Recently, the Daily News Editorial Page had the unique occasion to sing the praises of a progressive targeted admissions program that the Community Education Councils for Districts 13 ("CEC-13") and 15 ("CEC-15") wrested from the DoE as part of the new [re]construction of PS 133 in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights. In particular, the Daily News voiced strong approval of the plan to set aside 30% of future Kindergarten admissions for immigrant and poor children in a "gentrifying" school.
By all accounts, this was the very first time under the Bloomberg administration that the DoE had agreed to implement a diversity program. How that came to be is a story of cooperation between CECs and the political savvy to take advantage of the unusual circumstances presented to them. As such, the following is the unofficial Reader's Digest version of the saga:
Once upon a time, the School Construction Authority ("SCA") claimed there was no available space in D15 (which includes Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, Gowanus, most of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Sunset Park) to construct a school even though there was an extraordinary need for several - especially in Sunset Park, which has very overcrowded schools - AND the Capital Plan had allocated funds for such construction in our District. Meanwhile, even though the adjoining D13 (which includes Brooklyn Heights, the northern end of Park Slope, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill part of Bedford-Stuyvesant) had no capital funds allocated for them, the School Construction Authority had found available space to replace and expand the existing PS 133 school building in D13. From this, a kind of marriage was made wherein D15 would be allocated the additional capacity created in the new building while D13 would keep its existing capacity and overall administrative control of the school.
At the same time, everyone acknowledged that PS 133's current physical zone was inadequate to fill its D13 allocation. As such, whether or not the D13 portion remained zoned, there would be considerable additional admissions availability for other D13 children.
As you might imagine, things did not go nearly as smoothly as the end product might suggest. Out of the discussions (and arguments) consensus was reached between the members of BOTH CEC-13 and CEC-15 - with the invaluable assistance of local NYC Council Members Steve Levin and Brad Lander - for the Targeted Admissions solution (as pretty accurately described in last week's Daily News story and detailed at greater length below).
That agreement was cemented when the DoE, on its own, opted out of directly using the new PS 133 capacity in the rezoning of the popular, but severely overcrowded, PS 321 in Park Slope. It was at that point - after all of the members of the Councils agreed - that I made clear to the DoE's Director of Planning that CEC-15 would not approve the proposed rezoning of PS 321 (no matter how meritorious) absent a satisfactory resolution of the PS 133 Targeted Admissions demand (and other D15 issues that may or may not be addressed in the Spring).
In fashioning a response, Tweed knew five things. First, both CEC-13 and CEC-15 were united in their demands for a Targeted Admissions plan. Second CEC-15 approval was a mandatory requirement under the Education Law for any D15 rezoning to happen. Third, I could absolutely deliver on my threat. Fourth, even though the highly regarded Principal of PS 321 had come to support the rezoning (originally, she hadn't), it would be politically safe for us to reject the DoE proposal. Last but not least, a majority of CEC-15 COULD be brought around to approve an appropriate rezoning.
Realizing we had them by the short and curlies, the DoE was obliged to bargain in good faith. We did too and a pretty good outcome was reached (that in fact, was better than either side's original proposal).
The resulting "algorithm" will be applied in separate lotteries for EACH District and will work as follows:
First there is a (at least) thirty percent set aside for English Language Learners and students who receive free and reduced price lunch. Within that set aside ELL students will have ABSOLUTE priority. Any remaining children within that pool WILL be placed in the general pool where each applicant would have an equal chance at admission. If the set aside is not filled, then those remaining seats will be put into the general pool.
Now let's apply that "algorithm" to the plausible scenario where the number of "advantaged" applicants outnumber the "disadvantaged" by two to one in a pool of 90 seats with 180 applicants (and using a one-third set aside). In that case, the "disadvantaged" would get the 30 set aside seats and the remaining 30 "disadvantaged" would be placed in the "general" pool along with the 120 "advantaged" applicants for the 60 remaining seats. Assuming a random selection, each of the 150 children would have a forty percent chance of "winning the lottery." Thus, an additional 12 "disadvantaged" children would be admitted and 48 "advantaged" would be added.
As described above, the odds for each "disadvantaged" applicant rises to seventy percent (while that for each "advantaged" applicant drops to forty percent). Yet, in that circumstance, the "advantaged" admissions would still outnumber the disadvantaged by 48 to 42 (instead of the 60-30 breakdown that would result WITHOUT targeted admissions). That would be precisely the kind of outcome that we have fully intended.
While the DoE swears that this is not a precedent, of course it is. Indeed, it serves as a prime example of the kinds of good outcomes that can be reached when the DoE is forced to treat Community Education Councils as partners rather than just annoyances.
This was never intended by anyone, however, as a one size fits all solution. Further, in reaching the accord, it didn't hurt that the CECs had access to attorneys - both to refute specious DoE objections AND to avoid legal pitfalls. For example, by law, "magnet schools" are forbidden from creating non-geographic selection criteria - no matter how noble. Likewise, it would also take a change in State law, before something like our plan could be applied to "specialized high schools."
Hope this helps clarify how and what has happened here in Brooklyn. – Jim Devor, President of CEC15