change of plans

Schools could bend rules through PROSE to boost diversity, officials suggest

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña at P.S. 206.
PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña at P.S. 206.

After signing off on a few groundbreaking school-diversity plans last fall, New York City officials have signaled that they will consider letting more schools make such changes.

Several schools are now eyeing the city’s PROSE program — which gives schools some freedom from union contract rules and city regulations — as a way to change their admissions rules in order to boost diversity. In a shift, the education department has said it will consider diversity-oriented plans in the round of PROSE applications due this month, after it had previously rejected schools’ proposals to adopt new admissions rules through that program.

This follows the city’s announcement in November that it would allow seven elementary schools to set aside seats at their schools for students who meet certain criteria, like being from low-income families. After that pilot program was announced, PROSE staffers convened a meeting of interested schools to discuss how they might make similar changes.

“We look forward to reviewing all of the exciting and innovative ideas schools propose through PROSE — including possible admissions changes to foster diversity,” spokesman Harry Hartfield said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the teachers union is offering small grants to PROSE schools that want to explore diversity plans. For instance, the specialized Brooklyn Latin School in Williamsburg sought a grant to help fund recruiting efforts aimed at middle schools where few students have traditionally applied to the most competitive schools.

Other PROSE schools in gentrifying neighborhoods want to adopt policies that will help them maintain a mix of students from different backgrounds even as more middle-class families seek to enroll their children.

“People feel as if we have a window of opportunity,” said Tina Collins, a United Federation of Teachers official who helps run PROSE, “that the schools are interested in addressing before that opportunity closes.”

The number of affected schools is still likely to be small.

An education department newsletter to PROSE schools from December said that the pilot program had “opened the door” for 10 PROSE schools to pursue admissions changes. A department spokesman said that figure includes five schools already in the pilot program — meaning the number of schools with permission to carry out diverse-enrollment plans could increase from seven to 12.

Schools in the original pilot program, announced in November, will be able to set aside a portion of their pre-K and kindergarten seats for low-income students, non-native English speakers, and students involved in the child-welfare system.

Castle Bridge School in Upper Manhattan, for one, will reserve 60 percent of its pre-kindergarten and kindergarten seats for students from low-income families, and another 10 percent of seats for students with an incarcerated family member. The school had proposed that 10 percent set-aside during the first round of PROSE, but it was not approved.

“I think it makes a lot of sense for us to go back and think about how can we spread it further,” said Julie Zuckerman, principal of Castle Bridge. “Because seven out of 1,700 schools is ridiculous.”

A joint panel of education department, teachers union, and principals union representatives must sign off on any PROSE plans, and 65 percent of each school’s staff must also vote in favor of the plans.

back to court

Nashville appeals judge’s order to share student information with state charters

The battle over student contact information will continue between Tennessee’s charter schools and its second largest school district.

Attorneys for Metro Nashville Public Schools on Friday appealed Chancellor Bill Young’s order to provide state-run charter schools with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of students.

The appeal came on the same day that Young originally set for Nashville’s district to comply with a new state law requiring sharing such information if charter operators request it. But a recent court extension assured Nashville leaders that they could exhaust the appeals process first.

The disagreement — which also touches on student privacy, school choice, and enrollment — has vexed state officials and lawmakers as they’ve sought to mitigate skirmishes between the state’s growing charter sector and its two largest districts, in Nashville and Memphis. Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam brought all parties to the table to seek a solution outside the courts. The State Department of Education was tasked with developing a way forward, but has not yet submitted a proposal.

While the state has urged local districts to comply with the year-old charter law, Nashville leaders argue it runs afoul of a federal law that gives districts discretion over who gets student contact information. For instance, school systems routinely share such information with companies that sell yearbooks and class rings.

The tussle has implications for the state’s largest school system, Shelby County Schools, in Memphis. Leaders there also have refused to hand over the information to charters in the state’s Achievement School District, which seeks to turn around Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Parents are divided on the issue. Some say the information exchange is an invasion of privacy, including when a Nashville charter school sent a barrage of text messages to parents, resulting in a $2.2 million settlement last year. Others say allowing charters to contact prospective students allows them to better explore their options.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”