Construction of District 2's Exemplary Status
When Research and Public Policy Elide

Paper Presented to the Annual Conference
American Educational Research Association
April, 2002, New Orleans

Lois Weiner, Professor
Elementary And Secondary Education
New Jersey City University
Jersey City, New Jersey


What are the moral and political responsibilities of university-based researchers who assist local school authorities in the implementation of policies? To what extent are scholars whose stature and research are invoked to support educational practices responsible for the (mis)application of their work? This study uses high-profile research on District 2 as a case study of how a political context that presents urban schools as unsalvageable has also resulted in research stripped of critique. The paper compares published reports about District 2's accomplishments to data on student achievement and school demographics on state and city reports and analyzes the data in light of the author's insider knowledge as a parent-activist. The examination brings to light important aspects of District 2's record that have not been explored, the most glaring of which is the intense social and racial stratification among the schools and the lack of clear evidence that its implementation of an instructional delivery system built on national standards has been successful. Comparison of school-wide achievement between District 2 and District 25, Queens, indicates that researchers' description of District 2's model of systemic reform as exemplary is at the very least questionable and may have obscured hard questions about District 2's ability to diminish achievement differentials that correlate closely with race and poverty.


The direct assistance that university-based researchers provide to school systems involved in reform is generally accepted as positive, strengthening the relationship between theory and practice and in the process improving both. However, key aspects of collaborations between school districts and universities deserve closer attention, as is suggested by Zeichner's discussion (1995) of the extent to which power differentials between school faculty and university researchers are addressed in formulating research designs and questions. Reforms of the past decade, formerly acknowledged only by researchers as controlled by professional, corporate, and political elites (Cohen, 1995; Mickelson, 1999; Shipps, 1997) are now explicitly welcomed as such by politicians rejecting popular control of schooling (McAdams 2000). Urban school systems in particular are viewed as close to unsalvageable as democratically-controlled, publicly funded systems (Connell, 1998) and therefore in need of control by elites (McAdams 2000). In this heightened context of urgency, researchers who collaborate with authorities in urban schools may experience pressures to show that success is possible, that reforms "work." Yet this pressure to find solutions to the seemingly intractable problems of urban schools contradicts what Bourdieu (1998) identifies as the major responsibilities of intellectuals, "freedom with respect to those in power, the critique of received ideas, the demolition of simplistic either-ors, respect for the complexity of problems" (p. 92).

In this paper I use research on school improvement in District 2 in Manhattan as a case study, to examine the problem of conflict between the critical functions of research and intellectuals and the pressing need to generate models of urban school reform that are successful. District 2's strategy of using professional development to implement national standards has been upheld as an example of how an urban school district can make standards-based reform succeed, an illustration of public education's continued viability in the nation's cities (Elmore, 1999-2000; Elmore & Burney, 1997a; Elmore & Burney, 1997b; Elmore & Burney, 1999; Elmore & Burney, February1999). Prominent research has also heralded the District's focus on a centralized system of professional development linked to standards as being the key to improving achievement in urban schools (Fink & Resnick, 1999; Resnick & Harwell, 2000; Stein, D'Amico & Johnstone, April 1999). As Lauren Resnick, a researcher closely identified with published reports touting District 2's success comments:

Over an eleven-year period, Community School District Two in New York City has amassed a strong record of successful school improvement in a very diverse urban school setting. Not only have test scores risen, but there is also a remarkable professional spirit among the teachers, principals, and central staff members of the district, which has 22,000 students in 45 schools (Fink & Resnick, 1999, p. 3).

This study draws on several types of sources in addition to published research on District 2, including publicly available data on school achievement and demographics on the New York State Department of Education and New York City Board of Education websites, correspondence with District 2 teachers, unpublished reports on the District's math curriculum, and field notes following conversations with principals, teacher union officials and teachers in District 2's schools. Teachers and school administrators in District 2 who spoke and corresponded with me were informed that the information would be used in a published study and consented to interviews on the condition that they remain anonymous. Any information provided by District 2 employees who desired to remain anonymous was confirmed by at least two other people, generally in two other schools. My rationale for identifying the district and researchers is that their work is a matter of public record. Indeed, high-profile research on District 2 in Manhattan has given its reforms a reputation of success that has encouraged state officials from locales as distant culturally and geographically from New York City as rural Vermont to press for District 2's practices as a template for professional development (personal communication with Vermont college administrator, April 2001).

