24 Manhattan district principals say there are no more screens in colleges

In a Manhattan neighborhood with a history of contentious battles over school admissions, two dozen principals have spoken out against returning academic screens to colleges in the district, according to a copy of a petition obtained by Chalkbeat.

The message to District Chief Kemar Samuels from 24 of 30 elementary and middle school principals in Manhattan’s District 3, which spans the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem, comes as superintendents across the city ​​are deciding whether their middle schools will again be allowed to select incoming students based on their academic performance.

Admissions screens existed at hundreds of colleges before the pandemic, but have been discontinued in the past two years due to COVID-19 and the shift to remote learning. Schools Chancellor David Banks has given superintendents until this week to decide if and how college screens will resume in their districts, with applications due to open to students on October 26.

In District 3, where schools are sharply divided by race and class, the debate is particularly tense. Proponents argue that screens help match top-performing students with schools that can meet their needs, but critics say competitive admissions standards unfairly divide students at a young age and lead to segregation.

“We know that the reintroduction of academic screens for a few of our colleges will result in inequity and a lack of student diversity,” the coalition of 24 principals wrote in a letter dated Oct. 14.

“The ranking and sorting of our students runs counter to a celebration of the rich diversity of cultures and races that our students bring with them to District 3 schools,” the letter continued.

Before the pandemic, about 40% of all colleges in the city used some form of selective admissions criteria for at least some of their students, with 112 schools screening all of their incoming students and 196 using screens for specialized programs. according to the Department of Education.

But the metrics colleges traditionally used to select kids, including grades, test scores and attendance records, disappeared during the pandemic, leading former mayor Bill de Blasio to suspend screens in all colleges from 2020.

This led to a modest increase in the share of low-income students and English language learners admitted to the city’s 46 most selective college programs, according to the Education Department.

The removal of screens had the potential to have an even greater impact in District 3 due to a district-wide diversity plan passed in 2018 that required each middle school to prioritize low-income students for 25% of their seats. The original diversity plan did not require middle schools to remove screens. Bookings reserved for underrepresented students generally have greater effects when they are coupled with the removal of screens, say integration experts. The Education Department did not immediately share how the removal of screens affected demographics at District 3 schools.

Late last month, Banks announced that superintendents could decide whether middle schools in their districts resume screening children based on their fourth-grade grades. The Education Department has given little guidance on how superintendents should make these decisions other than engaging with the community first.

“It puts the district office in the pressure cooker,” said Naveed Hasan, parent of elementary school students and District 3 Community Education Council member.

Education Department spokesman Art Nevins said this year’s process to decide on college screens is an example of the agency’s “commitment … to engaging with families and communities around the kinds of programs and schools they want.

“The intent of this process is not to arrive at a predetermined outcome, but to have a decision based on a thoughtful consideration of the needs of each school district and school community,” he added.

Samuels, who is in his first year as District 3 leader and previously oversaw a district-wide college integration plan in Brooklyn’s District 13, held two town hall discussions with parents and shared some another scheduled for Tuesday.

Lucas Liu, chairman of the District 3 Community Education Council, said the “vast majority” of parents who responded to the CEC survey expressed support for some middle school academic screens, although the CEC said the results Full details of the survey would not be shared until Tuesday’s meeting.

A District 3 manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, countered that the survey sample is probably not “representative of everyone …there are a number of parents in our communities who disagree with screens.” but who may have less “time, energy and agency to come together”.

Liu, who is also co-chair of Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, or PLACE, which supports academic screens, argued that the lottery system in place for two years has sent the lowest-performing elementary students “into competitions “. schools for which they are not prepared.

He said he’s heard from parents saying they’ll pull their kids out of the district if they can’t find a college option they consider rigorous enough.

“You have your principals letter, but it’s the parents who decide whether their children are going to enroll or not,” he said. “These are the parents we are meant to serve.”

The directors also pointed out that, according to education department data97% of sixth-graders this year got into one of their top three college choices, and 76% got into their first choice.

The Education Department declined to make Samuels available for interview.

Final admissions rules will be made public when college applications open on October 26.

Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering New York’s public schools. Contact Michael at melsen-rooney@chalkbeat.org.

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