Author: Michael Holzman

Can Opening Up Stuyvesant (and Other New York City Selective High Schools) Help Poor Kids?

New York City’s specialized High Schools are highly selective public schools for academically and artistically gifted students. There are nine specialized high schools in New York City. Admission to eight…

Photo courtesy of GothamSchools.org


New York City’s specialized High Schools are highly selective public schools for academically and artistically gifted students. There are nine specialized high schools in New York City. Admission to eight of the schools is based on the score attained on the competitive Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT).  (Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts accepts students based on auditions and reviews of academic records.)  Places are awarded to those students who earn the highest scores on the SHSAT, which is offered to all eighth and ninth grade students residing within New York City. Students who qualify may attend the selective high school of their choice. The best known of these schools are the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School.

According to a recent series on the local New York City NBC television affiliate, “a dramatic race gap persists at the city’s most elite public high schools, a product of a single standardized entrance exam that privileges students who have been intensively primed and prepped through expensive private tutoring programs.”  The reporters go on to point out that “At Stuyvesant High School, widely viewed as the crown jewels of the top public high schools, just two percent of incoming ninth-graders are black, and 3.5 percent are Hispanic . . . In the general New York City public school population, the two groups comprise a total of 77 percent.” 
 
New York City is divided into “community school districts,” neighborhoods, varying from the wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan and the semi-suburban areas of eastern Queens, to the impoverished Bronx and central Brooklyn areas.  The distribution of students qualifying for selective high schools is a measure of the academic quality of science education in their middle and junior high schools and, perhaps, a measure of the family incomes in those neighborhoods. Students in northeastern Queens, near Great Neck, have a good opportunity to learn in a selective high school.  Students in the Bronx and Central Brooklyn have none.

An especially curious fact is that 115 of the 843 students admitted to Stuyvesant in a recent year had not attended New York City schools.  They came from private schools and the suburbs.  Their parents had invested in their elementary and middle school education in expensive private schools so that they could have a free education in one of the nation’s best public high schools.

Selective high schools are the Emerald City of New York City traditional public schools. The yellow brick road leading to them starts with the kindergarten tests for Gifted and Talented programs. But not all children have a chance of even setting out on that road. The city tests only 21 percent of its kindergarten students. The percentage of students in a neighborhood the New York City district thinks it worthwhile to test varies by the income of their parents. In some community school districts 70 percent of the students are tested.  In others, as few as seven percent are tested.  If instead, say, 70 percent of ALL students were tested, we could estimate that there would be an additional 10,000 students qualifying for the ruby slippers of the city’s Gifted and Talented programs. These additional students would mostly be Black, Hispanic and living in poverty. It is these students, and their peers, whom the system is denying an equal opportunity to learn.

The yellow brick road out of poverty runs through the schools. Unfortunately, that road is blocked by a Tin Man, lacking a heart, who prevents poor children from embarking on that road by restricting the additional resources that flow to students in Gifted and Talented programs to those from prosperous families, and a Cowardly Lion, lacking the courage to do what he must knows is right, maintaining a gatekeeper examination that cannot be passed without expensive private tutoring. Is it then any accident that Stuyvesant is one of the most highly segregated schools in the country, with only two percent of its student body who are Black and three percent Latino?  Do we need any more evidence that there is a pattern of segregation from kindergarten through high school in New York City?

Any objective observer would find it highly suspicious that New York City has a system of  selective high schools with a gateway examination that cannot be passed without extra tutoring. The New York Department of Education appears to believe that its schools are not good enough for the SHSAT. Doesn’t that seem a bit odd? Perhaps not when we know that many schools in the poorest parts of the city do not offer the courses, like advanced algebra, necessary to even read the questions on the test.

However, this situation, just because it is so egregious, offers an opportunity for fundamental change in the nation’s largest school system.  

First, New York City should abolish the SHSAT. That should be done for a number of reasons, not the least being that no child’s future should be determined by a single, high stakes, standardized test that is admittedly not aligned with the curriculum of the schools and blatantly discriminates on the basis of family income.

