As the Department rolled out the list of closed schools I heard teacher after teacher bemoan the “bad kids” that had been sent to their schools. “If it wasn’t for these ‘bad kids’ we’d be doing fine.”
It’s never the kids, it’s the inability of the adults to deal with kids. As the population of schools change schools have to change, classroom pedagogy has to change, school focus has to change. Some schools, Hillcrest as an example, under the guidance of an experienced principal, has totally redesigned itself (see description here), creating teacher-lead Small Learning Communities and using data to drive decision-making.
Christine Rowland, the UFT Teacher Center Specialist at Christopher Columbus, a school proposed for closing, has carefully documented the misuse of data by the Department, and in a data-rich response shows how her school has dealt pretty successfully with a challenging population.
We also learned that the same old practices were not sufficient to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students. In response, we changed the way the school was structured so that we could offer stronger instruction that is tailored to each student’s needs. We launched new programs in each of the last three years designed to meet the special needs of our most vulnerable students, including those under pressure to work, those who are pregnant or parenting, and those returning to school after being in jail. In addition, we launched separate advisory programs for male and female students.
In a comment to an earlier post on this blog a teacher at Canarsie, a school currently phasing out, expresses her passion, anger and frustration.
What recourse did we have when you receive students from these failing schools that are sent to your school to bring down our statistics and then who ever follows after that! But don’t they realize, they get the same kids, no matter small or large!
Canarsie was designated as a SURR school by the State, it was a school that did not cope with a changing student enrollment. The SURR Report indicts the district and school leadership who failed to cope with glaring deficiencies.
A union rep in the Bronx explains Board/Department policy, “It was triage, better to doom one school by sending troubled students and staff to that school than spreading them around to all schools.”
Scattered around the City are schools and programs that are shining lights. Bushwick Community High School, a transfer high school lead by principal Tira Randall, accepts all kids, was initially designated as a SURR school, the State review team was so impressed (The SED team leader said he would send his kids to the school!) that the State actually changed the method by which they evaluate transfer schools.
The Alpha School, a NYS-funded GED program takes the most at risk kids, off the streets, out of incarceration, off lengthy suspensions, and has spectacular results.
For large high schools to survive they must become nimble institutions offering a wide range of programs and services to respond to the communities in which they are embedded. Flexible school hours and days of operation to deal with the complex lives of their customers. (See description of Manhattan Comprehensive High School here).
Elements of the community school concept (see here and here) are ignored by the Department, the single answer is school closing/phase-out and the creation of small schools, but, are the small schools morphing into the same “failing school” syndrome as large schools?
… the small schools are now facing difficulties of their own. The attendance rates, while better than they were at the large schools, have declined each year at a majority of the small schools opened since 2002, … Of 158 new schools for which data is available, 90 saw their average daily attendance decline by at least 2 percent, and 37 saw their attendance decline sharply, by 5 percent. Only 15 had attendance rates that were increasing.
The analysis also shows that a large proportion of the new schools achieved high graduation rates for their first class but sharply lower rates for their second class. Of 30 Bloomberg-era small schools that had graduated at least two classes in 2007, 13 had graduation rates that declined in the second four-year cohort.
Teacher turnover, long a plague of urban high schools, is even higher in the small schools than in the system overall, the center’s analysis shows …. Several new schools lost nearly half their teachers in a one-year period. And, while leadership is key to the success of any school, principal turnover has also been high: Fifty-six of 124 principals—nearly half—hired to open new schools between 2002 and 2004 have departed. A handful of schools have had three principals.
None of this is surprising. If we map schools with severe and chronic student absenteeism, closed schools, neighborhood unemployment , foreclosures, incarceration, etc., we identify communities and families under inordinate stress. The Department expects the anointed CEOs, school leaders and their support organizations to respond to the educational needs of children and ignores the world in which our students and their families live.
A teacher friend of mine constantly reminds me, “Schools are the meeting place for the neighborhood.” Whatever is happening down the block, in the housing project, in the bodega is happening in the school.
If we track student achievement by zip codes, by address, we will find pockets of children, regardless of their school, who are in deep trouble.
How do students who live in, let’s say, the Pink Houses (called the “worst housing project in nyc, maybe in the us“), do in school?
A Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU (see here) finds,
In neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, high unemployment and few neighborhood instititutions, students are likely to perform worse than their peers in neighborhoods with more advantages.
Forty years ago the “reform du jour” was community control, granting the power to run schools to communities. In the poorest communities local powerbrokers, in a throwback to the original Tweed era, used schools as pools of patronage, enriching themselves and abandoning children and their families. A response to urban riots of the sixties doomed kids to an inferior school system.
Almost half a century later another “reform” is, once again, failing the poorest families. Joel Klein avers, “education is a civil right,” he is absolutely correct. However, his response is sorely lacking. To ignore communities, to expect schools to overcome the insidious impact of poverty is illusory. Schools, police precincts, departments of health, human resources, housing, all the community social services, both public, not-for-profit and private, the faith-based institutions, cannot continue to operate in independent spheres.
Teachers cannot blame the kids and chancellors cannot ignore the neighborhoods surrounding schools. Support organizations must assist schools in choosing the right reading program and assist schools in dealing with the health, housing and employment issues confronting families.
Teachers and exemplary leaders at Bushwick Community, Alpha, Hillcrest, Manhattan Comprehensive, and other sites around the city have “figured it out.” Most schools are stumbling, aimless and fearful.
The RttT contest, contract negotiations, charter schools, threats over seniority and tenure and the future of teachers in the ATR pool seem to presage a train wreck.
Rather than a train wreck, perhaps Chancellor Tisch, Commissioner Steiner, Union President Mulgrew, and, the key player, Mayor Bloomberg, can find a new path.
Teachers and schools need leadership not blame.