From 1998 until 2000, I was active as a parent in the New York City public school that my daughter attended, the John Melser Charrette School, or as it is more commonly called, PS 3. From this vantage point I gleaned information and acquired a perspective that would not readily be available to researchers unless it had been consciously sought. Resnick's description (Fink & Resnick, 1999) of how the research design was formulated explains why the research was bereft of critical perspectives on District 2 policies:

We were trying to figure out which people in the district should be interviewed and observed in order to understand how the district functioned. Someone started to diagram the way in which teachers were expected to learn from principals and professional developers and each other within their school, while at the same time principals were expected to learn from the Superintendent and Deputy and from each other how to be better at their instructional leadership job. Someone else said, "It's like those nesting dolls people like to bring back from their travels"?and the name was born. The image seems to work because the dolls are each independent, free-standing "people," yet they share a common form?and you can't decide which is the most "important" doll, the tiny one in the middle that establishes the shape for them all or the big one on the outside that encloses them all (p. 6).

The diagram outlined by those involved in the study design supports an analogy (of nesting dolls) that is simultaneously hierarchical and exclusively self-referential. The analogy is also a remarkable for being static and decontextualized, with relationships unaffected by "outside" influences such as parent feedback, which seems to be an accurate description of decision making in the district. Though Resnick comments in the quote above that it is not clear which doll is the most "important," her statement seems to contradict power and status relations of the "nested doll" analogy. She observes that the doll in the middle is "tiny" and "the big one on the outside...encloses them all." The outer doll then shapes the configuration, and size and power diminish as one moves to the inside of the "nest."

PS 3 is an arts-based, alternative school started by parents (Zuckerman, 2001), with a unique history that has made it resistant to many District 2 initiatives. PS 3 is probably one of the schools district officials and researchers categorize as "off the screen," or using the analogy of the nesting dolls, outside of the nest. In its demographics and test scores PS 3 exemplifies "off the screen" schools. As a report observes, "for a variety of reasons, off_the_screen schools are not working within the District #2 framework. While student achievement in some cases is fairly strong, the district leadership has concerns about the quality of instruction and or leadership in these schools" (D'Amico, van den Heuvel, & Harwell, 2000, p. 6). Curiously, District 2 leaders' concerns about achievement in instruction and leadership in these "off-the-screen" schools are not articulated in research describing the district's accomplishments and problems. One could argue that if achievement as measured by tests is fairly strong in these "off-the-screen" schools that a close examination of their instructional and leadership practices and of their school cultures might provide important data about what makes the district's instructional delivery system distinctive and distinctively effective. More important, comparisons of data on individual achievement disaggregated by race and ethnicity, rather than school-wide data, which is the only sort provided by the district and school system, could provide persuasive evidence that the district's reform strategies were more successful than practices in "off-the-screen" schools. On the other hand, the data might suggest otherwise.

When PS 3 teachers came under strong pressure from the district to alter their practices without, it seemed to some activist parents, consultation with parents, I was enlisted to become active in school politics, ran for the School Leadership Team, and was elected. From correspondence with parents and teachers union representatives (called "chapter chairs" in New York City schools) at several other District 2 schools, and from unpublished reports of a group organized to oppose the unilateral implementation of the District's math curriculum, I learned that teachers in several schools feared they would be fired if they did not conform to inflexible mandates about how and what to teach, even when the mandates conflicted with parent desires or their professional judgment. A few chapter chairs complained that the teachers union's national leadership had without their knowledge or agreement promoted the reforms in District 2 uncritically in its national magazine (American Educator, 1999-2000). From their perspective as union representatives in the schools who hear teachers' problems and begin the grievance process, the city union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was unwilling to pursue teachers' complaints, formally or informally, because of close political relationships between present and former District 2 leaders and UFT and national (American Federation of Teachers) officials.

