Boerum Hill

To desegregate Brownstone Brooklyn middle schools, high scores, good grades no longer a factor

September 20, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (at podium) on Thursday announced their approval of a plan to increase diversity at middle schools in Brooklyn’s District 15, which stretches from the southern end of Brooklyn Heights to Red Hook and Park Slope. Photo by Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

District 15 Enters New Era

Change is coming to Brooklyn’s District 15 schools.

On Thursday at Park Slope’s M.S. 51, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza launched a plan to increase diversity at Brownstone Brooklyn’s sought-after middle schools.

The move is part of a citywide push to increase the number of black and Hispanic students admitted into high achieving schools. Admissions at 10 of the 11 middle schools in District 15 are currently competitive, admitting students with the best grades, test scores, attendance record and other positives.

According to the city’s Diversity Plan, District 15’s schools are among the most socio-economically and racially segregated schools in New York City.

District 15 includes Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, the southern section of Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Gowanus, Kensington, Park Slope, Sunset Park, Red Hook and Windsor Terrace.

The entire district has now dropped selective admissions. Starting in September 2019, schools will use a lottery that gives extra weight to students who come from low-income families, don’t speak English or are homeless.

District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop said the current admission process is stressful for students and families.

“The current process is intense and difficult for such young children, and the changes are going to make it better for students, families and educators across the district,” she said in a statement.

The city will be appointing a District 15 middle school admissions coordinator position and an outreach team, along with other administrative changes.

Schools as Drivers of Social Change

The plan was approved after a yearlong community discussion process overseen by urban planning firm WXY under contract to the city Department of Education (DOE). Working group members included members of advocacy groups including Red Hook Community Justice Center and the Chinese Planning Council, DOE employees, student representatives and parents.

“Schools should be centers of social change and justice, and we desperately needed this to get everyone on board,” Lynn Shon, a member the working group and STEM teacher at M.S. 88, said in a statement.

“With this plan, middle schoolers will have equal and exciting opportunities to attend a school that is right for them,” Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said.

“Public schools are for are for all kids and we need our schools to look like our city,” said Eliza Seki, IntegrateNYC middle school lead and 7th grader at M.S. 839. Integrate NYC is “a youth-led organization working towards school integration.”

Not Everyone Applauds Dropping Screening

Not everyone surveyed in the district was comfortable with dropping selective admission criteria, according to the 109-page final report. There is “a split between those with negative perceptions of selective admissions processes (screens) and those who interpret screens as part of a meritocratic system for rewarding hard-working students,” the report noted. Overall, 58 percent of survey respondents agreed with the use of screening.

According to the report, most survey submissions came from the “whiter parts of the district,” and they favored the use of selective screens. In Park Slope, 62 percent of respondents agreed with the use of screening. In Sunset Park, 42 percent did.

To give more weight to the less plugged-in residents, the city made efforts, “through targeted meetings and weighting of survey results,” to highlight the concerns of more marginalized communities, according to the report. Survey respondents from Sunset Park, home to a lower-income, Spanish-speaking community, “responded with a clear opposition to the use of screens.”

Long History of Segregation

New York City has been long criticized for its many segregated schools. In June, de Blasio announced plans to change the admissions process at the city’s elite specialized high schools by getting rid of the high-stakes admission exam known as the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).

Using one high-stakes test as the sole criterion for admissions has been called unfair and discriminatory, especially to minority kids with access to fewer educational resources.

While applauded by many in the black and Hispanic communities, Asian families have protested the change. Asian students are the highest performers on the specialized school exam, and get roughly 52 percent of admission offers.

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