Who is to blame for “failing schools”?
The Klein Children First education plan came to fruition on July 1, 2003 with the creation of ten mega-districts, each encompassing about three community school districts and the high schools in the geographic catchment areas. The new regional superintendents continued the “turnaround” practice of closing large high schools rather than restructuring.
Prior to Klein the Manhattan high school superintendent, disregarding the SED School Under Registration Review (SURR) report closed Park West High School. The SURR report praised the school for adopting the John Hopkins Talent Development model and recommended that the department assistant principal model be discontinued, and the school create an academy director model with an assistant principal for professional development.
Two months later, to the dismay of the staff, the Board of Ed, ignoring the SURR report, announced the closing. The lust for Gates dollars and the lure of Manhattan prevailed.
Six years later another Chancellor is still closing schools.
Joel has had six years to identify troubled schools, place experienced leaders in those schools, adopt tried and true rituals and programs; he has done nothing except to brand schools as failures.
If the Chancellor cannot “fix” schools in six years, who is the failure?
Supervisors and teachers are branded by the administration and chucked into the ATR pool, ironically to go back to teaching classes in another school.
There is a famous New Yorker cartoon: the boss, with a gun on the desk, is talking to an employee. The boss tells the worker, “You have seniority, I can’t fire you so I’m going to kill you.” It should be embroidered and hanging over Joel’s desk.
So-called failing schools are concentrated in neighborhoods of poverty. A dramatic report issued the Center for NYC Affairs highlights chronic absenteeism in the early grades,
Examining detailed attendance reports for the city’s nearly 1,500 public schools, the report found that in 124 elementary schools, 98 middle schools and 41 schools serving kindergarten through eighth grade, at least 30 percent of the students were chronically absent, defined as missing 20 days of the 185-day school year.
It is not surprising that phased-out high schools are heavily concentrated in areas of chronic absenteeism, habits that accrue in the early grades and continue through too many childrens’ school years.
The Department has announced the closing of Jamiaca High School, let’s compare with a school in a neighboring school district.
In the District 28, the Jamaica catchment zone, 15.4% of children in grades K-5 are chronically absent and 18.1% in grades 6-8. In District 26, the Francis Lewis High School catchment area only 5.2% of children in grades K-5 are chronically absent and 5.5% in grades 6-8.
Without addressing the underlying problems of struggling schools there can be no hope of progress without addressing these issues.
The same belief underlies many of the recent initiatives that suggest that producing smaller schools and smaller classes, or establishing rewards and penalties based on student test scores, will suddenly equip struggling teachers—in every subject and at all levels—with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable all their students to be successful in college and beyond.
Those who hold out hope that a few successful “turnaround” efforts, model schools, or charter schools can quickly spawn a legion of more effective schools embrace this assumption—and do so as well when they fail to recognize that improving many schools at once takes a vastly different set of skills, structures, and resources than transforming one school at a time. Ultimately, improving schools depends on working harder, increasing efficiency, and building capacity for more powerful instruction.
Only magicians and fairy princesses can wave magic wands and expect change. The current administration is neither. Isn’t it time for change of direction?