Clear evidence of teacher dissatisfaction surfaced in the Spring 2000 election for the UFT's district representative. Chapter chairs in District 2 elected as the UFT's district official a teacher running against the "heir apparent" of the UFT leadership (personal communication, chapter chair in District 2, May 2000). Teachers' suspicions about the UFT's close relationship with District 2 leaders were explicitly confirmed when the UFT president visited PS 3 after parents garnered widespread media attention for protests about the school's principal being fired by the Acting Superintendent only six weeks into the job (Lee, 22 Oct. 2000; Lee, 29 Oct. 2000). In the meeting with teachers and in a conversation with me that followed, the UFT president explained that though District 2's administration had trouble hearing what teachers had to say, nevertheless District 2 leaders had to be supported because District 2's model offered the only way to convince the public that city schools could be salvaged.

This ferment among District 2 teachers manifested in the failure of the UFT leadership's designee to win the position of District Representative is not evident in research on District 2. Another striking disconnect between the research and insiders' knowledge is seen in the construction of a questionnaire to be distributed to teachers in May 2000. The questionnaire dated May 2000, for the HPLC study on professional development providing data for two published reports, required teachers to provide their New York City Board of Education ID numbers (often used in lieu of names to locate personnel in official records) and their schools. The consent form included in the appendix (Harwell, D'Amico, Stein & Gatti, 2000) omits this item and thus the form in the appendix is not a duplicate of the form distributed to teachers. A cover letter from Deputy Superintendent Bea Johnstone

(2000), omitted from the appendix (Harwell, D'Amico, Stein & Gatti, 2000), an appendix cited in the subsequent study (D'Amico, Harwell, Stein, van den Heuvell, April 2001) refers to this request for teachers' file numbers, noting that "The survey asks for your name and your teacher folder number, so that the information gained from it can be linked to other data collected in the course of the HPLC study" but that "individual responses will not [emphasis in the original] be seen by other members of the District #2 community." Also absent from the appendix, perhaps explaining the cover letter from Johnstone, is the "Consent to act as a participant in a research study" University of Pittsburgh IRB# 980136, which lists Anthony Alvarado, District 2's former superintendent, as a principal investigator, and his institutional affiliation as - District 2. District 2's offices are given as Alvarado's address, although he was not Superintendent at the time the questionnaire was distributed. He had been replaced by Elaine Fink, Deputy Superintendent of District 2 for eight years (New York City Board of Education, 2000). A district official whose responsibilities took her to several elementary and middle schools noted in an interview I conducted with her after distribution of the questionnaire and consent form that Fink and Alvarado's continuing social and professional connections were common knowledge in the district, due to its remarkably active grapevine . Johnstone's letter, which accompanied the cover letter by Lauren Resnick reproduced in the appendix, addresses teacher apprehensions about the relations between researchers and administrators and the confidentiality and use of the research. It should not be surprising that after the questionnaire was distributed, UFT chapter leaders communicated informally about what they should tell teachers who feared that responses would not be confidential (personal communication with two chapter leaders).

Another missing factor in high-profile research on District 2 is exploration of implications of the district's access to human and material resources that urban districts typically lack. The "variability" and variation among schools and neighborhoods, the term used to describe District 2's demographics (Elmore & Burney, 1999a; Fink & Resnick, 1999) fails to convey the numerous advantages afforded by District 2's highly unusual concentration of neighborhoods of economically comfortable families who send their children to public school. One study acknowledges that District #2 is "a fairly wealthy urban district... the fourth wealthiest community school district in New York City...and in the upper quartile for urban districts nationally" (Harwell, D'Amico, Stein & Gatti, 2000, p. 9). Yet the implications of this highly unusual characteristic are not explored. The reports describe the geography and mention that District 2 encompasses a broad swath of Manhattan's wealthiest real estate and most of its prosperous neighborhoods. However, what the reports do not explore is the extent to which the district's concentration of wealthy neighborhoods insulates many of its schools from demands made on other city schools, for instance providing extra resources for security, or as one study described the contrast "Keeping students in, gangs out, scores up, alienation down, and the copy machine in working order: Pressures that make urban schools in poverty different" (Metz, 1997). The elementary school that often has the highest test scores in New York City and is used a training ground for District 2 principals is PS 234, in the heart of Tribeca, which before the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 was one of the most prosperous and culturally homogeneous (European American) neighborhoods in all five boroughs. A map of the district displays its peculiar geographical configuration, which like the boundaries of all of the community school districts, resulted from political negotiations in the school decentralization battles in the late 1960s: It crosses the island in a thin band avoiding the Lower East Side (which comprises District 1, far poorer than District 2), and whisks upward to 96th Street on the Upper East Side, stopping on the outskirts of East Harlem. Because of gentrification, District 2 now serves only one swath of territory with school-age children whose families are almost all living in poverty, Chinatown, populated in great part by newly arrived immigrants. Data on the school report cards for each school in District 2 show that schools in Chinatown serve the highest proportions of students in District 2 who are English-language learners, the designation for students who have been in the US for three years or less. The largest minority population in District 2 schools is Asian, and the Asian and white population combined constitute 65% of the students served. In New York City schools that figure is 27% (New York City Board of Education, 2000).