Instead of the SHSAT, the school district should adopt a system used for college admission in various places around the country:  a quota, based on enrollment, from each middle and junior high school.  If a school enrolls, say, one percent of the city’s grade eight students, then one percent of the pool of students admitted to the specialized high schools should come from that school.  Each school should be permitted to set their own criteria for identifying those students, as who knows students better than their teachers? 

What would be the consequences of this innovation? Some schools which now send many students to the selective high schools would send fewer. Every school which now sends no students to the selective high schools would send some.  Every student in New York City would have an equal opportunity to learn in some of the best high schools in the nation.

It is possible that parents now willing and able to pay large amounts of money for after-school and Saturday classes for their children from kindergarten through grade eight, and to pay for special “cramming” tutoring in for the SHSAT, will consider moving from neighborhoods where the competition for places will be high to neighborhoods where the schools currently do not sent students to the selective high schools. It is possible that they will put pressure on those schools—and the New York Department of Education—to improve the schools so that their children will have the opportunity to attend a selective high school.  It is possible that the Department of Education will do this, will make all its schools places where every child has an opportunity to learn to high standards.

And now we will all join together and sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

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Mayor Bloomberg (and Arne Duncan): You Have a School Data Problem

Dropout Nation Contributing Editor Michael Holzman, whose report for the Schott Foundation on how New York City’s Zip Code Education policies affect opportunities for poor and minority kids in the…

Dropout Nation Contributing Editor Michael Holzman, whose report for the Schott Foundation on how New York City’s Zip Code Education policies affect opportunities for poor and minority kids in the Big Apple, offers some new thoughts on data.

New York City’s Department of Education is the largest district in the country, responsible for educating one million students. How it meets that responsibility is of great concern to those children, their parents, the city’s residents and because of the sheer scale, the nation at large. It is, therefore, vital to have accurate, dependable data about the district’s performance.

Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released its long-awaited Civil Rights Data Collection for 2009-2010 from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts.  It is literally a collection:  each of those 7,000 districts submitted data on everything from school enrollment counts to statistics about bullying. This data collection is an important resource for all those interested in the condition of education in this country.  OCR has done an exemplary job of making the data accessible and easy to compare and analyze. (Editor’s Note: Whether or not the data accurately reflects what is going on, especially when it comes to young men of all races, or whether all kids are getting college-preparatory curricula, is a different matter entirely.)

 

But the data collection as a whole is only as accurate as the data sent in by the individual districts. And the data submitted by New York City is most curious.

For example, New York City reported that none of its 1,530 schools were either charter schools or alternative schools. This despite the fact that New York City is one of the leading players in expanding charters, and has an entire division — District 72 — devoted to educating students in alternative settings such as the Rykers Island jail. It also reported that none of its student received Free and Reduced-Price Lunch, a key measure of levels of poverty. Meanwhile New York City reported that eight-tenths of one percent of the children it serves were students disabilities. Even more odd, the district also reported that less than one percent of its students were classified as having Limited English Proficiency — even though a majority of its students are Latino and Asian.

The data points on suspension and expulsion reported by New York City to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights are even more curious. In 2009-2010, it reported that no students had been expelled. It also reported that none had been referred to law enforcement agencies. And that none of its students had been the subjects of school-related arrests. (Based on news reports and data from the city’s police department itself, this isn’t even close to reality.)

In other words, according to the New York City Department of Education, the district is one of unparalleled wealth among large districts, with no students living in poverty or near it.  The district, according to the data it submitted to the U. S. Department of Education, has completely resisted the charter school movement and has not experimented with alternative schools.  And its very large percentage of children living in homes where English is not spoken have nearly all acquired proficiency in English.

One of the strengths of the Civil Rights Data Collection is that it includes school-by-school data. New York City reports, for example, that:

  • Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, with an enrollment of 2,275, had no students eligible for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch.
  • Canarsie High School, also in Brooklyn, with an enrollment of 825, also had no students eligible for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch.  It reported an average teacher salary of $411,796.
  • DeWitt Clinton High School, in the Bronx, with 63 percent of its 4,435 students listed as Latino reported 3.3 percent as having Limited English Proficiency and none eligible for Free and Reduced-price Lunch.
  • Edward R. Murrow High School’s teachers are said to have an average salary of $252,843.

