Secondary School for Research Responds

INTEGRATE – DON’T SEGREGATE

The following text was presented by the Secondary School for Research School Leadership Team at the public meeting held on the John Jay Campus on January 11th, 2011.  All quotations, unless otherwise noted, come from the Educational Impact Statement.

More than 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that separate was inherently unequal, and after hundreds of thousands fought against racism and for the integration of public schools, this country’s public school system remains blatantly segregated—and is growing more so by the day.

The Department of Education’s proposal to place the new Millennium Brooklyn in the John Jay campus reveals the racism and inequity in the New York City public schools. It also demands that we revive the inspiring struggles of past Civil Rights movements and take a stand against racism.

According to the Educational Impact Statement (EIS), “The proposed co-location of Millennium Brooklyn in building K460 [John Jay Campus] is part of the DOE’s central goal to create high-quality educational options for all students.” It is part of an initiative to expand options for “academically gifted students” in “underserved communities.” While the DOE concedes that there is no shortage of high school seats in Brooklyn, “the community” wants more “high-quality options.”

In the same paragraph, the DOE asserts, “All students deserve access to an outstanding education regardless of their zip code.” We agree.

It is simply untrue, however, that the “community” demanding high-quality options is the same community that is “underserved” and denied access to quality education by their zip code. The correlation in New York City between zip codes and academic achievement (not to mention income, access to health care, and public transportation) is a shameful reminder of the entrenched, racist inequities of our society. Middle-class families in Park Slope already have access to high-quality school options (even if they feel they have to travel to get to them), while those from poorer neighborhoods in the district have been systematically denied these options. To propose that the DOE’s investment in Millennium Brooklyn will increase equity is outrageous and insulting.

The DOE’s claim of commitment “to investing in schools that optimize student performance and ensure that every student graduates from high school equipped with the skills necessary to achieve success in college, careers, and in life” belies the history of the three schools already in the John Jay campus.

In 2001, the old Board of Education combined three existing middle schools into one and moved them into the John Jay building to grow into a 6-12 school while John Jay was phased out. Like many initiatives heralded at their inception, this one was soon neglected and left to develop without support. School leadership and accountability was ill-defined. Space allocation was haphazard and chaotic. Long-range planning for the first graduating class was practically non-existent.

Just two years later, this new school, The Secondary School for Law, Journalism and Research, was re-divided into three separate schools, with predictable chaos and disruption to students’ lives and education. While the new school had been given some additional start-up funds in 2001, none of that financial support continued beyond the first year. And no financial support was offered to the three new schools when they ventured out on their own in 2003.

In the Fall of 2004, my first year as principal, The Secondary School for Research was denied federal Title I funds mandated for economically disadvantaged students. The year before, my predecessor had fallen short in collecting school-lunch forms. For the next seven years, I fought in vain with the DOE to restore funding. When Chancellor Klein instituted Fair Student Funding (FSF) in response to demands that he address the inequities among schools, the Secondary School for Research was recognized as an under-funded school. Contrary to public claims that FSF would gradually reduce funds to “over-funded” schools and increase funds to “under-funded” schools, our school is now budgeted nearly a million dollars less than the School for International Studies, a virtually identical school community in District 15.

Please don’t mistake me; I know of no public school in New York City that is truly “over-funded.” While consistently documenting the disparities and appealing for redress from the DOE, I have always expressed support for the students, teachers and administration at International. But the fact remains that our school has been short-changed even by the DOE’s own inadequate funding formulas.

Before and during my tenure as principal, the new school and its three offshoots worked out of makeshift offices as a building equipped for one administrative team now had to house three. For years, several of our fourth-floor classrooms still had multi-tiered flooring to accommodate the music classes once assigned there. Water damage from a chronically leaky roof was so bad that some classroom walls crumbled. Door frames separated from the walls. In 2005-2006, when the roof of the building was belatedly replaced, nearly every classroom on the fourth floor was flooded. The science lab was so badly damaged that tiles floated in the water. To this day, the lab floor remains a patchwork of different-colored tiles. Though the building received funds for wireless access throughout, most of our students’ classrooms have only one electrical outlet, severely limiting the use of interactive whiteboards, LCD projectors, and document readers. In our dingy student and faculty bathrooms, the plumbing is so old that the toilets fail with regularity. Our drinking fountains function sporadically; what water we get is always lukewarm.