District 2 is not listed in advertisements for Board of Education "job fairs" to hire teacher candidates. Savvy former students of mine seeking jobs have told me that District 2 is known as the "silk stocking district" among prospective teachers, with enrollments and conditions in more than a third of its schools (see Table 4) that more closely approximate what teachers would find in the suburban school systems close to the city, where there is also no teacher shortage (Institute for Education & Social Policy, 2001). It is possible that the district's well-publicized investment in professional development makes it more attractive to the graduates from private universities in New York City (Bank Street, New York University, Teachers College), institutions from which many of its new hires hail (personal communication, District 2 principal). Another possibility, one suggested by research about how teachers' social class influences their work (Metz 1990), is that many teachers attracted to and recently hired by District 2 want to work with administrators, other teachers, and perhaps students, who share their social class origins, aspirations, and world view. As one veteran African-American teacher in a District 2 school explained, graduates of "City" (College, of City University of New York) need not apply to District 2 because it is highly unlikely they will be chosen. And besides, she asked, why would they want to? They want to work in the places they see high need.

Data On Student Achievement In District 2:
Much Ado About....What?

Reports on test scores and family income in each school published in The New York Times (Goodnough, 2000) reveal striking information about the extent to which District 2's demographics are unrepresentative of other districts in New York City. In the test results published in October 2000, District 2 in Manhattan and District 8 in the Bronx were reported as enrolling approximately the same number of students, District 2 with 2204, District 8 with 2374. Yet District 2 had 12 elementary schools out of 26 with fewer than 50% of its students qualifying for free lunch, whereas District 8 had one out of 20 (Goodnough, 2000). To pursue the issue of District' 2s representativeness, a key factor in evaluating whether it can indeed be a model for school districts elsewhere, I examined demographic data for each county on the New York State Department of Education website (Appendix, Table 1). (

As Table 1 shows, the only district in New York State, outside of New York City, that enrolls about the same number of students as District 2 is Yonkers, which differs in significant ways. Two factors that distinguish District 2 are its relatively (for an urban district) low percentage of students who qualify for free/reduced lunch and its racial and ethnic mix of students. Examining demographics for each of the community school districts in New York City, I found only one, District 25 in Queens, that closely resembles District 2 in the number of students served (between 20-24,000), the proportion of students reported as eligible to receive free/reduced lunch (between 50-60%), and the student body's ethnic/racial composition (around 10% Black, 30% Hispanic, 30% White, 35% Asian). I include information on District 20 in Brooklyn because it resembles District 2 and 25, but it also contains a significantly lower proportion of Black students and a much higher proportion of students reported as eligible for free/reduced lunch. Note also in this table how the demographics of District 2 differ from the characteristics of the New York City school system as a whole: Close to three-quarters of children the city school system serves are eligible for free/reduced lunch; more than a third are Black; close to 40% are Hispanic; Asian students (identified as "other" on the school report cards) represent only a little over 10%. As this table demonstrates, District 2 has demographics that make it an unusual urban district, especially in New York City and State.

John Ogbu's typology of "voluntary" and "involuntary" minorities (Ogbu, Sept. 1995; Ogbu, Dec. 1995) points out that voluntary minorities, who emigrate voluntarily bring a cultural framework of reference that makes adaptation to the middle class norms of schools and academic achievement less problematic than it is for involuntary minorities. Voluntary minorities are more likely to experience instances of racism in school and society as barriers to overcome. In contrast, because of their history of oppression by the dominant culture, involuntary minorities are more likely read school demands for adaptation as an assault on their personhood.

