Chancellor Fariña Announced New Initiatives To Increase Diversity In Schools

June 9, 2016

Schools Chancellor Carmen FariñaChancellor Carmen Fariña today announced six new initiatives aimed at increasing access and boosting diversity at New York City’s specialized high schools from Harlem to Hollis. These efforts are beginning this summer and will be in place before students take the SHSAT in October. The wide-ranging initiatives focus on getting more students from historically underrepresented groups to register for the SHSAT (Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, the entrance exam for eight specialized high schools), providing more free tutoring for low-income students, and expanding the scope of the Discovery Program. These reforms target high-potential students who have the academic skills to succeed at these schools, but come from underrepresented backgrounds.

Specialized high schools have historically had a low percentage of Black and Latino students enrolled compared to citywide averages. This school year, 11 percent of students enrolled in the eight testing specialized high schools are Black or Latino, compared to 68 percent citywide. Significantly fewer Black and Latino students take the SHSAT: 22 percent of Black and Latino 8th-graders took the SHSAT last fall, compared to 52 percent of their Asian and white peers.

We anticipate that the new initiatives will help increase the number of high-performing, low-income students from underrepresented groups who take the test and enroll in a specialized high school. We appreciate the support of many members of the New York State Legislature who have championed increasing diversity across these schools.  The New York City Specialized High Schools Diversity Initiative, a proposal announced earlier this year by the Senate Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), provides resources for outreach programs and test prep which will align with the initiatives being announced today. We commend the Senate and the Assembly Majority for securing $2 million in the enacted FY 16-17 State Budget.

“Our specialized high schools need to better reflect the diversity of our neighborhoods and our City while maintaining their high standards, and this strong package of reforms is an important step forward,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This is a matter of fairness – we have to ensure that high-performing students who are black and Latino, and who come from low-income neighborhoods, have the same opportunities to enroll and thrive in these schools.” 

 “These new initiatives are an important step towards more diverse specialized high schools,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “This is about equity and excellence for all of our high-performing middle school students, regardless of their zip code or background. We’re going to increase diversity without lowering any standards; to the contrary, greater diversity will help all our students succeed.”

“I want to thank the City for prioritizing the implementation of the Independent Democratic Conference’s proposals to increase diversity at the Specialized High Schools. I was proud to lead the way in the legislature, along with my colleague Senator Avella, to secure $2 million in this year’s state budget in order to establish outreach programs, enhance and expand free test preparation for underrepresented students, and further support already successful programs. By providing resources to these students early, we can ensure that every child in New York City, no matter your block or borough, has the same opportunity to learn, grow and achieve a first-rate education,” said Senator Jeff Klein.

The initiatives include:

1.      Increasing the number of SHSAT test-takers through the use of dedicated outreach teams: The Office of Student Enrollment will hire up to five outreach specialists, similar to the Pre-K for All outreach teams, to target low-income, high-achieving students for the SHSAT, DREAM, and Discovery Programs. Outreach teams will focus on increasing participation rates for high-achieving students from underrepresented groups and middle schools. Among our highest-performing students (those scoring a 4.0 in 7th grade), 96 percent of Asian students took the SHSAT, while only 76 percent of Black students and 80 percent of Latino students tested.

2.      Piloting administering the SHSAT on a school day to increase the number of test takers: This fall, five pilot schools will administer the SHSAT during the school day. Testing during the school day removes barriers such as testing at an unfamiliar location, challenges encountered in traveling to a central testing site on a weekend, and conflicts with other familial or work obligations. When testing is given during the school day, we anticipate dramatic increases in the number of students who participate, as has been the case when the PSAT and SAT have been administered during the school day in New York City. All pilot schools will have a large number of high-potential students from underrepresented communities.

3.      Offer SHSAT test preparation through middle school afterschool programs: By creating partnerships between middle schools offering afterschool programs and test prep agencies interested in providing scholarships or SHSAT test prep resources, we’ll offer more resources for students in underrepresented areas. This effort is aligned with the funds earmarked in the 16-17 State budget and will further support underrepresented students.

4.      Providing more students with free tutoring by expanding and enhancing the DREAM program: DREAM is a free afterschool program, under the Office of Equity and Access, that currently provides 6th– and 7th-graders with rigorous coursework to prepare them for the SHSAT. In summer 2016, we will launch a new Intensive for high-performing 8th-grade students who would benefit from additional preparation for the SHSAT. Previously, students could only enter the DREAM program in 6th or 7th grade. This Intensive will target up to 500 more students who may perform well on the SHSAT.

We will also be expanding professional development and coaching opportunities for DREAM staff and providing wraparound services for DREAM participants. The current 22-month DREAM model will continue, with a renewed focus on foundational skill-building and ensuring that curricula are fully aligned with the SHSAT. This year, 77 of the 530 Black and Latino students who received specialized high school offers participated in the DREAM program.

5.      Enrolling more low-income students by expanding the Discovery Program: This summer, we are expanding the existing Discovery Program at Brooklyn Technical High School and opening a new Discovery Program at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College. The Discovery Program will serve an additional 100 students this summer, with 220 students compared to 120 last year. Over the past several months, the Office of Student Enrollment has partnered with the Pre-K for All outreach team to reach out to underrepresented students who received an offer to a summer Discovery program. These preliminary efforts, in addition to the expanded program, resulted in a 50% increase in the number of Black and Latino students registered to participate in this summer’s Discovery Program – 59 this year, up from 39 students last year. These robust efforts will continue with the hired outreach team.

