“We have kids from the projects and kids who take Ubers.” The school’s leaders made diversity a priority before it even opened five years ago, Bauer says, when they chose not to use grades or test scores as admissions criteria.
They also embraced a nontraditional educational model.
With a schoolwide emphasis on working in groups, students’ most-used academic resources are often their peers.
Related: What “mastery-based” can look like in the classroom “In middle school we always did work as an individual,” says Rosalia Minyeti, an 11th-grader from the Bronx who found the adjustment challenging. But then, in classes where the work was more ambitious, I found that being in a group made it easier to understand things.” Working in groups provides a benefit to students who have already mastered the material as well.
Yet support for these schools within the education department has been lukewarm.
A small division that has served as a conduit for sharing information and best practices among the mastery-based schools is now down to a two-person staff, as department resources have shifted to more publicized efforts like a million-dollar anti-bias training program for teachers. While mastery-based learning isn’t explicitly linked to racial or economic equity, education experts say that any school willing to make the leap from traditional grades to a complex rubric of individualized student assessments most likely already has supports in place to tackle the difficult, messy work they say is necessary to ensure that children of every background can succeed.“This school wasn’t my first choice, so I didn’t have big expectations,” says college-bound senior Kendra Castro.What Kendra found once she arrived was a deeper level of student-teacher interaction than at her previous schools.“Teaching something to someone actually helps me learn it better,” says Kendra.But implementing a mastery-based approach is difficult work, even in schools like Mc Court and Maker Academy that have adopted it from the day they opened.By the city’s own count, roughly 70 percent of its schools are segregated by race and income.The result is essentially a two-tiered system of public education — academically thriving schools for students from white and affluent families, and underperforming schools that almost exclusively serve black and Latino students from low-income families.It ranks high on the education department’s annual school quality surveys, and it’s becoming increasingly attractive to families, with five times more applicants than seats available, according to the most recent city data.With 1.1 million students in 1,800 schools, New York City’s school system is the largest in the country.Instead, they’re constantly on the move, going from table to table facilitating group discussions and providing feedback as students work.Second, the students reflect the racial diversity of the city.