Unlike most other districts in New York City and urban districts in New York State, District 2's single largest minority population consists of Asian students who according to Ogbu's typology would be considered voluntary minorities (Table 2). I should note that Ogbu's typology and the categories used to report demographics in New York Schools (Black, White, Hispanic, Other- Asian and Pacific Islander) obscure very important differences among these populations (Weiner, 1993). One problem is that Board of Education categories include both voluntary and involuntary minorities. For example students from both Puerto Rico and Peru fall into the category of "Hispanic" and students from British Guayana if they are dark-skinned might be labeled "Black." Nonetheless, I suggest that the typology raises significant factors to be considered in assessing the reasons for student achievement and that despite the lack of clarity in the Board of Education's categories, Ogbu's distinction "voluntary" and "involuntary" minorities is helpful to understand factors outside of school practices that influence student behavior and achievement.

Applying Ogbu's typology, I looked at the proportions of students in District 2 and District 25 schools who are, according to the Board of Education categories, voluntary and involuntary minorities, with Asian and "other" students falling into the former category, Black and Hispanic students into the latter. I divided District 2's 25 elementary schools into two categories: those serving a population more than 50% combined Black and Hispanic students with a "need" factor of 7 or greater, and those with fewer than 50% Black and Hispanic students and a "need" factor less than 7. The "need" factor is computed by New York State by combining three demographic characteristics in a school and district: the proportion of students eligible for free/reduced lunch; the proportion of students who are categorized as English Language Learners (immigrants who have arrived within the past 3 years); and percentage of students categorized as requiring special services. In District 2 there are 11 schools with a "need" factor over 7. Five of these 11 schools are high-poverty schools in Chinatown. The charts in Table 3 show the breakdown of schools in both districts, according to these criteria. I have eliminated the schools in Chinatown from this comparison to look at achievement of majority Black and Hispanic schools in both districts.

Elmore and Burney (1999b) note that 18 schools in District 2 have populations more than 2/3 African-American, Hispanic, and Asian, while four have populations that are more than 2/3 White but this fact is not explored in the study. I examined how closely the student population in District 2 as a whole is represented in its elementary schools. As is evident from Table 3, only one elementary school, PS 11, has a student population that mirrors the district's demographics. What is not evident in statistical analyses is that PS 11 also has a very large "gifted and talented" program in which almost all of its White students are enrolled (personal communication, District 2 administrator). Hence, the one elementary school that is demographically representative of the district's enrollment houses two different schools, one serving White students in its "gifted and talented" students, the other Black and Hispanic students. I should explain that the school's scores are reported in the aggregate.

What is consistently referred to as "variability" or "variation" in school demographics in District 2 is actually a euphemism for a familiar phenomenon in US schools: racial segregation (Gordon 1999). The high degree of racial and social stratification is especially noteworthy in light of comparison to District 25. With approximately the same demographics as District 2, District 25 has only one school that is as racially segregated as eleven schools in District 2. Table 4 compares the distribution of schools according to their "need" factor in District 2 and the two school districts in New York City that have demographics most closely resembling those of District 2. Most schools in District 25 in Queens have a "need" factor within the range of 3-7 (17 of 23 schools fall within this range; 6 schools are outliers). District 2 has only 9 of 24 that fall within this range. Seventeen of its schools fall outside this range. The comparison indicates that District 2's schools are far more stratified than those in District 25, a district with a student enrollment that is equivalent in terms of the demographic categories used by the state.

Comparing achievement between schools in both districts, I used scores on the New York State fourth grade math test in 2000, reported in the New York Times (Goodnough, 2000). I compared scores of only those schools serving a majority of Black and Hispanic students. In the New York State tests, scores of level 1 and 2 indicate that the student is "not meeting standards." The results of this comparison are shown in Table 5. In Table 6 I continue the comparison of school-wide test scores, using data from the school report cards published on the New York City Board of Education website and including the number of students tested. These test scores, unlike the others I have analyzed, are for math scores in grades 3-8. Two of the schools in District are k-8 schools, PS/IS 33 and PS/IS 111. As Table 6 indicates, with the exception of PS 11, which as I explained has a large "gifted and talented program" of White students, only one school in District 2 has a significantly higher proportion of students "meeting standards" in math than in the school with similar demographics in District 25. Indeed, several District 2 schools do not perform as well as PS 201 in District 25.

