Why Do Schools Close? Teachers and Parents Think the Dice Are Loaded, Don’t Understand the System and the Battles Continue.

 

A free people can sniff tyranny in a far-off breeze, even if non existent.
Edmund Burke
 
Thousands of parents, teachers, students, community members and elected officials spending hour upon hour confronting stoic Panel for Educational Policy members: signs, chants, screams, whistle blowing, ranting at the chancellor and mayoral-appointed PEP members, who we knew would simply affirm decisions made months earlier. It was both exhilarating and distressing.
 
 

They knew how the script was going to end. Still, on Thursday night, 2,000 students, parents, teachers and union officials filed into Brooklyn Technical High School, voicing their frustration for five hours.

The outcome was never in doubt …. Under mayoral control of the schools, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appoints the chancellor and a majority of the 13-member educational panel: eight people who never fail to deliver for him.

So why did the 2,000 bother to attend? Why did 350 sign up for the privilege of waiting up to five hours for the chance to speak for two minutes?

The illusion of having a say, when they have none, may help explain audience members’ rage.

 In the center of Brooklyn Tech’s stage sat Ms. Black, who said little and deferred to her deputies.

If there’s one thing the chancellor, the deputies, the deputy mayor and mayor share — they do not appear to be slowed by second thoughts. They seem to share a sureness they are right.

But what if they aren’t?

The schools scheduled for closing are evaluated in good part by test scores. How dependable are the scores? In 2009, when the mayor was running for re-election, he cited skyrocketing scores as one of his most important achievements: 69 percent of city students scored proficient in English, 82 percent in math. And then, last summer, the state announced the tests were too easy and the results needed to be rescaled. Suddenly, 54 percent of city students were proficient in math and 42 percent in English.

Many of the big high schools to be closed will be replaced by small schools. Yet studies indicate the size of a school is no guarantee of quality. Indeed, of the two dozen schools chosen this week to be closed for low performance, 8 are small schools.

Seven of the schools replacing the closed schools are charters. But a national study on charters indicates that 17 percent are superior to traditional public schools; 37 percent are worse; and the balance, 46 percent, are of similar quality.

These facts, however, were just notes in the margin. The script was written, and was not to change.

 
For a few hours it was the 60’s revisited, a renaissance of the civil rights movement. Is the community versus government autocracy the beginning of a new civil rights movement?
 
There is a certain irony that Egyptians demonstrating in Cairo were calling for democracy while parents, kids and teachers call for democracy in a Brooklyn high school auditorium.
 
The relationship between the union president  and the mayor has moved from “professional and respectful” to chilly to vituperative
 
Part of the problem is that decisions on school closings are opaque.
 
Let me take a shot at it, and use PS 114 as an example.
 
Schools receive annual School Progress Reports with grades ranging from A to F. How are the grades calculated?
 
 
Schools don’t compete with schools in their geographic districts, nor with schools in their Children First Network, they compete with schools in their Peer Group, the twenty schools immediately above and below them who have similar student bodies. (“percentage of students at each school that are English Language Learners, students with disabilities, Black/Hispanic students and Title I eligible students”).  A Bronx school was closed even though it’s scores were at the top of it’s district, they were at the bottom of their Peer Group.
 
The Department letter grade and the New York State school assessment can be at opposite ends of the spectrum.
 
While the Department assigned a grade of “D” to PS 114 the school is in Good Standing according to New York State..
 
The Quality Review, an intense onsite inspection of the school conducted in October, 2008, found the school “undeveloped.”  The Report praised,  “…the real intent demonstrated by teacher concerns in improving student achievement which is validated by the positive attitudes to learning demonstrated by students.” And went on to criticize the school administration, “Class-based assessment data has only very recently begun to be distributed to teachers while training in it’s use is planned, this has yet to take place.”
 
The Report chastised the school leadership. “A key reason for this is the weakness that exists in management structures and in whole school planning.”
 
The Department removed the principal, and the second successor principal is about to leave. Soon to be four principals in three years.
 
The Department collects data on a regular basis. Schools conduct performance-based interim assessments, most use ACUITY (see detailed description here).
 
Schools are part of networks of about 25 schools each led by a network leader and an instructional team, the principal chooses which network to join. The networks are composed of a team of instructional experts.
 
Who is responsible for the school within the Department?
 
Should the superintendent and/or the network leader intervene in a school?  Provide direction rather than mere suggestions? 
 
Both the March 2008 Parthenon Report  and the January, 2001 Independent Budget Office Report emphasize that the Department knew which schools were on a path to closure.
 
What actions did the Department take? The answer, unfortunately, is none.
 
One could be led to believe that the Department chose to take no action because the closing of schools was part of Department policy.
 
An educational triage policy.
 
The anger and fear in schools is palpable.
 
Newer teachers fear they’ll be laid off because of seniority, senior teachers fear they’ll be laid off because of their salary. Teachers and parents don’t trust the system and the system appears to be aloof, all-knowing and deaf.  Parents of color see a white Department leadership: school closure meetings again and again are Black/Hispanic audiences and a white Department leadership punishing schools and parents and favoring charter schools. No one understands why some schools are closed and others aren’t.
 
The mayor waves the bloody shirt .
 
Where is the great leader?
 
“the bad leader is he who the people despise; the good leader is he who the people praise; the great leader is he who the people say, “We did it ourselves”
Peter M. Senge (The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization)

 

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3 responses to “Why Do Schools Close? Teachers and Parents Think the Dice Are Loaded, Don’t Understand the System and the Battles Continue.

  1. A disgrace. What can anyone say anymore. No one in a leadership position at the DOE is listening – to reason, to common sense solutions, to people with the expertise to really improve things – because they have an agenda apparently written in stone. Perhaps the media can exert some pressure if they can find their independent voice.

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  2. “The NY Times questioned the entire school closing process…”
    Unfortunately, it would be more accurate to say “Michael Winerip of the NY Times questioned the entire school closing process…” It was good to see Winerip writing about NYC education matters again, and his piece (and yours) were good, but the Times’ own position is less clear to me.

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  3. The sad part of this is, that many parents are not aware, and are not involved with the decisions being made. Across the nation, the need for teachers is great, and concentrated layoffs in our city is an unfortunate turn of events. Fore-warning is a commodity, and I cannot stress how disappointing it is that a person’s hard-earned career can be ripped out from under them like this.

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