Ancient radiators either heat rooms like blast furnaces or don’t work at all. Whatever funding ever existed for classroom air-conditioners never made it to our fourth floor. Of course, there’s no place to plug them in if they ever do.

When our school voted to change our bell schedule to increase the length of instructional periods, create common planning time for teachers, and relieve stairwell congestion, I requested $5,000 for a new bell system because the antiquated system we have now cannot be individualized for each school. The DOE refused. Unable to afford it within our school’s budget, I paid for it myself.

In addition to inheriting a dilapidated physical plant, we also inherited metal detectors and a building entry procedure that evokes a medium-security prison. When Ms. Bloomberg joined the Secondary School for Research in 2004, the building’s safety statistics were equal to or better than schools without metal detectors. Even more to the point, the number of incidents was well below the DOE’s threshold for “impact school” status, the trigger for installation of metal detectors.

In short, the DOE has all the data it needs to remove scanning from our building. Yet in spite of its claims of data-driven decision-making, the Department has refused for seven years to allow us to enter the building without lining up, removing our belts and jewelry, emptying our pockets, and periodically assuming the position for hand-wanding. This daily message to us is alienating, degrading and scary. It tells us that we are not to be trusted—nor should we trust each other or the school. While Park Slope may enjoy a reputation within New York City and beyond as a desirable place to live and work, that reputation has never been extended to our school. We are treated at best as interlopers and at worst as criminals. The heavy police presence outside the building each day, with officers aggressively herding us to the subways, intensifies the isolation of our schools from the neighborhood. This racist ritual—which you will not find outside other Park Slope schools with a different demographic–teaches the neighborhood to see us as dangerous. And it teaches us that we are not welcome in the neighborhood.

Less than a year ago, the DOE confronted the three principals in the John Jay campus with concerns about under-enrollment and the apparent lack of interest in our schools. We asked that they remove the metal detectors, fix up the building, and let us change our school’s name to Park Slope Collegiate. They refused all three requests.

Our school was being set up to fail.

But in spite of this malignant neglect, we have succeeded. We are as the Educational Impact Statement proposes, “schools that optimize student performance and ensure that every student graduates from high school equipped with the skills necessary to achieve success in college, careers, and in life.” No, we’re not perfect, nor have we yet achieved our own goals. Our first graduating class of 2005, the students who were freshmen when the one school was cobbled together in 2001 and juniors during the re-division of 2003, represented only 35% of the original class. Barely one of three had survived the system’s chaos and neglect.

But by 2008, our graduation rate had more than doubled—a testament to the collective efforts and dedication of a community that serves a population too often written off.

Today, 87 percent of the students at Secondary School for Research qualify for free or reduced lunch. At Millennium Manhattan, that proportion is 44 percent.

Nine percent of the students enrolled at our school have disabilities that entitle them to self-contained classrooms. There are none at Millennium.

Eleven percent of our students are English Language Learners. Again, there are none at Manhattan Millennium.

Graduates from the Secondary School for Research are now attending Babson College (Posse scholar), Bates College, Clark University, Columbia University, CUNY – Hunter, Eugene Lang, The New School, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Muhlenberg College, New York University, Polytechnic University, Skidmore College, St. John’s University, SUNY – Stonybrook, Trinity College (Posse scholar), Union College, Utica College, Williams College and many others. Our students have received more than 10 million dollars in aid and scholarships–not from the DOE, but from institutions of higher learning that are willing to invest in them. The struggle to convince our students to succeed in spite of the disdain they feel from the DOE is ongoing. Our four-year graduation rate dips and rises; we strive constantly to improve. We also pay close attention to our six-year graduation rate, because we know that some students need more time. And we celebrate our college acceptances, because we appreciate that so many colleges see our students as whole people, filled with potential, and not as statistics and stereotypes.