Several questions are posed by this comparison with District 25, one of the most critical being what data disaggregated by race and ethnicity reveal about achievement. Research about District 2 does not address this question, with the exception of research reporting analyses based on the questionnaire requiring teachers to self-identify with file numbers (Harwell, D'Amico, Stein & Gatti, 2000). Indeed, Harwell, D'Amico, Stein, and Gatti (2000) note "A shortcoming shared by previous research done on the effectiveness of District #2's professional development system...was that the units of analysis used in these studies were schools. As a result, variation among students' performance and teachers' experiences within schools was ignored"(p.7). Hence their study attempts to correlate achievement on tests with teachers' professional development by examining test scores of individual students taught by teachers who described their professional development experiences in the questionnaires. The investigators state their primary research question "Are teachers with strong professional development participation patterns more likely to have closed achievement gaps?"(Harwell, D'Amico, Stein & Gatti, 2000, p. 19). The answer: "In summary, engagement in professional development, as measured by this questionnaire and reported by the 62 respondents, does not appear to have significant influence on student achievement in either literacy or mathematics? (Harwell, D'Amico, Stein & Gatti, 2000, p. 22).


According to statements by researchers who have looked for evidence that District 2's policies have indeed boosted achievement, there are no data to support this (Harwell, D'Amico, Stein & Gatti, 2000). Thus, there are no data to support even the modulated claim of the "generally positive picture" of systemic reform in District 2 (Elmore & Burney, 1999a, p. 3). How then can researchers promote District 2's instructional development practices as unusually successful, or its investment in staff development tied to national standards as a model to be emulated?

Research on District 2 exemplifies the problems that arise when researchers fail to maintain the independence and critique that Bourdieu, cited earlier, demands of intellectuals. The effect of the inter-dependence of district leaders and researchers, combined with the exclusion of dissenting perspectives, has been to obscure key questions about District 2 practices that need to be explored before they can or should be replicated. From the formulation of research design, to data collection, to presentation of findings, research on District 2 has exemplified a marked disregard for the value of knowledge that might be contributed by teachers and parents who have reservations about the district's reform strategy. As a result, insights that might have contributed to district officials and researchers' learning have been ignored .

The damage of the research is evident in this statement by the new District 2 Superintendent, in the 1999-2000 district report card:

District Two's mission is to develop accountable, world class education for every student through a re-designed labor management system that supports high performance learning communities utilizing the New Standards "performance standards" along with city and state assessments. Since 1989, the district moved from tenth in reading to second out of 32 community school districts (68% of students reading at proficiency level); from fifth in math to second (65% of students performing at proficiency levels); and the number of students testing in the bottom quartile in reading was reduced from 20.7% to 5%. We are leading New York City in implementing Standards. (Shelley Harwayne, 2000)

The presentation of the district by its chief official demonstrates a firm belief that District 2 is a model for the entire city school system, a belief that has been encouraged by researchers who have collaborated with district officials in crafting and publicizing the reforms. But comparison of existing data for District 25, knowledge of the social-contextual factors such as District 2's access to human and material resources other districts in the city lack, and the inattention to disaggregation of individual achievement according to race and ethnicity, indicate that the representation of District 2's practices as exemplary is unfounded. The "labor-management" strategy that resulted in good part from political consensus between high level union officials and administrators may not be supported by classroom teachers in District 2 and may not replicable. The rise in achievement levels since 1989 may be due to changes in the district's demographics and not to a focus on instruction or professional development linked to national standards. Research that has attempted to link achievement to professional development has failed to find evidence of correlation, let alone establish causation.

It may be that District 25 is, in fact, just as promising a model of school improvement. Its elementary schools are far less segregated and stratified by income than are District 2's. Its test scores for Black and Hispanic students are equivalent. Moreover, the statement of its Superintendent in the 1999-2000 shows quite a different ideological stance towards students, parents and community:

The District 25 Areas of Emphasis state that we teach "children, not merely subjects." To support this goal, the District and the Community School Board work closely to provide an integrated, holistic, comprehensive educational program which motivates and engages all students, and provides the optimum opportunity for every child to achieve state and city academic standards... Staff are supported by professional development activities designed to help them hone their instructional skills. Parents and community members are actively involved in all schools and are recognized as valuable resources.

It may be that District 2 has pioneered practices that should be replicated, as the researchers who have promoted it have concluded. However, it is equally possible that it has not. High-profile research on this district exemplifies the dangers posed to schools and research itself when research elides into public relations.


