diversity by design

Nearly 100 percent of KIPP’s students in New York City are black or Hispanic. Now it wants to open an integrated school.

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Leila Hadd
A KIPP school in the Bronx.

A part of Manhattan where a push is underway to integrate schools could get a new one designed to be diverse — if one of the city’s largest charter networks goes through with its plan.

KIPP hopes to open an “intentionally integrated” middle school two years from now in Manhattan’s District 3, which covers the Upper West Side and part of Harlem. The network currently operates 13 city charter schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan.

The network’s superintendent, Jim Manly, outlined the idea in a letter to families on Monday that promised the new school would remain consistent with KIPP’s original mission.

“We believe KIPP can continue to be a national leader in the movement to educate black and Latino students AND we can be leaders in showing how socioeconomically and racially diverse schools can improve outcomes for all students,” Manly wrote.

KIPP is not the first charter organization in the city to open schools with the goal of achieving racial and socioeconomic integration. Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, for instance, is “diverse by design.” Success Academy, the city’s largest network, has opened campuses in Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn neighborhoods that draw significant numbers of white and Asian students in the last several years.

But if KIPP moves into the Upper West Side and attracts more of that area’s white and Asian families, it would be a departure for the network. Ninety-nine percent of KIPP’s New York City students are black, Hispanic, or multiracial, KIPP says, and most are from low-income families. Those students represent the population that KIPP, and most city charters, originally set out to serve.

The network’s plan is likely to face obstacles. The city is close to its limit on charter schools under state law, and the new crop of state legislators heading to Albany might not allow more. KIPP may also face opposition from the district’s elected parent council, though it does not have any say when it comes to charters.

“Our district stands by the statement it has been making for the past seven or eight years: We have enough schools in District 3,” said Kim Watkins, president of the local education council for the district, when asked about the proposal. “We don’t need any more charter schools.” (District 3 already includes at least a dozen charters, but nearly all are in the Harlem portion of the district.)

The council has supported a separate policy designed to integrate the district’s traditional public middle schools.

Joe Negron, who oversees middle schools for the charter network, said he has closely watched the District 3 council’s diversity efforts.

“We feel the goals of the [local education council] and goals of the community board are about diversifying their schools and we want to be part of that solution,” Negron said. “We want to do this with the district, not to the district.”

Manly’s letter lists four public events in the next week to gather feedback about the proposal, including one meeting at KIPP’s W. 125th Street campus.

More integrated schools have been shown to improve outcomes for students of color and low-income students. There could be potential benefits for the network, too. Affluent parents could donate muscle to KIPP’s political fights, and KIPP would face less competition from other networks for students and space in a neighborhood with fewer charters. Other networks have won federal grants for embracing a diverse-by-design approach in recent years as well.

KIPP officials said they hope the middle school reflects current student demographics in District 3. Currently, 32 percent of students in the district are Hispanic, another 32 percent are white, 22 percent are black, and 8 percent are Asian. Roughly half come from poor families, and 5 percent are English learners.

The network hopes to open the middle school in 2020 and says it would ultimately enroll 355 students.

To get there, KIPP will have to navigate a complicated political landscape. Last month’s election gave Democrats control of the state Senate, ousting Republicans who promoted charter-friendly policies. If the state legislature does not raise the limit on the number of charter schools in New York City, there are just seven slots remaining for new charters, according to state officials.

“We know we’re getting real close to the cap,” KIPP spokeswoman Vicki Zubovic said. “Clearly we know it’s going to be competitive, and we’re not sure what’s going to happen.”

big plans

Four things you should know about the new Memphis plan to expand district support to all schools

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

Shelby County Schools board members heard an ambitious plan Tuesday to expand district support for students across all its nearly 150 schools.

The proposal would expand the district’s flagship turnaround program, the Innovation Zone; test all first-graders for gifted education; give hand-held electronic devices to more high school students; and offer more advanced courses. The recommendations are the first from the district’s new chief academic officer, Antonio Burt, who was appointed in September.

“We’re really focused on system-wide equity,” he said. “We can really switch the conversation from equity to really focusing on equity in action.”

In recent years, Memphis has become a model in Tennessee’s school turnaround efforts. But district officials believe Shelby County Schools has not effectively scaled those lessons up to impact more students more quickly. Burt said his plan will fill in those gaps.

Burt did not break down how much these initiatives would cost, but incoming interim superintendent Joris Ray said the proposals would anchor the district’s budget priorities for the 2019-20 school year.

Here is what you need to know:

All first-grade students would be tested to see if they are eligible for CLUE, the district’s gifted education program.

Currently, teachers pick students to be tested for admittance into a program that promotes higher-level grade work for students from preschool to high school.

Burt said the way students are chosen has led to wide disparities in the racial makeup of the program. Though white students make up 7 percent of the district’s population, they make up 38 percent of the students in CLUE. Black students make up 77 percent of the district’s enrollment, but 45 percent of students in the program.

Nationally, black students are far less likely to be placed in gifted programs, even if they have the same test scores as their white peers, and especially if their teacher is white, according to a 2016 study at Vanderbilt University.

For the first time, all Memphis schools identified by the state as low performing will get additional money.