We believe that our school provides us with the high-quality education the DOE refers to over and over again in the Educational Impact Statement arguing the need to create Millennium Brooklyn. It’s hard for us to understand the DOE’s criteria for “high quality.” In reference to the Alternative Learning Center that shares our building, the DOE writes, “ALC’s provide a safe and high quality instructional program to students who have received a superintendent’s suspension.” With all due and genuine respect for the students and staff at the ALC, I don’t think the DOE is proposing that Millennium Brooklyn replicate the instructional program of the ALC. What is it about Millennium Manhattan then, that the DOE wants to replicate here in Brooklyn? When our SLT posed that question to DOE representatives, the only answer we received was this: ”Popularity.”

The DOE promises that “all students in NYC have access to high-quality education at every stage of their education,” but it’s simply not credible to maintain that they are working to create rigorous, college-preparatory education for all students. What is clear to us is that they believe in separate educational opportunities. As noted in the Educational Impact Statement, “Selective schools provide more of the city’s top-performing students with a rigorous high school experience where they are surrounded by other high-performing peers, challenged to think critically, and free to explore new academic interests and extracurricular activities.”

But the research shows that a tracked system, where students are assigned to classes and schools based on past academic performance and test scores, is harmful to ALL students.

The April 2005 edition of Phi Delta Kappan, the national education journal, includes an article titled, “Closing the Achievement Gap by Detracking.” I’d like to read you a few paragraphs.

We have found that when all students – those at the bottom as well as the top of the “gap” – have access to first-class learning opportunities, all students’ achievement can rise.

Because African American and Hispanic students are consistently overrepresented in low-track classes, the effects of tracking greatly concern educators who are interested in closing the achievement gap. Detracking reforms are grounded in the established ideas that higher achievement follows from a more rigorous curriculum and that low-track classes with unchallenging curricula result in lower student achievement.

Despite overwhelming research demonstrating the ineffectiveness of low-track classes and of tracking in general, schools continue the practice. Earlier studies have argued that this persistence stems from the fact that tracking is grounded in values, beliefs, and politics as much as it is in technical, structural, or organizational needs. Further, despite inconsistent research findings, many parents and educators assume that the practice benefits high achievers.

And so, despite the evidence that low-track classes cause harm, they continue to exist. Worse still, the negative achievement effects of such classes fall disproportionately on minority students, since, as noted above, African American and Hispanic students are overrepresented in low-track classes and underrepresented in high-track classes. Socioeconomic status (SES) has been found to affect track assignment as well. A highly proficient student from a low socioeconomic background has only a 50-50 chance of being placed in a high-track class.

Researchers who study the relationship between tracking, race/ethnicity, and academic performance suggest different strategies for closing the achievement gap. Some believe that the solution is to encourage more minority students to take high-track classes. Others believe that if all students are given the enriched curriculum that high-achieving students receive, achievement will rise. They believe that no students should be placed in classes that have a remedial academic curriculum and that the tracking system should be dismantled entirely. By dismantling tracking and providing the high-track curriculum to all, we can succeed in closing the achievement gap on important measures of learning.

The authors go on to describe the results of detracking in Rockville Centre, using Regents diplomas as a measure. In the graduating class of 2000, only 32% of all African-American or Hispanic graduates earned Regents diplomas, as compared to 88 percent of white or Asian-American graduates. By 2003, after detracking, the gap had closed dramatically: 82% of all African-American or Hispanic and 97% of all white or Asian-American graduates earned Regents diplomas.

Before committing to detracking, the authors note, the school district placed students with special needs and low-achieving students in a double-period class to remediate their lack of skills.