Table 1

Comparison of Student Demographics in urban school districts in NYS, Fall 1997*

District 25, Queens 2, Manhattan Yonkers
Total 24,127 22,212 23,968
White 28.2% 31.2% 23.3%
Black 9.1% 13.8% 30.4%
Hispanic 24.4% 21.1% 41.5%
Other 38.4% 33.8% 4.8%
Free / Reduced lunch 48.5% 51.3% 74.7%
Limited English 19.1% 16.9% 16.4%

*Data from the NY State Education Department school district profiles, downloaded on Jan. 31,2002:

This 1997 data is the most recent on the NYS website, so I have used it as the basis of comparison for demographics between the districts in and out of NYC.

Table 2

Demographics in these three districts in NYC are the only that are somewhat equivalent in terms of proportions of Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic students

NYC District 20
District 25,
District 2,
Total enrollment NA on report
27,998 24,499 21,559
White 15.3% 39.4% 26.3% 31.9%
Black 34.2% 6.3% 8.4% 13.8%
Hispanic 38.9% 25.5% 25.3% 20.1%
Other -Asian,
Pacific Islanders,
Alaskan Natives,
Native Americans
11.5% 28.8% 40.1% 34.2%
74.1 67.4% 50.4% 59.9
Recent immigrants 7.3% 13% 12.3% 9.2%
Limited English NA on report
6617 students 4557 students 2940 students

Table 3

Elementary schools serving a population more than 50% combined Black and Hispanic students with a "need" factor of 7 or greater (data from NYCBOE website,

In District 25:
School "Need" % Hispanic % Black
PS 201 10 29 40

In District 2:
School "Need" % Hispanic % Black
PS 11 7 31 26
PS 33 10 52 27
PS 51 10 61 18
PS 111 9 66 16
PS 126 7 43 30
PS 151 10 43 30
PS 198 8 52 26

In District 2, 5 of the 11 schools with a "need" factor 7 and above are in Chinatown and have a population that is more than 70% Asian. For instance PS 42, with a "need" factor of 10 (94.2% of its students receive free/reduced lunch and 18.9% are ELL) enrolls 88% Asian students.

NOTE: Because District 25's demographics are closer to District 2's than those of District 20, I have used District 25 schools for this comparison. However, it is interesting to note that only two schools in District 20 that have a "need" factor 7 or higher have enrollments that are more than 50% Black and Hispanic:

In District 20, Brooklyn:

School "Need" % Hispanic % Black
PS 164 12 54.8 4
PS 314 7 76.3 2.7

Table 4

Comparison of elementary schools according to "Student Need" Category

Table Omitted because of HTML conversion troubles.

"Student Need" is a ranking of schools into one of 12 categories for elementary schools based on the percent of students eligible for free lunch, percent of tested students who are in full-time and part-time special education programs, and the percent of tested students who are English Language Learners. The higher the number, the higher the need.

To understand the significance of the "need," compare two schools in District 25 with a need factor of "3." One contains 40% students with free/reduced lunch, 4% special ed. and 8% ELL; the other 21, 26, and 4% in these respective categories. The "10" school contains 73% students receiving free/reduced lunch, 36% special ed., and 5% ELL.

Table 5

Scores on the NYS fourth grade math test only in 2000, reported in the NY Times, 15 Oct. 2000, (City section, pp. 14-16)

Elementary schools serving a population more than 50% combined Black and Hispanic students with a "need" factor of 7 or greater:

In District 25:

School perf.
level 1
level 2
levels 3 & 4
% Hispanic % Black
PS 201 17% 41% 43% 10 29 40

In District 2:

School perf.
level 1
level 2
levels 3 & 4
% Hispanic % Black
PS 11 16% 16% 68% 7 31 26
PS 33 26% 41% 33% 10 52 27
PS 51 19% 59% 27% 10 61 18
PS 111 26% 47% 27% 9 66 16
PS 126 9% 45% 45% 7 39 20
PS 151 15% 58% 28% 10 43 30
PS 198 4% 20% 76% 8 52 26

Table 6

Add to table 5 a new column in bold: Students taking citywide tests in grades 3, 5, 6, 7 and state tests in grades 4 and 8, in math, including students taking the test in translation who are "meeting the standard," that is reaching performance levels 3 and 4.

