barriers to entry

Open house dates still missing from DOE calendar after third deadline passes

The Department of Education's high school admissions events calendar.

The city’s online calendar for high school open houses is still riddled with missing dates, after a third deadline passed for schools to submit their information.

A Chalkbeat analysis of 50 schools chosen at random found 34 schools had dates posted to the list as of Friday afternoon. That marks a major improvement from where the list stood earlier in September, when Chalkbeat reported on a host of barriers that students face in finding, attending, and snagging seats at competitive open houses. Still, it leaves families without a fully reliable resource to find open house dates, even as several of those dates have already passed.

The Department of Education said Chalkbeat’s analysis ignored the fact that schools may continue adding information sessions in the months to come.

“We’re committed to making this process easier for families, however, this is an incomplete analysis that doesn’t take into account schools’ potential participation in [citywide and] borough high school fairs or that they may organize information sessions or post dates for them in the remaining two months before high school applications are due,” said education department spokesman Will Mantell.

All of the schools in Chalkbeat’s sample were “limited unscreened,” which means open house attendance is a factor in admissions. These schools are not allowed to consider grades or test scores when admitting students, so signing in at an open house or at a high school fair is the only way for students to get a leg up.

Finding out the dates and times of open houses has traditionally been a daunting challenge for families. Without a reliable online calendar, they have been forced to visit a hodgepodge of websites or call individual schools to figure out when they are hosting open houses.

It took a “solid week of full-time work” for interns to put together a calendar of the dates, said Rhea Wong, executive director of Breakthrough New York, a program that helps low-income students through the high school admissions process. The system, she said, benefits those who have the time, energy and wherewithal to track down the elusive dates.

The Department of Education’s online calendar could help level the playing field for families. But repeated checking by Chalkbeat has confirmed critics’ complaints — that the list remains incomplete.

On the first day of school, a random sample of 50 “limited unscreened” schools yielded only 19 on the calendar, even though the original deadline for submitting dates was July 14. The deadline for submitting dates got pushed back to Sept. 9, and then once again to Sept. 16. One week past the last deadline, a different list of 50 random schools yielded 34.

While city officials confirmed that 34 of the 50 schools are currently on the online calendar, they also pointed out that one school in Chalkbeat’s sample is a transfer school, which takes students who have fallen behind in high school and do not go through the same admissions process.

Even the events that are on the list are not easily searchable. The database exists as both a large Excel spreadsheet and a scrolling list on the Department of Education’s website. Thus far, the city has not included open house information as part of its new School Finder tool, created to help students more easily search for schools.

Many of the schools in Chalkbeat’s sample were found by checking the list several times, using different variations of names, looking up school numbers, and cross-referencing the list with the city’s Excel spreadsheet. (Some schools were on one list but not the other.)

This is not the first year the online calendar has existed. The resource has not been well-known to many advocates, but it is in its third year. A Google Calendar version was first used last year.

Before there was an online calendar, some schools submitted their open house dates for the Department of Education’s printed High School Directory, which is given to seventh-grade students before they leave for the summer. Notifying families of these dates in advance is important, particularly since many of the open houses are held during the day on weekdays, requiring parents to take time off work.

In their response, Department of Education officials highlighted some of the changes they have made to the process so far.

“We’ve taken significant steps to share information about the high school search and admissions process – including introducing a Google Calendar for information sessions that is now in its second year; rolling out NYC School Finder earlier this month; and increasing access to translated materials on the high school enrollment process,” Mantell said. “We continue to reach out directly to schools and work with superintendents to support schools in posting and updating their information.”

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

now hiring

Wanted: An enrollment chief who can help New York City meet its school diversity goals

PHOTO: Monica Disare
A high-school choice fair in Brooklyn in 2016.

The education department is in the market for a high-level official who will oversee enrollment decisions with an eye toward diversity.

Rob Sanft, who has led the Office of Student Enrollment for the last seven years, is stepping down. His replacement will be responsible for helping Mayor Bill de Blasio’s education department implement a plan, released last June, to boost school diversity.

The senior executive director of enrollment “will be expected to drive forward the vision of school diversity, in collaboration with other DOE offices,” according to the listing.

The enrollment chief has already been central to the city’s diversity initiatives. Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said in a statement that Sanft has already worked to end limited unscreened high school admissions, which can present barriers to students, and to change the way students are assigned to middle schools. Both were moves laid out in the city’s diversity plan.

“He has led reforms that make student enrollment easier and more equitable for hundreds of thousands of families every year,” Wallack said.

As more of the city’s diversity initiatives get off the ground, Wallack said integration issues will comprise an even larger role for the new enrollment chief. That only adds to the enormous responsibility of the office, which handles the city’s complicated high school admissions process and competitive gifted and talented program.

Integration advocates have called on the Department of Education to put a high-ranking official in charge of desegregation efforts. While that has yet to happen, Matt Gonzales, who heads integration efforts for the nonprofit New York Appleseed, found the city’s job posting encouraging.

“I think the fact that DOE is embedding a priority towards diversity into the job description of such an important role signifies a real investment in this work,” Gonzales wrote in an email.

David Kirkland, executive director of the New York University Metro Center, said advocates will keep an eye on who ultimately gets tapped for the position.

“Before we declare victory,” he wrote in an email, “I am curious about their background, their diversity status, their commitments to equity and integration, their willingness to work with the broader community to resolve issues.”