Parents Remain Critical of New School Diversity Proposals: ‘Just Putting a Band-Aid Over the Wound’


Local parent Leslie Washington voices her concerns about new proposals to District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul and the Community Education Council.

By Alex Israel

The city tweaked its plan to make Upper West Side and Lower Harlem middle schools more diverse, but some Upper West Side parents remain critical of the efforts, which they say will be largely ineffective.

The city Department of Education said at a meeting Wednesday that it may use new factors — including socioeconomic status — to better integrate local schools. The changes come as the proposal has taken on heightened scrutiny following a controversial tweet from new Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza that criticized local parents for their opposition.

Some changes to the admissions process will occur regardless of the outcome of these meetings. A new standard citywide “blind ranking” policy will take effect in Fall 2019, impacting families with children currently in fourth grade or below. This policy differs from the existing “revealed ranking” process in District 3. Under the new system, principals won’t be able to see how students rank their schools — the theory being that savvy parents were able to game the system by ranking schools strategically.

District 3 is considering using an additional filter to further ensure equity in the admissions process.

Earlier this year, Superintendent Ilene Altschul and the Department of Education (DOE) floated a plan that would make sure that each middle school reserved at least 10% of the seats in its incoming 6th grade class for students who scored a 1 (well below proficient) on their fourth grade NYS English Language Arts and Math tests, and 15% for students who scored a 2 (below proficient). The scores on the two tests would be averaged.

Over the course of this exploration period, Community Education Council District 3 (CEC3), which acts as a parent advisory board for the district, has held 22 meetings attended by hundreds of people—including parents, community stakeholders, and elected officials—to discuss.

In a letter to Chancellor Richard Carranza, CEC3 voiced its approval of adding a district-level filter to foster a more diverse and integrated environment. But they also shared a number of caveats to their approval, including the lack of sufficient time for consideration and formal documentation provided by the DOE. CEC3 requested they explore more than one simulated solution to this problem to ensure its success, among other considerations.

Following this recommendation, coupled with an outpouring of feedback from parents about the initial proposal, Superintendent Ilene Altschul and the DOE have put forth two additional options for parents to consider. On Wednesday, CEC3 held a meeting for them to introduce the new simulated scenarios and field comments from the community.

The first proposal would prioritize students from “higher-need” elementary schools (defined by the average Economic Need Index of the school), as well as students who are “lower-performing” based on their average on the state English Language Arts and Math test scores. The scenario ensures that up to 10% of seats would be reserved for the “highest-needs and/or lowest-performing” group, and up to 15% of seats would be prioritized for the “higher-needs and/or lower-performing” group.

The second proposal prioritizes students with low course grades and state test scores. In this scenario, the students’ final 4th grade English Language Arts and Math course grades would factor in, in addition to their NYS English Language Arts and Math test scores. The scenario ensures that up to 10% of seats would be reserved for the “lowest-performing” group, and up to 15% of seats would be prioritized for the “lower-performing” group.

Both new proposals differ from the initial plan in that they factor more than just the state test scores into their evaluation of the students. According to the DOE’s presentation, in both simulations around 5% of applicants did not receive a match to a school they ranked on their application—but both simulations had a net increase in families receiving a match to a more preferred school.

Following comments from CEC3 members, ten parents signed up to speak about a number of concerns regarding equal treatment based on race, socioeconomic status, and disability. Despite the new proposals, most remained steadfast in their concern that District 3 is not doing enough to tackle the problem of diversity within its schools at a larger scale.

“The DOE really needs to figure out what diversity means,” said CEC3 member Michael McCarthy. Right now, “they’re just putting a band-aid over the wound.”

“You’re trying to solve an elementary school problem with a middle school solution … You’re screwing [kids] before middle school, and you’re not going to fix it at that point,” said parent Josh Kross. “Make a system where you can’t game it instead.”

Leslie Washington, also a parent, was upset by an overall lack of clarity from the DOE. “You’re still leaving questions unanswered,” she said after an exasperated request for more information about the process.

While the majority of public commentary was critical of the DOE’s proposals, not everyone who spoke out was opposed.

Cidalia Costa, a middle school teacher at West Prep Academy, voiced her approval of the plan from an educator’s perspective. “It’s our job to serve every single child … we can’t just pick and choose. But unfortunately, that’s what some schools are doing,” she said. “The plan is great—it’s a good start.”

