Admissions Debate

In its push for diversity, New York City is rethinking selective admissions beyond specialized schools, Mayor de Blasio says

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Richard Carranza joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray for lunch at Katz's Deli on his first day as chancellor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that the city is planning to overhaul admissions at selective schools — not just the eight elite specialized high schools that offer admission based on a single test.

“We have a tangible specialized schools proposal,” de Blasio said during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “We’re also in the process of coming up with a series of changes around the screened schools to make sure that they continue to be great schools with a more diverse student body.”

This isn’t the first time top officials have signaled wider admissions changes could be coming. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has said selecting students based on ability — something 28 percent of the city’s schools currently do — is “antithetical” to public education.

But de Blasio’s comments represent a shift from his earlier stance on integrating schools, when he insisted that housing patterns and “400 years of American history” would keep him from putting forward aggressive integration proposals. His statements Friday suggest that Carranza has the mayor’s backing to make changes.

Using test scores, grades, and other factors to admit students to public schools has contributed to extreme academic and racial segregation. And while the de Blasio administration has said it isn’t interested in expanding screened schools, they also have not significantly overhauled selective admissions methods, which proliferated under the Bloomberg administration as a way of keeping middle class (and often white) families in the system.

De Blasio’s suggestion that more changes are coming could relieve some of criticism from advocates and local officials who have argued that the city’s plan to integrate specialized high schools doesn’t address more systemic problems. Last month, for instance, city council education committee chairman Mark Treyger said he doesn’t support the specialized high school diversity plan partly because “I’m still waiting for the bigger vision and the bigger plan.”

The mayor did not offer any details about what specific changes are under consideration and when they could be made. And it’s unclear whether there is political will for more dramatic changes (the city’s current diversity plan set goals that are expected to be met through demographic changes alone).

But de Blasio did suggest that the city will get behind more local integration efforts, including one in Brooklyn’s District 15 that would eliminate selective admissions at all of that district’s middle schools.

“We’re going to build on those rapidly,” he said.

Asked why the city has not yet approved the District 15 plan, despite Carranza saying on Tuesday that it would be approved this week, de Blasio chalked it up to the chancellor’s desire to move more quickly than city government allows. De Blasio said the plan would move forward this month.

“I think in his eagerness for change,” de Blasio noted, “he said a timeline that is a little quicker than what could actually be achieved.”

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.