While history has yet to determine how well the city has fared under mayoral control of public schools, the lame duck Bloomberg Administration’s Department of Education appears to be going out facing a complaint to the federal Office of Civil Rights that the city is setting up black and Hispanic students for failure.
The complaint, filed May 20, alleges that the DOE’s current policy of letting parents and students pick their choice of high schools is skewered so black and Hispanic pupils often wind up in struggling schools with more high-needs pupils.
“Our point is African-American and Hispanic students unproportionately end up in schools with lower graduation rates,” said Education Law Center attorney Wendy Lecker, who filed the complaint on behalf of parents and students.
Currently city high schools admit students on the basis of academic records, state test scores, attendance, student preference, available space and other factors.
The federal complaint cites city statistics that show high schools with more black and Hispanic students had graduation rates of 48% in 2010, compared with an average city graduation rate of 65%.
Lecker pointed out in a recent WNYC SchoolBook editorial that while the Bloomberg administration prides itself on data in its efforts to reduce New York City’s achievement gap, its own data demonstrates its policies have contributed to widening that gap.
“As far back as 2006, the DOE was advised by its consultants, the Parthenon Group, that concentrating high-needs students — defined as over-age/under-credited students and low performing students — in particular high schools reduces the overall graduation rate of those schools,” wrote Lecker.
Lecker wrote that Parthenon’s study revealed that large concentrations of high-needs students affected the entire school population, negatively impacting students who may have otherwise succeeded in high school.
For instance, she wrote, students who entered high school barely proficient on state tests had the same graduation rate as highly proficient students if they were placed in a school with a low concentration of high-needs students. However, when that concentration increased, the graduation rates for barely proficient students dropped twenty percentage points, while the graduation rates of the highly proficient students remained constant.
DOE officials countered that eliminating the achievement gap is a core goal of the city’s school reform strategy under Mayor Bloomberg.
”The s administration inherited an unequal system, where zip code often determined a child’s fate,” said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg in an emailed statement. “Today every student has the freedom to apply to any school throughout the city.”
A DOE spokesperson also cited 2011 graduation statistics that show the gulf between white students and their black and Hispanic classmates has shrunk by a quarter since 2005.
But Lecker said the DOE is missing the point that sticking large numbers of black and Hispanic students in low-performing high schools, which may include a high concentration of students with special needs and ESL students, is putting them at a strong disadvantage.
Lecker drew similarities to these types of situations to what’s happening in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently closed 50 schools and where that city is now facing several lawsuits because of this.
Emanuel opened up a lot of charter schools that curiously have a lower percentage of low-performing, special needs and ESL kids, she said.
Now the students from Chicago, which has a huge gang problem that aren’t in charter schools will have to cross gang boundaries to the shrinking public schools that serve all kids, she added.