The Discovery Program is available for students who scored within a certain range below the qualifying score on the SHSAT and who meet certain eligibility requirements, such as low-income status. Opening a new program and expanding an existing one will help ensure that specialized high schools are enrolling more low-income and underrepresented students.

6.      Encourage more students to enroll by strengthening the school climate and culture at specialized high schools: Each specialized high school, with support from their superintendent, will be required to develop a plan to promote a school climate that is welcoming for all students. This year, 73 percent of Black and Latino students accepted their specialized high school offer, compared to 86 percent of Asian students. These initiatives will be aimed at reducing that disparity.

Schools will be encouraged to identify student ambassadors and alumni of color to reach out to accepted students. There will also be additional professional development opportunities for teachers, and schools may integrate culturally relevant curricular units. These efforts will be coordinated across the Division of Teaching and Learning, Office of Safety and Youth Development and with external partnerships.

“With the funding that the legislature secured in this year’s state budget, New York City will be able to establish outreach coordinators, provide test prep to underrepresented areas, and support and enhance those programs that need our support. I have been proud to lead on this issue with my colleague Senator Klein, and I want to thank Chancellor Farina for her partnership in implementing these important proposals. This is much more than just checking off a box, this is laying the foundation to ensure that every student has an opportunity to enter one of these esteemed schools,” said Senator Tony Avella.

“These programs will help expand access to the tools students need to succeed on the SHSAT,” said State Senator Adriano Espaillat. “Giving students more opportunities to take the test, and increasing access to test prep for low-income students is a good first step toward increasing diversity in our specialized high-schools.”

“Specialized high schools have a long history in our city of educating striving students” said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “It is welcome that Chancellor Farina is expanding the ways that all students can be prepared for and succeed in the specialized high schools.”

“I applaud Mayor de Balsio and Chancellor Farina for this bold initiative to create a more rigorous outreach program to expand the pool of applicants to New York City Specialized High Schools. Our work in the state Capitol this year to secure $2 million in funding will go a long way to ensure children from historically low income areas have the same opportunities to compete with the rest of the youths of this city for a seat one of these great high schools,” Said Assemblyman Walter T Mosley.

“When it comes to our specialized high school testing process, the playing field must be leveled,” said NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. “These initiatives, while not perfect, will help bring fairness to the testing process by granting low-income youth the tutoring and other resources they need to have a chance at admission to our city’s top high schools.  I firmly believe that quality education should be accessible to all and am pleased to support this effort.”

“One of the sad constraints in our city’s excellent specialized high schools over the years has been the considerable lack of black and Latino students,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “Today, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina are taking significant steps toward meaningful change in these schools. We know very well that, given the opportunities, test prep and support systems, these students can thrive and excel at high levels. However, we don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, we can also look to strategies used by the majority of students who gain admittance to these schools, beginning preparations early in elementary school for the SHSAT so that they are prepared well before 8th grade. These tremendous steps will boost our city’s public school students, overwhelmingly students of color, and we will soon see a marked change in our treasured specialized high schools.”

“It is our mission to ensure that all New York City students have a strong academic foundation. This initiative to increase diversity in specialized high schools employs six steps of outreach that allow a more guided transition from middle school to specialized high schools,” said Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. “The steps strengthen students’ academic foundation, while further enhancing the culture of New York City’s classrooms. As such, the plan well complements the needs of today’s classroom and we look forward to its implementation.”

“It is essential that we make sure all students have the access, opportunity and information necessary to get a fair shake at our city’s coveted Specialized High Schools,” said Council Member Peter Koo. “Expanding support systems and working with students and families of color to ensure they are adequately informed and prepared puts us on the right path to a more inclusive selection process, and I’m happy to support these important initiatives.”

“The specialized high schools are some of the most transformative opportunities for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Ryan Baxter, Founder and Chairman of PASSNYC. “I’m thrilled that the Department of Education is spearheading these initiatives, and PASSNYC looks forward to partnering with the City in this critical step forward to bring equity for New York City students.”

“This is a very exciting announcement because it is so important for schools to reflect the great diversity of New York City,” said Crystal Bonds, principal at the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College. “We want all students—regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or language of origin to feel welcome within our school and succeed. We’ve seen such high achievement particularly with our Discovery students who arrive on day one eager, equipped for success, and are tremendous ambassadors for the school. Having a strong, welcoming environment is essential and we look forward to these continued efforts.”

“I believe strongly that diversity enhances the educational experience for all students, so we need to ensure that underrepresented students have the access and the resources to reach their potential and thrive at specialized high schools,” said Alessandro Weiss, Principal at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College. I’m confident that these new and expanded initiatives will provide promising students with the opportunities they need to learn about our schools, prepare for the exam, and reach their full potential as specialized high school students – all without ever compromising the high standards that our schools maintain.”

These initiatives will be in place before students take the SHSAT in October, and cost $15 million through fiscal year 2020. Eight of the nine specialized high schools, those which base their admissions solely on SHSAT scores, will be impacted. These schools are: Bronx High School of Science; The Brooklyn Latin School; Brooklyn Technical High School; High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College of New York; High School of American Studies at Lehman College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; Staten Island Technical High School; and Stuyvesant High School.

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