School Closings: A Retrospective, A Look at the New Governance Law and Some Suggestions: A Fresh Look at a School Turnaround Strategy.

 

The Department has announced the first round of school closings, excuse me, the first round of “proposed” school closings, and, not unexpectedly, the teacher union shot back with a sharply worded press release.
 
“There is a governance law in place and it is clear that the DOE is thumbing their nose at the law. They have the right to announce that they are going to consider closing a school, but by walking into schools and telling them that they are closing, they are making the new governance law irrelevant,”
 
 School closings are not a Joel Klein invention.
 
In the late eighties the old Board of Education closed Andrew Jackson, a “troubled” high school in Queens and replaced it with Campus Magnet, initially touted as a success, but as time passed the replacement schools faltered.
 
The Chancellor’s District continued to close large high schools (Eastern District, George Washington Taft and Theodore Roosevelt) and created small highs in a close collaboration with the union.
 
The Board and the union negotiated a new contract clause dealing with the staffing of the new small replacement schools and excess teachers who were not hired by the replacement schools were given “priority” excess status, a choice of schools in which to be excessed.
 
The Gates dollars accelerated large high school closings and a score of large schools, mostly in Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn were closed and converted to campuses of small theme-based small schools.
 
The Bloomberg/Klein Children First initiative initially simply continued the school closings.
 
In 2005 the newly negotiated contract ended seniority transfers. Principals were given the sole discretion to hire; excess teachers were no longer assigned to schools, they were assigned to the ATR pool. Actually the teachers are assigned to schools, however they are not charged to the school budget. They are paid by Central and school assignments are temporary. Currently about 1200 teachers, a little less than 2% of the total staff, are serving in this capacity.
 
The impact of school closings on the remaining large high schools has been documented  in “Marketplace Studyconducted by the Center for NYC Affairs.
 
The Center’s new report analyzing Chancellor Joel Klein’s high school reforms concludes that the administration created valuable new opportunities for at-risk students, but there was collateral damage. Klein’s reforms expanded high school choice, but weakened large schools.
 
The new governance law changes the school closing procedures. The Department can no longer simply announce the closing of schools, for the first time the Department has to follow a process laid out in the law.
Announcements of proposed closings, an “educational impact statement,” period for public comment, a public hearing in the district and final approval by the PEP.
 
The recent public hearings to consider the placement of charter schools into existing schools have been raucous and the charters schools have backed away from hostile environments.
 
It will be interesting to see whether communities band together to oppose any of the proposed closing and whether they come up with alternatives. In a couple of schools, i.e., Hillcrest and New Dorp, the schools redesigned themselves, under experienced principals with considerable assistance from their support organization (New Visions for Public Schools). There are a number of “turnaround” strategies around the country that have been successful (see John Hopkins Talent Development Model here).
 
Meryl Tisch, the honcho of the NYS Regents favors a Charter Management Organization (CMO) creating small charter schools in the closed high schools, however, that would require the State legislature to increase the cap, a heavy lift. Almost all charter schools are non-union, Tom Carroll, the Albany charter school leader consistently pounds unions as a NY Daily News op ed-er, and parents around the state see charter schools eroding local school funding. A just-released report casts doubt on the ability of CMOs to effectively manage schools.
 
The Department should show some creativity in dealing with failing schools,
 
* Utilize the District 79 Reorganization Model to review staff and use the John Hopkins Talent Development or another highly regarded “turnaround” strategy.
 
* Embed a transfer high school on each “failing” campus
 
* Consider a “6-14” model, create a Community College on a high school campus with skills related to shortage area jobs in the city and convert the high school to a CTE (see City here and State here) school with multiple CTE strands.
 
* Ask the UFT, other unions, as well as the local political community to be partners in the resuscitation of troubled schools.
 
As small high schools mature the initial Hawthorne effect wanes, without unregulated credit recovery graduation rates would be mediocre, Community College dropout rates are staggering, PSAT scores are appalling, I fear we have been creating small schools that are slowly but inexorably looking like failing large high schools.
 
Some new strategies that emphasize the “career” part of Career and College Readiness are long overdue.

 

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