Universally, people could agree on one thing: that in the best case scenario, the admissions process should facilitate an increase in high-performing, and thus highly sought-after, middle schools in the district—and that these proposals don’t yet help to address that. While simulations of both new proposals resulted in significant increases in the number of low-performing students offered seats in three high-performing schools, many felt that wasn’t enough.

CEC3 member Genisha Metcalf expressed this concern throughout the night. “Integration isn’t necessarily equity,” she warned. She acknowledged the proposals would “[make] it easier to over-concentrate in highly sought-after schools,” but wanted to know what the DOE was proposing to attract lower-performing students to other, less sought-after schools. “I don’t see that this plan does anything for those schools,” she said, receiving a heavy round of applause from the crowd.

The DOE intends to make a decision on a district-level filtering approach in District 3 by the end of the school year. While CEC3 doesn’t have a vote on the changes, they will continue to offer recommendations and facilitate public conversation. The final meeting on the issue during the public comment period will be held on May 22, 6:30 PM at P.S. 163 (West 97th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam). Parents can also email feedback to d3feedback@gmail.com until May 29.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 46 comments | permalink
    1. Doctor of Education says:

      what the DOE is not offering is how much money will they give the schools to support that 25% of kids who are low performing? are the giving three teachers per class to make sure that those 8-10 kids per class have adequate support so that the other kids don’t lose on instruction time and the kids who have challenges get attended to? DOE is proposing nothing to support their plan and what they are doing is increasing segregation and achievement gap even more! Stupid plan and does not achieve the goal.

      • dannyboy says:

        How about bringing this to the the Meeting
        on Middle School Admissions Changes scheduled May 22, 6:30 PM at P.S. 163?

        Love to hear your public comment, Doctor.

    2. Christine E says:

      So if you are an “average” student (decent but not spectacular) and you want to go to a “good” middle school, you should perform badly on the 4th grade state tests, and/or move to a below-average school for 5th grade? Good grief.

      Also, what about the opt outs. Legally, one has a right to opt out of the state tests. According to NYC Opt Out, 20% do (statewide). These placement quotas negate that right.

    3. UWS mama says:

      None of this addresses how the DOE plans to save the kids who have terrible test scores and/or grades and who attend terrible elementary and middle schools. DOE is throwing a half-baked lifeline to a few kids in the form of a few slots at a handful of schools. It does nothing for the majority of the children who need and deserve a quality education. Please DOE stop focusing on this shell game and instead change the game altogether.

    4. yourneighbor says:

      Rather than hobbling the middle schools with students who performed poorly on the 4th grade standardized tests, shouldn’t they be looking at why these kids didn’t get adequate instruction pre-4th grade? That is where the money and extra teachers need to be deployed.

      These proposed plans are just setting up most of those 25% kids for failure.

      Get to the root of the problem, don’t wait until the problem blossoms before attacking it.

    5. Jim says:

      West siders are all racist Republicans 🙂

    6. Joey says:

      I am not an educator but one question I have is – What is done to further advance higher performing students who are in low performing schools?

    7. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      let’s note what the parents at this meeting were complaining about: that the desegregation plan does not go far enough.

      Apparently that is what a good section, possibly the majority, of UWS parents think.

      you wouldn’t know it from the comments on WSR.

      • Sherman says:

        Huh?

        Your comments make no sense.

        Show evidence that parents in District 3 want more “desegregation”. You’ve provided zero proof and the article does not state this anywhere.

        Don’t confuse distorted wishful thinking on your part with the facts.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          Sherman said:

          “Show evidence that parents in District 3 want more “desegregation”. You’ve provided zero proof and the article does not state this anywhere.”

          You didn’t read the article very closely, or perhaps are taking a knee-jerk assumption that most parents agree withg you. From the article:

          “Following comments from CEC3 members, ten parents signed up to speak about a number of concerns regarding equal treatment based on race, socioeconomic status, and disability. Despite the new proposals, most remained steadfast in their concern that District 3 is not doing enough to tackle the problem of diversity within its schools at a larger scale.”

          In addition, it is well known that the majority, possibly all, of the CEC 3 elected parents support desegregation of the District 3 schools.

    8. MIss Direction says:

      So much euphemism, so many feints.