Eleven schools will be added to the district’s Innovation Zone, known for improving test scores.

The iZone pumps about $600,000 per school for teacher bonuses, for more resources to combat the effects of poverty, and for principals to have more say over which teachers they hire.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Antonio Burt became assistant superintendent in 2017 over the Innovation Zone and other struggling schools within Shelby County Schools. He is now the district’s academic chief.

Some of the schools Burt wants to add have been languishing on the state’s list since it was first created in 2012, but have not received substantial support.

As some schools are being added to the iZone, others have improved their performance, and are no longer eligible for additional state funding. Shelby County Schools, which has covered the reduction in funding, for the first time plans to gradually wean 13 schools off that extra support. Burt vowed to monitor those schools to make sure they don’t slip again.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story to see which schools will be affected.

Burt’s plan also would combine Hamilton Elementary and Hamilton Middle into a K-8 school next year, and separate Raleigh-Egypt Middle/High into two schools again after a charter operator moved out the neighborhood. The Hamilton school proposal is also part of outgoing Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s recommendation to consolidate some schools.

Every student in nine high schools would get a hand-held device or laptop this fall, with a goal to expand to every school by the 2024-25 school year.

The district hasn’t decided whether it would be laptops, tablets, or some other device, but officials say students should have more access to technology.

“I think about children in the municipalities and across the nation… they have a device in their hand,” said Ray. “All their textbooks, they’re loaded to one device. So we need to in Shelby County Schools increase technology and give our students the opportunity to compete worldwide.”

But board members cautioned the district should have a robust learning plan for those devices.

“It’s more than just putting a device in hand,” said board member Miska Clay Bibbs.

Every high school will have two Advanced Placement courses for college credit by school year 2020-21.

Students from poor families are more likely to attend a high school with fewer advanced courses, according to a 2018 district report. Burt wants to change that.

The plan calls for more teachers in every high school to be trained to lead an honors, Advanced Placement, or pre-Advanced Placement class.

Below are the schools that would be added to and removed from the iZone. Read the district’s full presentation below.

The schools that would be added to the iZone are:

  • LaRose Elementary
  • Dunbar Elementary
  • Getwell Elementary
  • Hawkins Mill Elementary
  • Woodstock Middle
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Craigmont Middle
  • Wooddale High
  • Sheffield High
  • Oakhaven High
  • Manassas High

These schools would be cycled out of the iZone:

  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Treadwell Elementary
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Ford Road Elementary
  • Westhaven Elementary
  • Douglass K-8
  • Chickasaw Middle
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Hamilton Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Mitchell High
  • Melrose High

text skills

‘My reminders are not spam!’: Teachers and parents protest Verizon over new texting fees

Hell hath no fury like teachers who are told that their direct line to students and parents might soon be cut off.

That’s what Verizon is learning after a text-messaging service used by teachers and parents to share updates about homework assignments and snow days announced that the company would soon make messaging prohibitively expensive.

The service, Remind, emailed users late Monday to tell them that Verizon had decided to treat their messages as spam — a move that would make it impossible to continue distributing messages for free. The change would affect 7 million of the service’s 31 million users, a spokesperson said.

“The Verizon fee will increase our costs of providing text messaging by 11X—pushing our annual costs into the millions of dollars,” the company said in the letter. “This isn’t financially feasible for us to support, and it’s forcing us to end Remind text messaging for everyone who has a wireless plan with Verizon.”

The letter urged teachers and families to download Remind’s app instead — and to lobby Verizon to change its policy.

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s the power of communication,” Remind’s website read. “If Remind’s made a positive impact on how you teach or learn, please call Verizon and ask them to #ReverseTheFee.”

Overnight and into Tuesday, countless educators and parents followed Remind’s lead, posting on Twitter and calling Verizon to explain why free text messaging is essential to their work. Two million educators use the service monthly, and the company says it is used in about 80 percent of U.S. schools.

“My reminders to students and their parents are #NotSpam!!,” wrote Phillip Cantor, a high school teacher in Chicago.  “My district allows ONLY @remind101 to communicate with students via text because it’s safe and free.”

“I bet you didn’t know that 29% of the students that attend the school I teach at rely on the translation tool built into @RemindHQ,” tweeted Beth Small. “Please don’t silence parent/teacher communication!”

“The Remind service is invaluable with my students,” wrote David Bell. “As a high school counselor it helps me build a rapport with my students that wouldn’t otherwise exist.”

Remind officials said the company had been trying to negotiate with Verizon since last summer, when the company first announced the rate increase. (They also said they are locked in a similar conflict with a telecommunications company in Canada.)

Those negotiations are complicated. According to a Verizon spokesperson, Remind contracts with another messaging company, Twilio, that contracts with a firm that has a contract with Verizon, and Remind is not the only service to be caught in a dragnet meant to reduce the number of spam messages that cell phone users receive.

Several of those companies met throughout the day Tuesday with the goal of preserving free text-messaging for teachers and schools. But the night ended without a resolution, and with the social media protest continuing to take aim at the phone company.

“As a student, I use Remind daily and by charging teachers for using its features, that experience will be cut off for me,” tweeted Keegan Ator. “What’s more important, future generations of hard-working students or a few extra pennies in the bank?”