The School Closing Court Decision and Race to the Top: The Long Term Impact of Race to the Top is Unhealthy for Students, Parents, School Communities and Teachers.

 

To set educational standards and curriculum requirements is one thing, but no good is achieved by nihilism.
Dissenting opinion in Ferrer v Quinones, 1987. 
 
There is an irony: Joel Klein was the lead counsel in the Attorney General’s office honchoing the Microsoft monopoly case, loses the school closing case, his first major loss, and in a court of law.
 
With the full support of a mayor Klein changed the face of the Board, now Department of Education. Steve Sanders, the Chair of the Assembly Committee at the time of the first school governance law never envisioned the dramatic changes.
 
The changing face of education management is not a New York City phenomenon, from Boston to the West Coast school governance is moving from elected school boards to mayoral control. In Boston a mayor, a school superintendent, a teachers union and school communities are a model of collaboration, in New York City a mayor, a school superintendent (chancellor) are involved in a bitter struggle with a teachers union and school communities.
 
The 2002 NYC mayoral control law reduced the role of the electorate and school communities.
 
The NYS legislature, in 2009, made sweeping changes in the school governance law and Judge Lobis’ decision, in the school closing case, reflects these changes. The Bloomberg/Klein view, management decisions are best made by mayors and superintendents, unions have self-interest and communities are tied to the past, ignored the newly amended law.
 
Judges Lobis, in a simple, straightforward decision, writes,
 
Petitioners (UFT, NAACP, et. al.,) have provided considerable detail regarding boilerplate treatment and lack of meaningful detail regarding the impact on students of proposed closures in the various Education Impact Statements, and, respondents have not rebutted these deficiencies …
  
Respondents (Department of Ed) appear to concede that they have failed to comply with the requirements of Education Law 2590 (h), but that the lack of compliance is of de minimus nature and should be dealt with prospectively …
  
Respondents very arguments would appear to trivialize the whole notion of community involvement in decisions regarding the closing of or phasing out of schools …. Unless respondents follow the mandatory provisions of Education Law 2590 (h), the CECs, SLTs and Community Boards will be foreclosed from any mandated role.
  
….nothing, however, shall be construed as limiting respondents ultimate power to close failing schools.
  
It would appear that the school closing decision is “on hold” for this school year (see David Bloomfield’s cogent analysis here).
 
The victory buys time, it does not challenge the right the Commissioner of Education or the Chancellor to close schools, that is established law.  In 1987 the Appellate Division (In the Matter of Ferrer v Quinones) overturned a lower court school closing decision and clearly sustained the right of the State and the City to close “failing schools.” 
 
 
The question of whether to close a school because of its inability to maintain a minimum level of academic achievement clearly falls within the area of policy determinations best left to those charged by the legislative and executive branches of government with the oversight responsibility for education in New York City. Stripped of its rhetorical flourishes, this case involves nothing more than petitioners’ disagreement with the Chancellor’s administrative response to his statutorily imposed obligation of determining how best to educate students in New York City….
  
Absent a showing that the Chancellor acted ultra vires, or failed to perform a required act, neither of which is present here, the issue is nonjusticiable. Once the Chancellor has acted in the lawful exercise of his discretion, as he did here after a thorough evaluation of JHS 123 over a two-year period, a court is powerless to review the adequacy of that action. That petitioners, or this court, for that matter, might have arrived at a different determination, had they the legal responsibility for the management of the public schools, is irrelevant.
  
A dissenting opinion sounds eerily like the opponents of school closings today.
  
While one can accept the conclusion of the Chancellor, in the confused state of the facts, as to the substandard performance of the students at the school, one cannot fault the building. Moreover, under any view of the evidence, there are good students at the school who are being punished by being transferred from their neighborhood, because of a default which is not of their making.
 

No question of “educational wisdom” is here postulated nor is there any infringement of professional pedagogic judgment. To close the school is to abdicate educational responsibility. Educational policy is not made in a vacuum. To set educational standards and curriculum requirements is one thing, but no good is achieved by nihilism.

And a few days after Judge Lobis’ decisions the feds announce the “winners” in the Race to the Top competition. New York State, a finalist, limps home in next to last place. Gotham Schools reports that the application lost the most points in three categories,

In the 500-point scoring rubric federal officials used to judge applications, New York lost the greatest share of points on the sections of its application dealing with statewide data systems, teacher evaluations and charter schools.

 We live in a world in which data drives all decision-making, from education, to world of finance to baseball.
A few years ago at an educational conference Moneyball, by Billy Bean, was a giveaway. While data is interesting, and a useful tool, the team with the most money, the New York Yankees won the series. Sabermetrics has a host of “invented” statistical models, more interesting to fantasy team players than actual mangers. In the field of education data systems highlight issues, not solutions. In New York City each and every school has an Inquiry Team, a school data team, and ARIS is a rich storehouse of data. Usage is minimal, in fact, principals buy proprietary data systems.
 
Robust data systems lead to using data to evaluate schools and individual teachers. Teachers are rightfully suspicious. There are no models to examine, and one sees a future of test prep education. And, national examinations of charter school data shows that charter schools run the gamut, from excellent to abysmal.
 
Should parents, school communities, elected officials, teachers and their unions race to comply with the Obama-Duncan “pieces of silver?”
 
With a State legislature still roiling over the chancellor’s blatant violation of the new governance law, how will they respond to the Joel’s pleas?

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein signaled today that the city would lobby even more aggressively for a charter cap lift and for changes to state law that would mandate the use of student data in teacher evaluations and make it easier to fire teachers who do not fare well in those evaluations.

Unfortunately it is altogether likely that the June 1 submission deadline for Race to the Top, Phase 2 will come and go without any changes in legislation. With a contentious contract negotiation in New York City, a “rubber room” that is a political tool to diminish the union, the ATR pool, actually an attack on tenure, yet another reorganization, co-location battles, and on and on, there simply is no trust.

The next budget cycle will not be impacted by RttT (phase 2), schools will face cuts, perhaps the IBO estimate of 3.3%.

High caloric, high fat, totally unhealthy desserts look really, really appetizing, we have to show discipline and push ourselves away from the table.

Race to the Top is not healthy.

 

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