Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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City Looking To Reform School Enrollment Programs

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Although the city has continued to deny its enrollment policies overwhelm certain schools with high needs kids, NY1 has discovered that education officials have internally admitted there is a problem and plan to announce changes to the entire school system. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Publicly, the mayor and the schools chancellor have long argued that their student enrollment policies are not part of the reason why some schools struggle.

In mid-April, they said a group of academics were "wrong" when they released a report finding the city's policies overwhelmed some schools with too many students with high needs.

But NY1 has learned that privately, over the past 19 months, the city has been working to reform its school enrollment programs.

In a recent letter to the state, the city wrote that "NYC has been working with the New York State Education Department to address its concerns about situations where our choice-based system may be leading to an over-concentration of students with disabilities, English language learners and/or students that are performing below proficiency in certain schools."

Contrast that with how Mayor Bloomberg reacted in November after State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch accused the city of warehousing high needs students in certain schools. The Mayor said "She’s totally wrong on the facts" and "(she's) obviously been misinformed.”

But in the communication with the state in June, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott seemed to acknowledge the problem, writing that "NYCDOE is committed to working with NYSED to develop an action plan to further monitor and refine our enrollment practices to address your concerns about high concentrations of particular populations in high schools citywide."

In the same letter, the chancellor said he would introduce system-wide changes by October, including a way of identifying schools with too many high-needs students.

On Thursday, NY1 asked State Education Commissioner John King if he was encouraged by the city's response.

"Chancellor Tisch and I have raised concerns about this repeatedly with the city," he said. "We think this issue of how you manage enrollment is critical. I think ultimately, the mayor, the chancellor and the deputy chancellor came to agree with that view and they've made some changes."

But parent advocate Zakiyah Ansari said she wishes the city acted sooner.

"Schools have been saying for many years that this is an issue and now we find that they have been working undercover and they want to put out some new strategy to alleviate this enrollment," she said. "How many kids could have been saved if they just came out publicly?

It appears the DOE is still unwilling to publicly acknowledge the issues discussed in the letters to the state.

When NY1 asked Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg about the letters, he denied there was any problem with schools being overloaded with too many high-needs students. In a phone conversation, he claimed the policy changes were only to give students more options, not to alleviate pressure on schools.

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