This is quite remarkable information. Perhaps someone in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office should look into it.

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Is “Gifted and Talented” Segregation by Another Name?

As Dropout Nation noted in these week’s Podcast, the nation’s special education ghettos are way-stations for kids many adults in schools and districts consider unreachable. At the same time, special…

As Dropout Nation noted in these week’s Podcast, the nation’s special education ghettos are way-stations for kids many adults in schools and districts consider unreachable. At the same time, special ed programs serve as one of the ways American public education rations what traditionalists consider to be quality education. Another form of rationing comes in the form of gifted-and-talented classes which serve those students gatekeepers into those programs (using faulty I.Q. tests such as the Stanford-Ninety, along with their own judgement) consider worthy of what is presumed to be high-quality teaching and comprehensive, college-preparatory instruction. The fact that recent data suggest that those programs rarely do well by these students makes their value seem questionable. More importantly, gifted-and-talented programs are ineffective in reaching and serving those poor and minority kids who may be quite capable of doing the work.

Dropout Nation Contributing Editor Michael Holzman takes a look at federal data and wonders why so few black and Latino children are in gifted-and-talented programs. Read, consider, and offer your own thoughts.

Who is gifted and talented in the Atlanta metro area? This is a more-important question than you may think.

The school systems of Atlanta and the five-county core of the Atlanta metro area (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett) enroll nearly 400,000 students. Half of the area’s students are black; 21,000 are Asian; just over 90,000 are white, non-Hispanic and just under 90,000 are Hispanic.

A total of 50,000 students in the Atlanta area are enrolled in programs for the gifted and talented according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.  The distribution of those students, by race and ethnicity looks like this:

Between a quarter and a third of Asian and white students are placed in gifted and talented programs.  Atlanta area school systems identify just seven percent of black students and just five percent of Hispanic students as gifted and talented.

Students in gifted and talented programs presumably have access to specialized educational resources.  Presumably that is helpful to them.

What can one say?  That the Atlanta metro school systems actually believe that white, non-Hispanic and Asian students are four times as likely to be gifted and talented as black and Hispanic students?  If not, perhaps they should look again.  There might be some more gifted black and Hispanic students around there somewhere.

Unless, of course, gifted education programs in the Atlanta area are a means for school segregation by another name.

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Is the Education Crisis About Poverty?: Maine Offers a Different Story

There is a large body of research demonstrating the connection between family income and educational achievement.  The connection is strong.  It underlies the transformation of this country into one increasingly…

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There is a large body of research demonstrating the connection between family income and educational achievement.  The connection is strong.  It underlies the transformation of this country into one increasingly characterized by a lack of socioeconomic mobility. But simply pointing to the fact that family income predicts educational achievement does not tell us why this is the case.  More bathrooms at home do not seem to have an obvious connection with learning readiness.  [Insert bathroom joke here.]

But there are some places where the connection between family income and educational achievement seems weak or non-existent.  For example, here are some estimates of 2010 high school graduation rates for male Black and male White students for the state of Maine as compared to those for the nation as a whole:

The gap, nationally, between male black and white graduation rates is about 24 percent.  To put that another way, the white rate is half again as high as the black rate.  But in Maine, the gap is 4 percent. Hardly noticeable.  And the graduation rate for black males in Maine is much higher than the national average for white males.

Here are Census figures comparing family incomes:

Maine is a poor state.  These Census figures show that the white families of Maine are poorer than the national average for white families and that black families are considerably poorer—living right on the poverty line.

And yet the sons of black families do very well in school.  Why is this?  What can we learn from this outlier?

Here’s a theory:  There are too few black students in Maine to concentrate in inferior schools.  They attend the same schools as their white peers, have the same teachers, and must meet the same expectations.  They are not herded into “drop-out factories” and expected to fail.

