Gifted and Talented

G&T, as it’s called here in New York City, is a more intensive school intended for students K-12 that have the capabilities of learning at a higher level than the average public school provides.  These schools are a part of the extensive “choice” program available for New York City students, for families that do not want to send their child to the school that they had been zoned in. Entrance to these schools is extremely competitive, as it is with other “choice” schools, such as charters and un-zoned schools.

To be eligible for G&T, the student has to take a standardized test for the program, and depending on the number of spots, only the top students are accepted. Usually, this is those students that fall into the 99th percentile.  Furthermore, G&T starts at Kindergarten and a standardized test has been created for these children (around 3 or 4) to be able to be enrolled in the program, and test prep courses have been created by enterprising individuals that have seen the need come up.  These preparatory courses cost hundreds and thousands or dollars and do not guarantee entry.

Lower-income families do not have the same resources to prepare their children at such a young age to perform well in a standardized test.  Resources like money, for the prep courses, time to work with their student at home, or even knowledge of what could be covered on the exam to help prepare them. This added to the fact that many higher-income families are looking to the G&T schools as an alternative to more expensive private schools since the downturn in the economy, means that slots for those that live in zones that have poorly performing schools have a lower chance of getting a spot.

According to a new AFT poll, many parents feel that education policy so far has been lacking in effectiveness. 61% of parents would rather the DOE be allocating funds and resources to local schools, instead of sending many to all the alternative “choice” schools. It would make life a lot easier, especially for lower-income families, and also guarantee a quality education to all NYC students, no matter which school they end up in.

Many argue that a smart student will succeed anywhere. However, I believe that there are many qualities necessary to succeed in one of New York City’s most poorly performing schools, not only intellect. The argument that a smart student can succeed anywhere is most reasonable when a college student attends NYU instead of their first choice of Columbia University.  Both are great schools and will help their graduates go on to do great things. However, when we are talking about public schools in some of NYC’s worst neighborhoods, some schools simply cannot provide their students with the college preparedness that they will need.  With this argument, I believe that those students from the lowest income families and from districts with the lowest performing schools are more in need of the choices that are being provided.

Diversity in Schools-Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action, as a policy, intends to address the need to give underrepresented populations access to higher education. However, in practice, it does not always achieve that goal.  Americans, as a whole, are becoming less amenable to a racial Affirmative Action policy, and more supportive of an economic Affirmative Action policy. As minority people are gaining prestige and power (see: President Obama, Oprah Winfrey) people are seeing that access to education is  more completely denied to people of low socio-economic status than it is to people of color.  However, what the general public does not see as a real issue “anymore” is the real lack of racial diversity in schools.  Our K-12 schools are still extremely racially segregated, even in higher-performing schools, and this seems to be a product of self-selection, though it can be addressed through policy.

The New York Times article (link below) perfectly illustrates the self-selecting segregation that is occurring in New York City public schools.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/education/at-explore-charter-school-a-portrait-of-segregated-education.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

It becomes a moral issue about whether to use race as factor in admissions, because this can be seen as a kind of reverse discrimination.  Diversity can be achieved in other ways.

The United States is a country where everyone has the right to education K-12, though it needs to work on making good education more accessible to all.  Making a school more racially and economically diverse would benefit both those underrepresented populations as well as the majority population, teaching all students how to work with those that are different them themselves, an important skill in today’s multi-cultural U.S. and globalized world (Good Schools, 2013).  New York City is uniquely able to have schools with students from many different races, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds due to the diversity of the city, as well as the school choice system.  But it does not occur, mostly because of self-selection.  Policy can be used to change this.

Kahlenberg presents different universities that have implemented alternative acceptance policies to Affirmative Action that are not based on race, but still raise the amount of diversity within a school.  “If universities can achieve racial diversity without racial preferences, then that is the preferred course to take” (Kahlenberg, 2012). Using strategies such a strategic financial aid plans, recruitment in under-represented high schools, and using students combined academic achievement with the obstacles this students had to face to measure a students merit have all positively affected diversity rates in universities.