      All a game of bureaucratic three-card monte, with contrived metrics to give the appearance of fairness and progress, without increasing funding.

      I believe in and support pubic education, but the thieves, frauds, and administrative money-changers need to be chased from the temple.

    9. x-pat european. says:

      How can you put low performing kids in the same class as ones who are more advanced? Failure all round. Ridiculous. Everyone looses.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        x-pat says:

        “How can you put low performing kids in the same class as ones who are more advanced? Failure all round. Ridiculous. Everyone looses.”

        good lord. This is done in schools all around the country, and the world.

        the majority of PSes and Middle Schools in NYC have students of mixed achievement levels.

        many teachers have written comments noting that this is a fallacious argument.

    10. Pecola Lid says:

      Stop the shuffle game and make schools where you live better. Make education the number one priority. Stop the shame that the child is not up to standards is because they are in segregated schools when its a total lack of parent involvement with child’s education and never working with teachers and making their community schools just as good.

    11. Sherman says:

      Nobody has anything against diversity and integration as long as the students are competent.

      Mixing low achieving students with high achieving students will only cause problems for all involved. Maybe in some liberal utopian fantasy world this will be a success but in reality this policy will be a disaster.

      You can’t strengthen the weak by holding back the strong.

      All these bureaucrats will destroy the handful of successful middle schools by engaging in social engineering to achieve “diversity”.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        Sherman, you’ve got 21% “low achieving” students in PS 199, at least in ELA (English Language Arts).

        you seem to think it’s a pretty good school, and that the presence of these so-called “low achievers” (a term i don’t like, as they may be excellent in other skills) didn’t hold back the rest of the wondrous students at the school.

    12. MJ says:

      They are going to bulldoze this plan on us, just like they did the re-zoning. They don’t respect district 3. And they call us hateful names when we don’t accept their ill thought out plans. To them, being liberal means accepting everything – no matter how badly planned it is. Carranza needs his own diversity training – he is so divisive, but believes he’s on the side of righteousness.

    13. Peter says:

      The reason that the DOE had to present these 2 proposals is the the original plan (floors based on test scores only) violates state law. They had to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan.

    14. Bill Williams says:

      How on earth does it benefit anyone to put lower performing kids in with higher performing when the differences are so great. They’re not going to magically get better when they are starting from so far behind. Instead resources should be devoted to bringing those kids up to grade level if they are capable. Not all will be. The focus instead should be on making sure that all of the NYC public schools provide the same resources and educational opportunities whether they be predominantly white or minority.

    15. Olivia says:

      I’m an upper middle class, highly educated, professional minority parent of a child at one of the top performing UWS elementary schools. I think this is a horrible idea. And I don’t think others who oppose it are racist – please stop tossing that word around so loosely.

      By sixth grade, there are ways to determine who are the better performing students. Students of like ability levels should be grouped together so teachers can best teach to their level. If these students happen to be of the same race and socioeconomic level, so be it. More resources should be channeled to help the weaker students catch up, but not at the expense of the education of the stronger students.

    16. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      I would love to see the segregationist arguments against Brown v. Board of Education. I imagine they were very similar to many of the arguments made above.

      “the Black kids are not ready to be in with the white kids.”

      • Carlos says:

        Please stop turning this into an issue of race. Unfortunately, it largely breaks down along those lines, but I can guarantee you that the vast majority of those opposing this plan want to be sure that students of similar abilities are grouped together. They really, truly do not care if those students are black, white, Hispanic, or anything else.

        So if you believe that classes of students with homogeneous academic performance levels are not an ideal way to group students, that is your right (for example, the academic article noted above – I disagree with it, but I agree that it is an intelligent way to advance this conversation so I appreciate that it was posted). Blanket labels of racism are unnecessary, uncalled for, and destroy this entire conversation.

        • Tim says:

          Very well said Carlos. But it’s easier for people to play the race card when people disagree with their moronic plans of social engineering.

    17. Pay The Man says:

      Not a band-aid on a wound; more like a band-aid on diabetes.

    18. Happy ex-UWSer says:

      You all voted for DeBlasio (TWICE), now you have to deal with his policies. It’s not as if he didn’t tell you what he wanted to do when he was running for election.

    19. Coming off racist says:

      I know many of you do not want to come off as racist.
      BUT, anyone who is asking how a school can function (or similar question) with these low performing kids, is coming off to everyone else as just that.