If that theory is correct, the experience of black students living in poverty in Maine points to a way out of our continuing education — and socioeconomic — crisis.  All students deserve the opportunity to learn in good schools.  Given that opportunity, they do learn and are able to build a foundation for a better life.

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The Importance of Reforming School Finance

  Dropout Nation has offered its own reasons for why states should take full control of school funding instead of just funding 48 percent of the spend. The fact that…

 

Dropout Nation has offered its own reasons for why states should take full control of school funding instead of just funding 48 percent of the spend. The fact that school districts can continue to use their dependence on property tax dollars to oppose reforms — especially school choice and Parent Power — is one reason. But as Contributing Editor Michael Holzman points out, continuing to derive school funding from property tax dollars contributes to the ineffectiveness of American public education.

A good example of American Exceptionalism is the way that schools are funded here.  In most other developed countries, schools are funded from general taxation. Much of the financial support for American schools, in contrast, is derived from local property taxes. This means that the amount of support available per student is not equalized, as in some countries, or “challenged-based,” as in Britain, for example, but is based on the local tax rate and the value of the property subject to school taxes.  This results in wide variations between districts.

Take Connecticut, one of the states with the widest variations in both support for education and educational outcomes.  The Bridgeport school district had approximately $2,500 to spend on each student from local sources.  The Westport school district had $18,500.

Another is Florida. Five districts have local revenue under $2,000 per student.  Five districts have revenue over $10,000 per student.

One way to look at this is that some people pay much higher school taxes than others.  (Although, paradoxically, the actual tax rates in some poorer areas are higher than in wealthier areas near-by.)  Another way to look at it is that some children go to much less well-supported schools than others.

Neither seems either effective or fair, does it?

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Voices of the Dropout Nation: Michael Holzman on Challenging Achievement Gaps

This week, Dropout Nation introduces its latest contributor. Michael Holzman, a Research Consultant for the Schott Foundation for Public Education, has helped shed light on the impact of low teacher…

Photo courtesy of the Black Children's Institute of Tennessee

This week, Dropout Nation introduces its latest contributor. Michael Holzman, a Research Consultant for the Schott Foundation for Public Education, has helped shed light on the impact of low teacher quality and systemic academic failure on the educational and economic prospects of young black men. Through his research, Holzman and Schott have done plenty to show in numbers the depths of the nation’s dropout crisis and the impact on young black men. Along with Robert Balfanz, Jay P. Greene and Christopher Swanson, Holzman is one of the leading figures in revealing the nation’s educational decay.

In this piece, Holzman analyzes the results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress and reminds us that we must do more to help all children succeed in school and in life.

The results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have shown that there has been little change from the achievement gaps recorded in 2009. On the other hand, there has been some progress this century. These charts show the changes in the gap between the average NAEP scale scores of Black and White fourth- and eighth-grade students in American public schools:

In fourth-grade reading, the gap has declined from 34 points to 24 points, and declined from 30 points to 25 in math. The White, non-Hispanic/Hispanic gaps and changes were virtually identical.) In eighth-grade reading,  the gap has declined from 27 to 24 points, while declining from 40 to 31 points in math.

This is good news. But at this rate it will take 30 years to close the gap among fourth-graders in all grades — and eight graders in mathematics. And it will take 80 years to close the gap among 8th-graders in reading.

Does anyone think that is good enough? It is not good enough to accomplish the goals President Barack Obama has for increasing the number of college graduates by 2020.  It is particularly troubling that the gap in reading is virtually identical in fourth and eighth grade while achievement gaps increase as kids move from elementary to middle school.

What is to be done? Through its Opportunity to Learn Campaign, the Schott Foundation wants to ensure that all kids have access to high-quality early childhood education and a challenging curriculum.  The NAEP outcomes show that these key factors are not yet in place. We would have all children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn their letters and numbers. We would have all middle school students challenged with courses that will put them on the road to graduating on time, ready for college and career. And we know it can be done.

A version of this piece is available at Schott’s Opportunity to Learn blog.

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