Though Affirmative Action is not having the intended effects, there are still policies available that will increase the diversity of a school in a positive way, that is fair for students.

 

 

 

References:

Great Schools (2013). How important is cultural diversity in your school?

http://www.greatschools.org/find-a-school/defining-your-ideal/284-cultural-diversity-at-school.gs

Kahlenberg, R. (2012). A better affirmative action: State universities that created alternatives to racial preferences. The Century Foundation.

http://tcf.org/assets/downloads/tcf-abaa.pdf

Suspensions in New York City: The Zero-Tolerance Policy

Overview

In New York City, the definition of suspension includes a dismissal from school of up to one year. Expulsion only occurs if students are over 17 years of age at the beginning of the school year.

The number of suspensions in New York City public schools has greatly increased since the implementation of the “zero tolerance policy” in 1999. The theory behind the zero tolerance policy is that if students that disrupt classrooms are punished harshly, it will deter others from misbehaving.  Suspension is used most often in order to keep the misbehaving student from disrupting the other students that continue to behave well and want to learn. The New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) mandates a number of behaviors in which the minimum punishment is suspension.  It is only in September of 2010 that the DOE has cut down on the number of offenses that would result in a punishment of suspension (NYC DOE, 2010).

It is easy to see the manifestation of the zero tolerance policy in New York City, as many schools have metal detectors and security personnel. School Safety Officers have the power to search and seize students and their belongings.  However, they do not have the power to suspend students, though they do often provide witness at student suspension hearings.  School Safety Officers undergo six weeks of training and are taught the same tactics as New York Police Department (NYPD) street police, but have little to no training on child and adolescent development (New York Civil Liberties Union [NYCLU], 2011).

Types of Suspensions

There are 5 types of suspensions for students in New York City (NYCDOE, 2012):

1) Removal From A Classroom by a Teacher: 1-4 day suspension. The student is sent to another learning setting within the school.  This type of suspension is only recorded at the school-level, so the DOE cannot measure or report on how often this happens, and its effects.

 2) Principal’s Suspension: 1-5 day suspension. The student must be provided with the schoolwork and homework they are missing.

3)  Continued Suspension: “Superintendent’s suspension” 6-10 days. The student is assigned a location for learning outside of the school.

4) Extended Suspension: 30-60 days. The student is assigned a location for learning outside of the school.

5) Full Year Suspension: The student is assigned a location for learning outside of the school.

Who Gets Suspended?

Suspensions disproportionately affect African-American and special needs students.  Special needs students are four times as likely to be suspended and African-American students make up 33% or the student population, but 53% of the suspended population in the past 10 years (NYCLU, 2011). Harsh disciplinary approaches lead to a poor school climate which manifests in lower test scores (American Psychological Association, 2008).  Strict disciplinary approaches have the side-effect of punishing many students harshly for subjectively bad behavior (i.e.: foul language, inappropriate essays, tempers tantrums).

Consequences & Policy Changes

For the past 10 years, with the installation of the Zero Tolerance Policy under the Bloomberg administration, the rate of suspensions has increased greatly, leading to an abundance of research to be conducted examining this topic.

A few key research findings include:

1)    The increase in suspensions has also lead to an increase of students incurring multiple suspensions in a single year.  In 1999, 23% of students suspended served multiple suspensions during the school year (NYCLU, 2011).

2)    Taking students out of the structured environment of school disrupts education and escalates poor behavior, making it more difficult to succeed (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011).  Because of this, suspensions have become a predictor for future misbehavior and more suspensions (NYCLU, 2011).

3)    The National Center for Education Statistics (Snyder & Dillow, 2008) reported that “A student who is repeatedly suspended in the eighth, ninth, and tenth grades is likely to be so far behind by 17 that they feel their only option is to drop out”.

