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Looking toward changes to admissions for criteria-based schools

WBFO News file photo

The Buffalo Public School District admits it has much work ahead in resolving the equity issue when it comes criteria-based schools. The District recently released a report finding a slight decline in the number of African American students at City Honors.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says now the district is working on new recommendations.  

"With regard to the criteria-based schools, we still have more work to do,” said Will Keresztes, Associate Schools Superintendent and Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs.

This controversy traces back about two years ago when a group of parents filed a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights questioning the admission process at City Honors and Olmsted saying it discriminated against some students.   

The OCR approved changes in the district's admissions process, partially based on earlier recommendations from Civil Rights expert Dr. Gary Orfield. Those changes included allowing students to take admissions tests at their own school during the regular school day for families with transportation challenges, but parents were still required to fill out a separate applications.

“We think all of the barriers will be removed to access admissions into these schools, but that doesn’t mean we have closed the achievement gap, so we need to ask the hard question, and that is are schools across the district and parents  adequately preparing students so that they can compete for a spot at these schools,” said Keresztes.

In an effort to reduce the disproportionate number of students for admissions results were ‘mixed’ or ‘flat’. 

At City Honors the number of African American students has declined from 18-percent to 16-percent for the next school year. At Olmsted it's dropping from 41-percent to 40-percent.

“How do we close the opportunity gap, the achievement gap, how do eliminate implicit bias that might exist,” stated Keresztes. “The key recommendation that wasn’t implemented from Dr. Orfield’s report was the creation of a second City Honors. We felt at the time...until we address all the potential process barriers for our students, until we make sure that all of our students are providing an education that adequately prepares students – building another one won’t necessary close that achievement gap.”

Sam Radford is President of the District Parent Coordinating Council. He has repeatedly spoken out against the admissions process.

“Twice asked them to stop with their plan for criteria-based schools. They tweaked it and tweaked it, and basically asked for the opportunity to go forward anyway,” said Radford.

Radford did point out that an additional 700-students were able to take the exam under the current changes, but he called referred to those changes only 'window dressing.'

“I think that we need to look at the structural changes that will lead to more minority students in top performing schools and we have not, at least in my opinion, at all addressed the issue that Dr. Orfield raised around the fact that you cannot have predominately white suburban teachers in an urban school district as your basic teaching core,” Radford stated.

City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash is pushing to have the recommendations in place by June 30th. 

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