Are high-needs students disproportionately assigned to struggling schools? A study released Thursday by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform reveals that low-performing high schools are unfairly overburdened by late-enrolling students (also known as “over the counter” students), who tend to be new immigrants, special-needs students, previously incarcerated teens, transient or homeless youth, over-age students and those with histories of behavioral incidents in previous high schools.
The study also reports that late-enrolling students are disproportionately assigned to schools that have already been targeted for closure. At Christopher Columbus High School, for instance, which the DOE began phasing out in 2011, late-enrolling students accounted for 37 percent of the population; the city average was 14 percent.
Annenberg Institute Principal Associate Norm Fruchter, one of the study’s authors, concludes that “compelling evidence suggests that the DOE’s inequitable assignment of late-enrolling students to struggling high schools reduces the opportunities for success for both the students and their schools.”
The report doesn’t come as a surprise to teachers in schools with large percentages of late-enrolling students. Christine Rowland, who taught at Columbus, recalls that the stream of late-enrolling students “put incredible pressure on the school.”
Late entry students provide incredible challenges for programming. Classes fill up, leading to challenges in giving students the courses and programs they need to succeed. Then courses fill up, leading to a need to open up additional sections of a course. This may mean someone needing to take on a sixth class, someone teaching out of license, or even hiring an additional teacher. [But] schools are only budgeted based on estimated register (not including over-the-counter students), and funding for the additional students [does] not arrive until November. This meant that additional teachers could not be taken on, since there was no budget to support their hire. Sometimes it means changing a huge percentage of teacher and student programs in order to cope with the fluxing student body.
Columbus “bravely attempted to address our high needs students by establishing a number of specially designed support programs to meet the needs of these students,” says Rowland. Unfortunately, “the over-the-counter numbers played a very significant role in our report card grade, which played a major role in our being targeted” for closure.
“This new research confirms what we have known all along: that the Department of Education set these schools up to fail,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “It is failure by design.”