coming soon

Carranza is ready to approve an integration plan for Brooklyn middle schools. Here’s a guide to the potential changes.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
An integration plan for District 15 was created after a public engagement process that included parents, educators, and community members.

The new school year could start off with a dramatic new integration plan for Brooklyn middle schools.

In a radio appearance Tuesday morning, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said he expected to approve admissions changes in District 15 within the next 48 hours.

“I think that you can expect a decision from my office very, very soon,” he said. “I’m really excited about it.”

The plan has been years in the making, and it comes on the heels of a different, more controversial move to desegregate middle schools in Manhattan.

Here’s a guide to help you get up to speed on the latest proposal, which affects schools in brownstone neighborhoods such as Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, and immigrant enclaves such as Sunset Park and Red Hook.

What’s being proposed?

The proposal is sweeping: It calls on the city to completely eliminate selective admission criteria at middle schools in District 15, and to give underserved students priority in the application process. Advocates are also pushing a number of initiatives to make schools more open and inclusive of all students.

Under the current system, families in District 15 apply to middle schools rather than being assigned to a school based on their address. All but one of the district’s middle schools are “screened” — meaning they set admissions criteria based on factors like a student’s fourth grade test scores or report card grades.

Under the proposal, families would still be free to choose which schools to apply to. But screening would be eliminated — even auditions for performing arts programs would go away — and replaced with a lottery. In an effort to enroll a similar share of students who are harder to serve, every middle school would give priority for 52 percent of seats to students who are poor, learning English, or live in temporary housing. That percentage is in line with the district average.

The plan offers a stark alternative to the way many schools in New York City currently enroll students: About a quarter of all middle schools screen applicants — a practice that is often seen as a way to help keep middle class families in the school system. But critics say it exacerbates segregation, since disadvantaged students are more likely to struggle in school, and middle class families are better positioned to navigate a complicated admissions system.

In addition to the admissions changes, the plan for District 15 calls for anti-bias training, hiring more teachers of color, and ensuring equal investments in programming across schools. Advocates say those kinds of moves, among many others that have been recommended, are important for making sure integration goes deeper than just demographic changes.   

How did we get here?

The proposal is the result of months of public input, dozens of public meetings, and years of advocacy.

The city hired WXY Studio, an urban planning and design firm, to solicit ideas and gather feedback from parents, educators, and activists across the district. That work began this past winter, with a series of public workshops, intimate meetings with PTAs and community groups, direct phone calls to local leaders, and email blasts to parents. It culminated with a set of recommendations based on what community members said they wanted.

But the integration push in District 15 goes even farther back, with parents and the local Community Education Council lobbying for years for a process like the one that ultimately played out. Integration advocates have called it one of the more thoughtful and inclusive processes to date, with small group sessions that allowed parents to talk face-to-face about complicated topics, and an emphasis on including parents who don’t speak English as a first language.

Advocates say that’s why they were able to come up with such a sweeping proposal — without the amount of pushback that integration plans in other districts have generated.

Matt Gonzales, who lobbies for school integration with the nonprofit New York Appleseed, said the one-on-one conversations allowed “people to humanize each other.”

“I really applaud the process because it did mitigate some of the backlash and some of the racist, classist, coded things that have been said” elsewhere, he said.

Still, as with any dramatic changes involving schools, race, and class, the plan hasn’t been completely well received. Some have said even more should have been done to make sure a more diverse group of voices were included. Other parents have said they’re reluctant to raise their concerns because they don’t want to be perceived as fighting integration, or worry that the changes could unintentionally encourage neighborhoods to gentrify further.  

What happens next?

The proposal on the table now is just a recommendation that requires Carranza to sign off. He could choose to approve some parts of the plan and not others, or add new elements.

But advocates are expecting the final changes to hew closely to what they’ve proposed.

Carranza has signaled his eagerness to approve what the community has come up with, and has questioned the very screening process that parents now want to eliminate. Plus, the education department was at the table every step of the way while the plan was being created.

“I am really excited about the work that the parents, and teachers and principals and community members have done in District 15,” he said Tuesday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer show. “Talk about a thoughtful and very powerful way of changing the way we look at opportunities for our students.”

