Steiner v. Klein: Decisions to Redesign, Restructure, Close Schools Must Be Vested With the Commissioner of Education, not the NYC Chancellor, Tranparent, Clearly Enunciated Standards Must Drive School Reform Decisions.

 Over the past week or so the Department has oozed out the list of 22 schools for proposed closings, fifteen of them high schools. The accompanying reasons are confusing, there are no transparent standards, the Progress Report grades and the SED Accountability data varies greatly. In fact, there are clearly another hundred or so schools that could have been closed instead of the 22 schools on the list.
Aaron Pallas, in a Post on Gotham  shows that the Progress Report rubric is highly unreliable, and, Christine Rowland, a teacher at Christopher Columbus High School, also on Gotham, shows that the Department is, believe it or not, either less than truthful, or inept.
While the decision to close a school is not subject to the collective bargain agreement it is informative to peruse the “standard” that the agreement sets forth,
the arbitrator may decide in a particular case whether the provision was disregarded or applied in a discriminatory or arbitrary or capricious manner so as to constitute an abuse of discretion, namely whether the challenged judgment was based upon facts which justifiably could lead to the conclusion as opposed to merely capricious or whimsical preferences or the absence of supporting factual reasons.
Were the school closing decisions “discriminatory,” “arbitrary.” “capricious,” or “whimsical,”?
The absence of clearly enunciated goals, targets and/or standards and the absence of a transparent process leads one to answer in the affirmative.
The burden of proof at the state level is substantial and whether or not an appeal to the State Commissioner would be sustained is interesting and debatable, we may find out,
To demonstrate arbitrary or capricious actions, a petitioner must prove that the actions of the district were wholly without a rational or reasonable basis. It is not enough to show that the district could have made a better or different determination, or that you as a petitioner disagreed with the action or determination that you are challenging. You must instead show that the district’s action has no rational, reasonable support or explanation.
I am not arguing that a school should not be closed, some schools (i.e., Taft, Jefferson, Canarsie) were allowed to deteriorate too such an extent that the existing staffs were not capable of reversing the decline. The “blame” is not that of the school alone, the central office must bear responsibility for allowing a school to decline over the years.
The new small high schools that replaced the closing schools have better data, (as evidenced in the Center for NYC Affairs “The New Marketplace:
How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped New York City’s High Schools” report here)
, but in the first two years they did not admit special education and ELL kids,
Attendance and graduation rates are higher at new small schools than at the large schools they replaced. Principals and students report the new schools are safer. Yet many small schools remain fragile, with attendance and graduation rates declining
The impact of the deflected students, student bumped away from the closed schools, has resulted in collateral damage, clearly impacting achievement in the remaining large schools,
Twenty-six of 34 large high schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx saw their enrollments jump significantly as other high schools were closed. Of these, 19 saw their attendance decline and 15 saw their graduation rates decline between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2007. Fourteen saw both attendance and graduation rates decline.
At the college level, let’s look at CUNY, NYC graduates continue to struggle (See “Are New York City’s Public Schools Preparing Students for Success in College? here)
The most recent six-year graduation rates for all full-time freshman enrolled in associate degree programs were 17.7 percent for associate degrees and 11.0 percent for baccalaureate degrees. An additional 8.2 percent were still enrolled.
After six years the central administration, aka, Tweed, should not still be closing schools.
For the next few months schools proposed for closing will be gearing up to battle back and Tweed will be on the defensive.
Perhaps the Department should toll the school closing process and apply the standards/processes that are under discussion  by the Board of Regents.
  • The definition of a SURR school be modified so that potential SURR schools will be those that are persistently lowest-achieving rather than those that are farthest from State standards.
  • The SURR definition of persistently lowest achieving be made to parallel the Federal definition of the term.
  • Non-Title I elementary schools and Non-Title I eligible secondary schools that perform at levels that would make them persistently lowest-achieving be considered potential SURR schools.
  • New schools that are created as a result of implementation of the Turnaround or Restart model be given an accountability status of Good Standing and not be identified as SURR.
  • Existing schools that implement a Turnaround or Transformation model remain SURR until academic performance improves or the schools are closed and restarted or replaced.   
  • The Commissioner identify alternative high schools, special act schools, and schools in Community School District 75 for registration review based on a review of supplementary data.  If such schools are Title I schools or Title I eligible secondary schools, they would also be considered persistently low-achieving for Federal program purposes.
  • Support for SURR schools be integrated with support provided to schools that are persistently lowest-achieving and any duplication in planning requirements and technical assistance and monitoring be eliminated.
  •  The Regents retain the right to revoke the registration of a school that fails to successfully implement a school intervention strategy.
Whether through legislation or regulation the power to close schools should be removed from local education agencies (LEA), i.e., in NYC the Department of Education, and vested with the State Education Department. The role of the LEA? To assist schools in the creation and implementation of a “school intervention strategy” through the creation of a “Turnaround or Transformation models.”
The Department is not an independent authority, the last time I looked it was still part of the State of New York and all decisions, especially decisions dealing with “troubled” schools should fall within the wider umbrella of the State Education Department.

3 responses to “Steiner v. Klein: Decisions to Redesign, Restructure, Close Schools Must Be Vested With the Commissioner of Education, not the NYC Chancellor, Tranparent, Clearly Enunciated Standards Must Drive School Reform Decisions.

  1. Closing schools should be a state function as it once was. This was an ultimate sanction with a clear process administered by folks with no particular agenda (such as grabbing hold of space for a new charter or small school or to preemptively close a school before it can become SURR), far enough removed to insure independence, honesty and transparency.

    Tweed grabbed hold of the process in NYC to avoid state oversight. This must not be allowed to continue.


  2. NYS Comptroller DiNapoli recently found that a significant percentage of districts inappropriately inflate their students’ Regents exam grades. State Ed. knows all about it … and does nothing to require legitimate grading OR score correction. In 1991, then-NYS Comptroller Ned Regan made the same findings. Materials on State Ed.’s web site show that this sorry state of affairs applies equally to the alternate assessments for severely disabled students and the regular grades 3-8 ELA and math exams.

    So allowing the NYC DOE or State Ed. to close schools, or do anything else to, for, or with them in reliance on their students’ scores is simply absurd. State Ed. has taken the concept of unreliability to new heights … and then some.


  3. Pingback: Remainders: Gov. Paterson endorses raising the charter cap | GothamSchools

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