Saturday, January 28, 2023

Hearings on DOE enrollment/admissions policies: testimony from Deputy Chancellor Weisberg, Jenn Choi, and me

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the City Council Education Committee held hearings on the DOE's revamped admissions policies.  The parents and advocates who testified as well as the Council Members were divided.  Some said that the new policies that removed academic screens from many middle schools, while basing admissions in selective high schools on a lottery after separating students in four tiers determined by their grades in 7th grade, cheats academically advanced students of the challenges they need to achieve their best.  Other parents and advocates were disappointed that the administration expanded the gifted programs in elementary schools, and in too many middle and high schools, academic screens remain and clearly have a discriminatory and segregating impact. The Council Members also seemed split on whether the current system is equitable and fair.

Council Members Alexa Aviles and Shekar Krishnan questioned Deputy Chancellor Weisberg if the DOE would alter any of their admissions/enrollment policies to more evenly distribute students across schools, to lessen the overcrowding at schools over 100% so they will be able to meet the class size goals in the new state law.  Sadly, he said  no; and he argued that more evenly distributing students across schools would depend on principals at underutilized schools to make their schools more attractive to parents. 

My testimony (see below) dealt  with how how it is DOE's responsibility to ensure that all students and schools can provide a quality education and meet the class size goals in the law.  I also point out that by more evenly distributing students, it will help underutilized and thus underfunded schools provide the staffing and programs their students need.  Chalkbeat recently ran a heartbreaking piece on principal in the Bronx, desperately trying to avoid excessing teachers, by spending days distributing flyers and producing a video to post on Instagram to recruit more students and thus receive more funding, though he was ultimately unsuccessful.  

Why should any principal have to spend their time marketing their schools; isn't it the responsibility of the DOE to ensure that every school has the resources it needs to provide a quality education?  If enrollment was more equally distributed, many schools would likely become more diverse as well, as the most underutilized schools are those that tend to have the highest percentages of Black and Hispanic students.

Weisberg repeatedly insisted they have a plan to meet the goals in the plan, without producing any evidence for that claim, though at times he seemed to limit his comments that they will meet the goals in the first year.  Because of enrollment decline, it is likely that the DOE will be able to make the first year goals for 20% of classes meeting the new class size caps without any effort , and maybe even the second year goals of 40%, if they don't continue cutting school budgets and enrollment continues to fall. 

But it is very unlikely that the class size goals in the 3rd to 5th years in the law can be achieved, without a plan to create enough space, either through aggressive expansion of the capital plan, and/or efforts to more evenly distribute students across schools, by rezoning elementary and capping enrollment severely overcrowded middle and high school enrollment at lower levels. 

In my testimony I also explain how the current "school choice" policies with parents applying to up to ten schools and the schools essentially deciding who to admit are based upon a failed free-market model from the Bloomberg years, in that the best schools will "win" by attracting more students, and the others would be allowed to wither and die, with other new public schools or charter schools put in their place. 

I found the testimony of parents of students with disabilities also quite affecting as to the hurdles their children face in being admitted to high schools that will help them reach their full potential.  Discrimination comes in many forms, and below my testimony is that of Jenn Choi, the mother of a student with special needs who also works at Special Support Services, which advises parents on how to navigate the labyrinthine and often very frustrating special education system in the NYC public schools.

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