Carranza said final approval would come within the next few days.

word choice

A quietly edited report and dueling blog posts reveal a divide over the ‘portfolio model’

Diane Ravitch speaks at California State University Northridge. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

A report on school choice released last month offered this in a list of strategies for improving schools: “creating a portfolio approach that treats all types of schools equally.”

Today, that reference is gone from the report — a small edit that reveals notable disagreements among prominent names in education who often agree.

The report was issued by the Learning Policy Institute, an education think tank started by Linda Darling-Hammond, an influential Stanford professor. Then came a critique from Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education, a pro-public education group that opposes charter schools. And then came the edits to the original report, first noted by Burris and Ravitch.

At the center of the disagreement is the report’s use of the word “portfolio.” The portfolio model is a strategy offering parents the choice of different school types (typically including charter schools) and having a central body holding all schools accountable for results and manages certain functions like enrollment. And the Learning Policy Institute praises Denver, a district that has adopted it.

Denver’s collaboration agreement with its charter schools “drives equitable funding and access for all schools, and strives to replicate the most effective schools of all kinds,” the report says. The report also recommends putting the “focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures,” and notes that most school choice in the U.S. involves options within traditional districts.

Ravitch and Burris pushed back on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. “School governance directly affects the rights and well-being of students,” they wrote, pointing to instances where charter schools have pushed out students with disabilities or shut down abruptly.

That criticism seems to have gotten through. Since the debate began, the Learning Policy Institute has edited its report to remove the term “portfolio” and changed other language. One recommendation — “focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures for adults” — became “focus on high-quality learning for children, not the preferences of adults.”

“The language change was made after some public feedback suggested that the use of the word ‘portfolio’ in the report was being misinterpreted,” Barbara McKenna, a spokesperson for the Learning Policy Institute, said in an email. “The report used the word ‘portfolio’ in one of the recommendations in the most straightforward sense of the term — an array of options.”

The report does not indicate that it has been updated since it was published late last month. McKenna said that’s because the revisions weren’t substantial.

Meanwhile, Darling-Hammond and co-authors have responded, and Ravitch and Burris offered an additional rejoinder.

Darling-Hammond said in an interview that she neither rejects nor wholly subscribes to the portfolio model. “Unplanned, uncoordinated, unmanaged choice has a lot of challenges and problems,” she said.

This debate comes as a new group, known as the City Fund, has raised at least $200 million in order to spread the portfolio model to dozens of U.S. cities. Whether the approach reliably improves academic outcomes remains up for debate.

public comment

What to expect from six hours of charter school hearings Wednesday night

PHOTO: Chicago Tribune

The public can weigh in on three new charters, 11 renewals and one potential revocation on Wednesday night during a marathon session of hearings at Chicago Public Schools headquarters on 42 W. Madison Street.

One school, the Near West Side campus of Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men High School, could lose its charter and be forced to close. Parents and families will have a chance to weigh in during a public comment section.

Urban Prep operates three campuses in Bronzeville, Englewood, and University Village. Only the latter, which reported 176 students this fall, is on the list to potentially shutter.

The first hearing, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., will be about new charters with proposals to open in the fall of 2019:

  • Intrinsic Charter School for a traditional citywide high school;
  • Project Simeon 2000 for a school that would serve at-risk students in middle grades in Englewood, where the district is planning a new $85 million high school to open in 2022;
  • Chicago Education Partnership to open a traditional K-8 school in Austin.

From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the district will hear public comment on renewal applications from 11 private operators as well as the proposal to revoke Urban Prep’s University Village campus. The charter and contracts under consideration for renewal are:

  • Noble Network of Charter Schools (whose founder Michael Milkie just resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with alumni)
  • Namaste Charter School
  • Kwame Nkrumah Academy Charter School
  • Horizon Science Academy Southwest Chicago Charter School (Chicago Lawn Charter School)
  • Great Lakes Academy Charter School
  • Foundations College Preparatory Charter School
  • Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA) Charter School
  • Hope Institute Learning Academy
  • Excel Academy of Southshore
  • Excel Academy Southwest
  • Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts)

Those interested in submitting comment may register in person before the meetings, send a fax to 773-553-1559, or email iandipublichearings@cps.edu.