School Closings: It’s Never the Kid’s Fault, Punishment Leads to Recidivism, If Some Of Us Have Figured It Out, We Can All Figure It Out, Let’s Learn From Each Other

 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.

8 responses to “School Closings: It’s Never the Kid’s Fault, Punishment Leads to Recidivism, If Some Of Us Have Figured It Out, We Can All Figure It Out, Let’s Learn From Each Other

  1. The historical pathology of the NYC Public Schools was less that we didn’t know what to do with our failures than that we couldn’t even recognize our successes.

    Closing large low-performing secondary schools and replacing them with campus communities of small successful ones is a breakthrough reform. It both significantly contributed to the overall 22% increase in the citywide high school graduate rate during this administration, as well as the 14% increase in the ELL graduation rate over the last two years.

    Who would want a return to the days when Evander Childs HS had 900 Freshman holdovers; Stevenson had 1800 students with 20 or more absences by this time of year; South Bronx had only 20% of their youngsters reach jnior year; and, Morris had an enrollment of1700 students, 1200 of whom were Freshman? To argue that large failed institutions are capable of reforming themselves, or that the small schools strategy has not improved the lives of tens of thousands of students and thousands of their teachers is cynical and self-serving.


  2. Eric I am going to go out on a limb here since I do not teach high school, but ed in the apple is correct in writing that it is about the zip code. My neice and nephews attend a high school located in the high plains of golden grain. It is huge [1800-2000?], well staffed with a faculty that has beautiful educations, a gorgeous facility [it makes Stuyvansant look like a dump] with highly motivated and well educated and comfortably employed parents. And, as far as the kids in this fair city are concerned it is the cool school to go to.
    My three year olds will never have a shot at anything approaching what my family takes as a birth right.
    Understand if education in NYC is going to change we have to appreciate the power of the address and until we bend our will to this issue with lots and lots of money which will buy us lots and lots of teachers we will not succeed in pulling our children into the economic class that considers it a birth right to go to the same kind of school my kin goes to.
    It is not an either/or proposition-so typical of educators. It is what works. Large high schools have much in their favor as do small schools. In the end it has to do with good management, lots of teachers, and buckets of cash.
    My guess is if the adminstration had been doubled, faculty had been doubled, the security doubled, the facility had been renovated, and the staff doubled at the big high schools you mention we wouldn’t be sitting here typing our spite onto this too teeny screen. And lots of kids-now adults- would be living pretty comfortable lives.
    I suspect that these small schools aren’t doing as well as they could and lots more teachers, staff, programs, etc. would make a big difference.
    That’s not being cynical or self-serving; it’s just being sensible.


  3. It is never a question of blaming the students. Rather, it is a question of concentrating too many students with educational/psychological/behavior problems that overhwhelm the school. The extra deans come out of the school budget. IEPs are used to shield outrageous behavior without providing the resources to deal with students with difficulties.


  4. Another problem to the failing and closing of so many school was the fact that superintendents’ role and responsibilities were changed.

    Every district, including the high school districts, had a superintendent in charge of his/her district. He/she was responsible for rating the principals and to remove incompetent principals, to evaluate the schools’ curricula, to have workshops that met the needs of the district, to ensure that schools were safe, to hold monthly public meetings, to hold schools accountable for the evaluation of special needs students, and to create programs that met the needs of ELLs. All the responsibilities of the superintendents, which would’ve helped schools to stay in existence, were taken away when the mayor decided on having the first reorganization in 2003.

    The first reorganization was the start of chaos not reform and the beginning of breaking state education laws. The mayor and the chancellor made it impossible for those in set position of authority, who have a strong background in education, knew the neighborhood and the strengths and weaknesses of their schools, to go to their aid.

    Unfortunately, many of these superintendents knew that their jobs would be in jeopardy and would rather let children suffer through these unnecessary reorganizations, elimination of essential programs, and the closing of schools if they try to oppose the chancellor’s nefarious scheme.

    The insane amount of money that it cost to restructure the inside of these closing schools and paying for so many principals to be in a campus would have been better used to deal with the student attendance issues (more attendance teachers), more in-house PD provided by teacher center experts or by national board certified teachers, increase the number of deans (as stated by Paul) or have programs that deal with violence (character education programs), more guidance couselors to deal with the “educational/psychological/behavior” students, and finally the money could’ve been used to have more ed. evaluators to screen the increasing population of special needs students.

    Therefore, it was not the schools that brought about the need for small schools and reforms. It was the autocratic, self-serving leadership at Tweed who mismanaged every penny that could have been used wisely to meet every child’s need.


  5. Christine Rowland

    Christopher Columbus is located in District 11, a district with 17 high schools. On these 17 schools, 15 give (according to the DoE’s HS Directory) “Priority to students who attend and information session” and only 2, Columbus and Truman, place Bronx residents as first priority. Only 4 of these 17 schools admit on their respective HS directory pages that they offer ‘special classes’ for students requiring special education services. While many more do accept these students, the absence of this information in the enrolment directory is telling.

    Eric mentions that, “The historical pathology of the NYC Public Schools was less that we didn’t know what to do with our failures than that we couldn’t even recognize our successes.” I would posit to you that Columbus is a success in many areas. One is with ELLs. Columbus takes all ELLs, including special education and recent arrivals. The only ELL-only school in the district contains a mere 4 special needs students (1% of its total population) of whom only 1 is designated as needing special classes. By contrast, 25% of Columbus’ ELLs also require special education services, the majority of whom need self-contained settings. In spite of the fact that only 37% of Columbus ELLs had a full 4 years in the school, the 2009 graduation rate (using NYSTART data) was 57% (this does not include special needs students). The graduation rate for general education ELLs with a full 4 years in the school was 71%. I just wish that the DOE would recognize our successes!


  6. Christine,
    I wish the DoE would recognize that their own questionable stats do not match Columbus’s accurate stats. The operative word here is “accurate”.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The DoE is nothing else but a ponzi scheme of lies, lies, and lies. The DoE have yet to produce accurate stats. I truly hope that the new comptroller, John Liu, take the necessary steps to investigate all the stats that the DoE claim to be true.

    Let’s support and congratulate the staff at Columbus for helping all the students to achieve success at the rate that’s best for each student.


  7. Dr. J. Fleitman

    Those who make those decisions which affect the entire NYC school system ( such as the closing of many schools and denying our students of their MTA cards) do not understand nor do not care about the ramifications of their decision-making.
    The NYC school system used to be an excellent model for other school districts in spite of its size and complexity. Certainly it had its faults such as how it mistreated its faculty and staff. It took many decades of blood, sweat and tears for the UFT leadership and membership to help correct most of the bad decisions that were perpertrated upon those who served and received educational services.
    It is more than a tragedy that the students, parents, faculty and staff in our schools have to continuously fight with tooth and nail for the funds and services that the Governor, Mayor and the Chancellor have denied to those who intrusted those leaders with the authority and power to wisely serve their educational constituents. What happenend to that trust?


  8. Pingback: Politics Rules: Who Will the UFT Endorse for New York City Public Advocate? And, Why Endorse Anyone? | Ed In The Apple

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