suspended suspension

City touts justice reform, other Young Men's Initiative outcomes

Jim St. Germain (second from left), who attended a Boystown school, said he thought the "Close to Home" law would help juvenile offenders.

More than 4,000 black and Latino young men have already been affected by the constellation of programs and services in the city’s Young Men’s Initiative, Mayor Bloomberg announced today.

Over one thousand young black and Latino men found jobs through expanded training and placement programs, according to a city report about the initiative’s first year. Hundreds of men between the ages of 17 and 24 received special instruction aimed at boosting their reading skills. And dozens fewer students were suspended at 20 schools that piloted a less punitive approach to discipline.

But it was a change that has so far involved just 50 young men that dominated Bloomberg’s attention at a press conference to tout the progress.

When the Young Men’s Initiative kicked off in August 2011, Bloomberg said the city would lobby for juvenile justice reform to stop young offenders in New York City from being sent to private detention centers upstate. The “Close to Home” law that does just that passed in March.

Already, 50 juvenile offenders have been relocated from upstate facilities to residential treatment centers in the city. As many as 250 will arrive before the end of the year, city officials said.

Joined at a press conference by Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Deputy Schools Chancellor Dorita Gibson at Passages Academy, one of five alternative schools expected to enroll the new arrivals, Bloomberg said the shift would give court-involved students a better chance of graduating from high school. For the first time this year, the credits the students earn during their time at the centers will count towards their high school graduation requirements.

“If these kids don’t get an education, what’s their future? They’re going to at some point get out of the prison system and aren’t going to be able to make a living,” Bloomberg said. “Even if they got an education [upstate] they got back to the city and it wasn’t accredited, so they fell behind.”

Passages Academy and the other “alternative learning centers” that will enroll the teens relocated under Close to Home serve students who have been convicted of non-violent crimes or are awaiting trials, and some who are undergoing long-term suspensions from their high schools.

Principal Stephen Wilder said the ratio of teachers to students is 10 to one, and all teachers are licensed employees of the Department of Education.

“The curriculum is aligned to the Common Core and we’re offering same high level of expectations you find at a typical school in the community,” Wilder said.

Jim St. Germain, a 23 year-old Brooklyn native who attended Passages between 2005 and 2008 after he broke the law as a teen, said the program gave him the motivation he needed to graduate from high school and college. He is now a student at Albany Law School.

“I was able to step away from an environment that promotes negativity to an environment that promotes positivity,” he said of Passages and Boys Town, the residential center with which it is affiliated. He added, “Most of the kids know that this is a chance they won’t get again in life.”

In many ways, St. Germain epitomizes the New Yorkers the Young Men’s Initiative is trying to help: Raised by his grandmother, St. Germain, who is black, said he felt he “was not cut out for school,” and thought his future was to play professional football until he broke his hand at 14. He said the city’s programs targeting youth in the justice system and providing mentors to boys of color could inspire more to make smarter life decisions.

“It’s really easy to give up on our kids who are on the streets committing crime, but it is hard to do something for them, to help them pay taxes, have jobs and go to school,” he said.

Close to Home and other juvenile justice reforms comprise only one prong of the Young Men’s Initiative. The initiative is also aimed at improving educational outcomes for male students of color.

Already, the Department of Education has begun giving high schools extra credit on their annual assessments when those students make academic progress. Schools have also started to benefit from a literacy program and a middle school mentoring initiative administered by other city agencies. And after seeing suspension rates drop by 38 percent in 20 schools that piloted changes to discipline policies, the department has tweaked the discipline code for all students.

But the main education initiative, the $24 million Expanded Success Initiative, is only now getting into full swing. This spring, the city picked 40 schools that have a track record of success with black and Latino students to receive extra funds for services geared toward college readiness. In exchange, researchers will study the schools’ practices with the goal of sharing the best ones with other schools.

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

getting to graduation

New York City graduation rate hits record high of 74.3 percent in 2017

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 2017 graduation rate at South Bronx Preparatory school.

New York City’s graduation rate rose to 74.3 percent in 2017, a slight increase over the previous year and a new high for the city.

The 1.2 percentage point increase over the previous year continues an upward climb for the city, where the overall graduation rate has grown by nearly 28 points since 2005. The state graduation rate also hit a new high — 82.1 percent — just under the U.S. rate of 84.1 percent.

The city’s dropout rate fell to 7.8 percent, a small decline from the previous year and the lowest rate on record, according to the city.

“New York City is showing that when we invest in our students, they rise to the challenge and do better and better,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

More graduates were also deemed ready for college-level work. Last year, 64 percent of graduates earned test scores that met the City University of New York’s “college-ready” benchmark — up more than 13 percentage points from the previous year. 

However, the gains came after CUNY eased its readiness requirements; without that change, city officials said the increase would be significantly smaller. But even with the less rigorous requirements, more than a third of city students who earned high-school diplomas would be required to take remedial classes at CUNY.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, noted that CUNY’s college-readiness requirements are more demanding than New York’s graduation standards — which are among the toughest in the country.

We will work toward making sure none of our students need remediation when they get to college,” he told reporters. “But that’s a long game for us and we continue to move in that direction.”

The rising graduation rates follow a series of changes the state has made in recent years to help more students earn diplomas.

The graduation-requirement changes include allowing students with disabilities to earn a diploma by passing fewer exit exams and letting more students appeal a failed score. In addition, students can now substitute a work-readiness credential for one of the five Regents exams they must pass in order to graduate — adding to a number of other alternative tests the state has made available in the past few years.

About 9,900 students used one of those alternative-test or credential options in 2017, while 315 students with disabilities took advantage of the new option for them, according to state officials. They could not say how many students successfully appealed a low test score; but in 2016, about 1,300 New York City students did so.

The news was mixed for schools in de Blasio’s high-profile “Renewal” improvement program for low-performing schools. Among the 28 high schools that have received new social services and academic support through the program, the graduation rate increased to nearly 66 percent — almost a 6 percentage point bump over 2016. Their dropout rate also fell by about 2 points, to 16.4 percent, though that remains more than twice as high as the citywide rate.

However, more than half of the high schools in that $568 million program — 19 out of 28 — missed the graduation goals the city set for them, according to a New York Times analysis based on preliminary figures.

Graduation rates for students who are still learning English ticked up slightly to 32.5 percent, following a sharp decline the previous year that the state education commissioner called “disturbing.” City officials argue that students who improved enough to shed the designation of “English language learner” in the years before they graduated should also be counted; among that larger group, the graduation rate was 53 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the graduation-rate gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers narrowed a smidgen, but it remains wide. Last year, the graduation rate was about 83 percent for white students, 70 percent for black students, and 68 percent for Hispanic students. That represented a closing of the gap between white and black students by 0.4 percentage points, and 0.1 points between whites and Hispanic.

Asian students had the highest rate — 87.5 percent — a nearly 2 point increase from the previous year that widened their lead over other racial groups.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.