      Almost every top ms, in the wealthiest towns, even with the least etnically diverse student demographics, operates (successfully) with about 25% or more of the students performing at below grade level.

      The only exception are specialized schools. These are normal middle schools not g&t. Not magnet schools.

      So, it comes off as what you are really saying is that how can this mostly white schools be the same if we introduce low income minorities.

      That is what is coming off in the subtext of your argument.

      Find a better argument. Even if it is just, “I am selfish” and I want my kid having the most resources.

      • Brandon says:

        They are not officially g&t schools but when the system we have had every student apply to schools and those schools select students based on their grades and test scores they are de facto g&g schools. We have no regular middle schools where everyone from a neighbor is admitted. The schools in question will now have 75% high achievers and 25% low achievers with few or none in between. AFAIK this isn’t the model in high performing middle schools throughout the country.

        If we want to make all the schools academically, rsciallu, or socio-economically diverse the move should be to a random lottery.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          Brandon said:

          “The schools in question will now have 75% high achievers and 25% low achievers with few or none in between. AFAIK this isn’t the model in high performing middle schools throughout the country.”

          this is simply wrong. there are plenty of kids “in between” — you are just reacting to the rigid values attached to statewide test scores.

          the “75%” will be students who scores 3 and 4. The “25%” will be students who scored 1 and 2.

          So if you consider 2 and 3 “in between”, there will be plenty of those.

          in other words, it will be students who do very well on the statewide test, students who do poorly, and many students in the middle.

          Just like almost any public school in the country.

          i do support your idea of a lottery, however. I would love to see how some of these elitist parents react to that!

    20. Jen says:

      It is all political games by DOE as usual. Nobody cares about children and their education. It is all for misinterpretation of statistics, showing off to their political bosses. I believe in diversity and decent education for everyone, but this is not it.

      We need to change DOE itself dramatically to stop this nonsense and find ways for good education for everyone. Which doesn’t start or end in middle schools.

    21. Rob G. says:

      Lowering test standards and busing around students in the name of diversity is nothing more than window dressing. And the DOE, by calling white parents racists, are resorting to a Trump-like diversion tactic to take the focus off their miserable failure to fix the problematic schools in the neighborhoods they serve. This whole stupid idea will hurt everyone in the long run.

    22. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      It’s ironic to note that currently 21% of PS 199 students don’t meet state standards on the ELA (English Language Arts) test. In other words, they score 1 or 2.

      http://schools.nyc.gov/OA/SchoolReports/2016-17/School_Quality_Snapshot_2017_EMS_M199.pdf

      The proposal is to have the middle schools take 25% “1s or 2s”.

      So — remind me of what the fuss is all about? An extra 4% of lower performers, compared to what all these great PS 199 students had in elementary school? 1 extra student per class?

      Sorry, this is all malarkey.

    23. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      one argument that is being spread around from the right wing anti-desegregationists on the UWS is that these sort of desegregation plans represent “social engineering.”

      “social engineering” is a code word they use to try to fool people, and prevent any policy that benefits the poorer classes.

      how come when middle schools accept only students who got 3 or 4 on the test, that does not qualify as “social engineering”?

      in fact, the whole state testing environment, which didn’t used to exist, is just as much “social engineering” as any desegregation plan.

      it’s all just public policy.

      they want us to believe that when a policy benefits the rich, or the upper middle classes, that it’s somehow “natural” and the expected order of things. but when a policy benefits the poor or under-served communities, then, all of a sudden, it’s “social engineering.”

      once again, malarkey.

      • Juan says:

        I am fairly sure that most of those who oppose this are not “right wing.” If you look at the voting records for the UWS, very few “right wing” people exist. We are Democrats, like you, but we are also pragmatists.

        If I may ask, what university did you attend? Do you have adult children who went to college? Where did they go? Since heterogeneous grouping is clearly such a priority to you, I assume that your entire family went to CUNY? And for high school your children went to wherever they were offered a slot by the DOE and did not attempt to go to the best school possible? If not, you are being very hypocritical.

    24. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      DannyBoy posted this article on the thread above.