Consistent with the recommendations of researchers who have defended tracking, this class was rich in resources (a math teacher, special education inclusion teacher and a teaching assistant.) Yet the low-track culture of the class remained unconducive to learning. Students were disruptive and teachers spent considerable class time addressing behavior management issues. All students were acutely aware that the class carried the low-track label.

Achievement follows from opportunities – opportunities that tracking denies.

The DOE maintains that the co-location of Millennium Brooklyn at the John Jay campus “is not anticipated to negatively impact the current students attending school in the building.” Like the students in Rockville Centre who were all acutely aware of their status as the “low-track” students, the current students in our building will be acutely aware that they have been labeled undesirable, unfit for selection.

The DOE describes the creation of Millennium Brooklyn as “an effort to expand the pool of option for academically gifted students.” Allow us to describe some of the academic gifts outlined in the Educational Impact Statement that the DOE is bestowing upon Millennium:

New district schools are provided with a fixed per-school allocation and a variable per-pupil allocation of funds to cover start-up costs. Based on current one-time allocations for new schools, Millennium Brooklyn would receive a fixed allocation of $80,000 during its first year and approximately $451,559 in total per-pupil allocations.

Additionally, the Selective Schools Initiative raised private dollars to support the planning and development of seven new academically selective high schools [including Millennium Brooklyn]. Each school is allocated a total of $500,000 to spend over five years, based on the following budget model:

  • One-Year Planning Process: $100,000 to support new school planning and recruitment; these funds will effectively support the new school leader to develop a vision for the school, build curriculum, and recruit and train school faculty.
  • Four-Year Implementation and Program Support: After the planning year, schools receive $100,000 per year to support a four-year implementation process – enabling the school’s leader to implement the school’s unique vision by supporting continued coursework and program development, staff recruitment and training, community outreach, and capital investments.

Millennium Brooklyn is being set-up for success.

The additional $180,000 that Millennium is slated to receive in its first year–when it will have only 108 students amounts to an additional per-student allocation of $1,666.67. If that per-pupil allocation were equitably applied to the Secondary School for Research, we would receive an additional $750,000–more than a 20% increase from our current budget. At a minimum the DOE should grant us the same $580,000 to compensate us for the lack of start-up funds and implementation funds we need to support our unique vision, program development, community outreach and recruitment. Given our success with next to nothing, imagine what we could do with 5 additional teaching positions plus enough overtime funds to reinstate our Saturday Academy. We could also meet our teachers’ every request for books and supplies.

But in the two-tiered, separate-and-unequal world of the DOE, our current budget lacks sufficient funds to hire needed substitute teachers. We have no funds to pay teachers to run our Saturday Academy. We suffer from a shortage of textbooks and funds for student trips and we have no budget what-so-ever for recruitment or community outreach.

In fact according to the DOE, we owe them $400,000 because enrollment across our seven grades is about 50 students below our projected register.

Our proposal is brief:

  • Remove scanning from the building.
  • Commit all of the capital improvement funds to the building to:
    • Upgrade the electricity
    • Renovate the bathrooms
    • Renovate and upgrade the cafeteria
    • Create a media center and small auditorium
  • Bring the building up to the proposed capacity by enlarging the 3 schools currently in the building by 150 rather than by creating an additional school of 450.
  • Work with the schools in the building to create a heterogeneous student population that reflects the true diversity of NYC, Brooklyn and District 15 in terms of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special needs, English Language proficiency and previous academic achievement.
  • Allow us to immediately change our name to Park Slope Collegiate
  • Create a “detracking initiative” to support the planning and development of truly diverse schools that close the achievement gap AND result in higher achievement for all students.

Every generation has an opportunity, and a choice: to shut ourselves into the darkness of small-minded self-interest, or to stand proudly in the light of the age-old struggle against racism and inequality.
We are choosing to take a stand. We are choosing to fight racism and inequality, and we need everyone with us. Separate can never be equal. We invite you to join us in building something new on the John Jay Campus together. Integration, yes! Segregation, no!

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