There is no evidence to support that zero-tolerance policies work. However, sufficient evidence was found to support that zero tolerance policies create poorer school climates, the city decided it needed to change to a friendlier and more efficient approach. These findings have led to some recent changes in the city’s 2012 Discipline Code, including:

1)    Restorative approaches, such as parent meetings, peer mediation, and collaborative negotiation.

2)    Alternative disciplinary measures other than the tough action of suspensions. These alternative measures are placed under a heading titled “progressive discipline” which stresses the fact that moments of misbehavior can become teaching moments, and that suspension is not the only way to stop misbehavior.

3)    Increased focus on making sure students are given the academic support they need while on suspension.

These changes in the Citywide Standards may translate themselves into school policies that rely less heavily on suspension as a primary punishment, thereby addressing student behavior more effectively.

Several initiatives have already called for a reduction in suspensions. For example, the Dignity in Schools coalition works with parents, teachers, students, and community organizations that advocates for student and civil rights.  This coalition firmly believes that the high number of suspensions is denying students access to their civil right to education.  Their approach to change is to systematically use alternative guidance measures and limit the number of incidents that would cause suspensions (Dignity in Schools Campaign, 2011).

References

American Psychological Association. (2008). Are zero tolerance policies effective in

schools? American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force.

Arts, A., Bahl, T., Foster, T., Miller, J., Ofer, U., Phenix, D., Sheehan, N.,& Thomas, H. (2011).  Education interrupted. The New York Civil Liberties Union.  New York, NY:US

Cregor, M. & Hewitt, D. (2011) Dismantling the school to prison pipeline. Poverty & Race. 20(1), 5-7. Dignity in School Campaign. (2011). Suspension rates in New York city schools still too high based on new data. Dignity in Schools. Retrieved from http://www.dignityinschools.org/

New York City Department of Education. (2010). Citywide standards of intervention and discipline measures: The discipline code and bill of student rights and responsibilities, K-12.  New York, NY:US.

New York City Department of Education. (2012). Citywide standards of intervention and discipline measures: The discipline code and bill of student rights and responsibilities, K-12. New York, NY:US.

Snyder, T. & Dillow, S. (2008). Digest of education statistics 2008. The National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC:US.

School Choice, NYC

I am from a very small town in a very rural state. We did not have any choice in which public school we attended, and did not apply to any schools until college.  Even then, college was clearly a option not chosen by all. Coming to New York City, the concept of “school choice” had to be explained to me.  It took me a long time to even learn that charter schools are in fact public schools that are privately run. Because of how new the concept of school choice was to me, I did not feel I could have an opinion until very recently, and I have come to learn many things regarding the different perspectives on school choice.

School Choice is not a long-term solution.   Charter schools are able to be innovative in a way that regular public schools cannot be, using funds in a way that the founder sees fit to invest in different teaching techniques, different types of school operations, new technology for the school staff and students to use, and the hiring of different types of school staff. Because of this, many charter schools have been very successful in bringing up their students’ academic achievement, while others have not fared as well. The Department of Education should be using lessons learned from charter school successes and failures to implement best practices in public schools.

School choice also burdens families with making the decision of where to apply and which schools to attend. It widens the achievement gap, by rewarding those families with more time and resources because they are the families whose students are going to the best schools. A student should be guaranteed a quality education no matter what school they attend.

So many schools in New York City are failing, and it has become necessary to establish immediate alternatives so that current students are able to learn and achieve academic success at the same levels as others in their grades across the country.  I cannot discredit the work the charter schools have done.  But at the heart of the matter, all students should be receiving a quality education without having to apply to exclusive schools, where there is a chance they may not be accepted. Students that are not accepted and enrolled into the top NYC public schools should not have to suffer from a poor educational system. The NYC school choice system has become dependent on the idea that their are better options available for children, when in reality, an investment has to be made in those that are performing poorly to bring them up to par.  Charter schools and school choice should not be necessary in order to gain a good education.