District 25

School Meeting
% Hispanic % Black
PS 201 31.5%
(235 tested)
10 29 40

District 2

School Meeting
% Hispanic % Black
PS 11
(34% white; 8% Other)
(233 tested)
7 31 26
PS/IS 33
(White 4%; Asian 37%)
(191 tested)
10 52 27
PS 51 22.5%
(145 tested)
10 61 18
PS/IS 111 22.5%
(516 tested)
9 66 16
PS 126 32.6%
(285 tested)
7 43 30
PS 151 25%
(115 tested)
10 43 30
PS 198 53.4%
(131 tested)
8 52 26

Of interest in District 20, Brooklyn:

School % meeting standard "Need" % Hispanic % Black
PS 163
(White 39.4%;
Asian 22%)
(306 tested)
10 27.2 11.4


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This paper is the third in a series examining school reform in New York City and District 2 from my perspective as a parent activist. In "Systemic Reform's `Learning by All': Who evaluates Learning by Policy Analysts"? (forthcoming in May, Educational Policy) I explore contradictions between research about creation of school-based management teams and the lived-reality of parents and teachers in PS 3. Another study, (forthcoming, The Urban Review) investigates why gender equity has been marginalized in urban school reform and in the process scrutinizes how efforts to address gender inequality are undercut by District 2's hierarchical notions of reform and its uncritical embrace of the ideology of professionalism.

The analogy of the "nesting doll" is also significant for the way in which it depicts a construction of teacher professionalism that is "raced," "classed," and "gendered" but is unrecognized as being so. I explore this notion in the forthcoming article in The Urban Review.

The PS 3 School Leadership Team, which I served on in 2000-2001 as a parent representative, tried to secure disaggregated data from the district for an entire year, to use in developing the Comprehensive Educational Plan which is supposed to guide all decisions. Our efforts failed. In this light it is striking that these data were secured by researchers and used in analyses (D'Amico, Harwell, Stein & van den Heuvel, April 2001) but not made available to school leadership teams, which are legally responsible for decisions about budget and instruction.

Information about the opponents of the math curriculum, led by New York University math faculty and District 2 parents, is available from Elizabeth Carson,

I informed Richard Elmore and Lauren Resnick about the concerns raised to me by District 2 teachers about the use of file numbers and Alvarado's presence as a PI. Only Lauren Resnick responded (letter, 17 July 2000), and Stein and Resnick met with me in April 2001. According to notes I took after our meeting, the ethical objections I raised to the conduct of research, namely that it deepened a climate of fear and made researchers appear to be in collusion with the district administration, were dismissed. Resnick acknowledged the possibility of "bad design." Stein noted that their findings actually contradicted claims being made about District 2's success. However both Stein and Resnick rejected my proposal that they assume responsibility for clarifying that HPLC's latest research told a different story about District 2 from the one that had been widely publicized in earlier work. Resnick explained that their role had ended with the study's completion. Their stance contrasts with the posture of other prominent researchers, like Howard Gardner, who take care to monitor application of their research and correct what they see as faulty interpretations.

Another item omitted from the Appendix and not mentioned in the reports was a notice distributed to teachers, signed "The HPLC Research Team" with the HPLC address, phone, fax, and website. It announced a reward of $500 to schools in which 90% of the teachers returned questionnaires. The notice also informs teachers that the extra consent form to serve as their personal copy, included in the original packet with Johnstone's cover letter, "is the wrong version" and should be discarded.

I examined the 1999-2000 report cards for all elementary schools in District 2. They and the District report cards are available at

Questionnaires returned to researchers show a preponderance of White, female, middle-class respondents (D'Amico, Harwell, Stein, Van den Heuvel, April 2001). Curiously, researchers have not investigated the extent to which district hiring procedures screen out teachers and principals whose epistemological beliefs differ from those of the district leadership, and the ways those beliefs correlate with social class (Fink & Resnick, 1999).

Ogbu's work has been criticized, correctly I think, for being overly schematic and obscuring essential differences between and among immigrant groups (Gibson 1997a).

The investigators secured achievement and demographic data for individual students in District #2 through the Division of Assessment and Accountability of the Office of the Deputy Chancellor of Instruction of the New York City Board of Education. Disaggregated data have heretofore been made available only to researchers working with the Division of Assessment and Accountability, as I learned when I attempted to secure it for this study (email message from data analyst at DAA).