suspended, are absent from class, and how prepared they are for life after high school.

Regent Kathy Cashin said she wants to see teaching and learning take the main stage of the state’s education agenda. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” she said.

Elia emphasized that the test includes an essay and that it’s not “just a multiple choice test.” And she reminded the Regents that the math and English assessments are required by the federal government, but there are options to consider performance-based testing on science exams. Elia has previously shown some interest in an alternative science test.