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City Promises More Even Distribution of Needy Students

Friday, July 27, 2012 - 02:29 PM

Department of Education officials say they will work to balance the distribution of high-needs students in response to complaints that clustering special education and struggling students in certain schools makes it hard for those schools to succeed.

As Al Baker reports, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said that the city is committed to working on the problem.

In a letter to the city’s schools chancellor in May, John B. King Jr., the state’s education commissioner, outlined concerns about schools with disproportionate numbers of disabled and underperforming students and those learning to speak English — factors that education analysts, union leaders and a study cited as factors in the failure of some schools.

The city’s efforts were laid bare in its response last month to Mr. King as part of a continuing dialogue between the city and the state over the Bloomberg administration’s plan to close and overhaul 24 schools.

An arbitrator halted the plan for those turnaround schools in a ruling that a state court judge backed up this week.

Dennis M. Walcott, the city schools chancellor, wrote to Mr. King on June 22, saying that the city was committed to working with the state “to develop an action plan to further monitor and refine our enrollment practices to address your concerns about high concentrations of particular populations in high schools citywide.”

That action plan is to be developed by October.

Critics have charged that the Department of Education sets some schools up to fail by giving them too many special education students, students who are not fluent in English and other struggling pupils.

An analysis by Beth Fertig earlier this year highlighted both how the neediest special education students are not distributed evenly across all schools, and how high schools with the best report card grades often take smaller percentages of those special education students.

As mentioned, the city's turnaround strategy for 24 struggling schools was thwarted on Tuesday when State Supreme Court Justice Joan B. Lobis backed an arbitrator's ruling against staff changes underway involving thousands of union employees.

“Since I find that the staffing questions are covered by provisions in both the collective bargaining agreements, I believe the arbitrator was within his authority to determine this grievance,” the judge said.

Although the city has vowed to appeal, principals took the court decision as a green light to mostly use the staff they have, and make due without extra federal funding. SchoolBook spoke with one middle school principal in the throes of re-staffing her school with less than six weeks to go before school starts.

The week kicked off with the release of the annual schools survey . When asked what they would most like to see change at their schools, parents put smaller class sizes at the top of the list, followed by more and better enrichment programs. And SchoolBook reported that over half the teachers who responded felt the current evaluation system does not recognize exemplary teacher performance.

Speaking of performance, fifth grader Kameron Slade read a speech he wrote for a school competition in favor of same-gender marriage in the chambers of the City Council this week. The Times report said Kameron was invited by Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn to deliver the speech after the principal at P.S. 195 William Haberle in Rosedale, Queens, prevented him from reading it at school because she thought it was inappropriate.

After NY1 and other local news media brought attention to Kameron’s story, he became an Internet sensation and something of a symbol for social acceptance and free speech. A video of Kameron delivering his speech has been watched more than 600,000 times on YouTube. He was eventually allowed to deliver the speech at a separate assembly at his school, after the Department of Education stepped in.

An opinion piece by Udi Ofer, the advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, argues there is a link between the high number of young people, mostly boys, who experience the police tactic of "stop and frisk" and school performance.

"Anyone interested in increasing student achievement, and particularly in closing the achievement gap, should pay close attention to the impact of stop-and-frisk practices on the lives of black and Latino students, including on their view of authority and ability to succeed academically," he wrote.

Remember when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed and then expanded his education reform commission? The members came to New York City this week to hear testimony on a range of big issues facing the school system. Elected officials and advocates had a chance to share their views. So did Melvin Hydleburg, a rising senior at Herbert H. Lehman High School. He encouraged the commissioners to focus on solutions.

“We have gotten caught up in the finger-pointing game,” he said. “We are simply too content with placing blame. Why don’t we step back and realize that a failure for one party is a failure for all parties?”

One correction: Schoolbook incorrectly cited a report by the Queens Chronicle that said a Muslim charter school will open in Queens this fall. The State Department of Education informs us that the Al’Mamoor School is a private school.

Finally, SchoolBook repeats the invitation to use our pages — one for every public, private, parochial and public charter school in the city — to post news about accomplishments, programs and events from the end of the school year or this summer.

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