      Everyone should read this outstanding article from an experienced educator.

      http://www.chalkbeat.com/posts/ny/2018/05/01/i-taught-at-a-nonselective-new-york-city-school-your-assumptions-about-low-scoring-students-are-wrong/

    25. Anon says:

      The big fear for parents isn’t about the low scoring kids infiltrating the top middle schools. They fear what happens if their high scoring child is one of those who loses in this deal and is assigned to a school where most kids are below grade level. The DOE estimates there will be 56 such kids. The parents sorry that these low performing schools won’t educate their children well enough to get into a good high school. The system that we have here, where there are no zoned schools, puts too much pressure on the preceding step. Parents aren’t going to risk their child going to a sub-par middle school. They will find a spot at a private or parochial school or move to the suburbs.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        in reply to Anon:

        the “simulations” showed that some kids — i’ll take your word that it is 56, in the whole distict — would not get their FIRST choice.

        almost all kids would get one of their first three choices. the same number as get them now.

        certainly there are three good middle schools.

        • Parent says:

          Did you read this article?? It says that in the simulations, 5% did not receive a match to a school they ranked on their application.

          • Peter says:

            At the meeting last week, the DOE unveiled 2 new scenarios. Under plan A, 144 students would receive a “less preferred offer” and 96 students would not receive an offer.

            Under Plan B, 165 students would receive a “less preferred offer” and 100 families would not receive an offer.

          • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

            response to Parent, who said:

            “It says that in the simulations, 5% did not receive a match to a school they ranked on their application.”

            As Peter notes, this refers to the two NEW plans– these were alternative simulations, at the request of CEC. I’m not sure what Peter means when he says “families would not receive an offer.” Would not get into ANY of their top three schools?

            that is not what the article says. it says:

            “According to the DOE’s presentation, in both simulations around 5% of applicants did not receive a match to a school they ranked on their application—but both simulations had a net increase in families receiving a match to a more preferred school.”

            So this is a little foggy, and i have no idea if Peter or the article is right — or neither.

            I was referring to the ORIGINAL plan, where the similations showed no difference in the number of students receiving one of the top three preferences:

            “We are not offering all students equity and access across all the district,” said District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul. “We need to do something.”

            “At one recent meeting, Altschul hastened to reassure parents who might worry that top-scoring students will have a tougher time getting into the most coveted schools. She admitted that fewer families would get their first pick under the plan — but she said the percentage of students who are admitted to one of their top three choices should remain about the same.”

            https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2018/04/25/push-to-curb-academic-segregation-on-the-upper-west-side-generates-a-backlash-and-support/

            • Peter says:

              Bruce – I should have been clearer in my response – but the DOE hasn’t been too clear either (no surprise there).

              My understanding from the presentation made the other night at the CEC meeting is that “not receiving an offer” means that the student did not receive an offer to any school that they put on their list (I am making the assumption that this is based on families only putting 3, maybe 4, schools on their list).

              The numbers that I quoted come directly from the powerpoint presentation that the DOE presented at the same meeting (can be found on the CEC3 website).

              Candidly, at this point, I don’t know what to believe when it comes to numbers coming from the DOE.

              I do believe that a number of students who in the past would not have the opportunity to attend one of the “top” 3 or 4 schools will get that opportunity and the scenarios show that. I also strongly suspect that students who average a 4 on the state exams and do well in school are going to place just fine. I think that the majority of students who average a 3 on the exams will still get into one of their top 3 choices, but I do believe that this is the group of students that will be impacted

            • Parent says:

              I interpret the data summary to mean that where in the past, students who scored 1’s and 2’s would not match into their ranked choices. Now it will be 3’s and 4’s who do not match. The total percentage of kids in the district who do not match may not change much, but it is the academic level of the kids who do not match that will change dramatically.

            • dannyboy says:

              “Candidly, at this point, I don’t know what to believe when it comes to numbers coming from the DOE.”

              I just returned from the Final presentation and found it bewildering. Intentionally so.

            • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

              response to “Parent”:

              you’re making an awful lot of assumptions, aren’t you?

              first of all, you’re assuming that there are a lot of students in the district who are currently not getting in to one of their top three choices.

              Second, you’re assuming, IF that is true, that the mixture of students not getting in to the top three will change from 3/4 scorers to 1/2 scorers. you have absolutely nothing to base this on.

              finally, you seem to be assuming that it’s BETTER for 3/4 scorers to get their top choices than 1/2 scorers. why? shouldn’t the lower scorers also get a chance. that seems to be exactly what this plan is aiming at.