Abolishing Zoned High Schools is Antithetical to Building Supportive Communities: All High Schools Should Be Zoned High Schools

The last class ended more than two hours earlier and there were hundreds of kids still in the large, zoned high school building. Teams were practicing in the gymnasium and on the field, cheer leaders and twirlers were chanting their slogans, clubs were meeting, teachers were tutoring students and meeting with each other.

“It’s like this every day, we have to throw them out of the building,” said the assistant principal.

I asked, “Why do they stay?”

The assistant principal smiled, “This is both a neighborhood school as well as an ed op (educational option) school, most of our kids come from the neighborhood, their brothers and sisters went here, sometimes their parents, we have teachers who went here as students, we’re an institution.”

In spite of a neighborhood zoned high school as an “institution” the Chancellor is planning to end all zoned high schools. The effect: if you live across the street from the school your chances of winning the high school application lottery would be the same as any other kid in the city.

The Bloomberg administration, in its waning days, is planning to begin the phase out of zoned high schools.

The admissions change, which could affect five schools by next year, will allow “zoned” high schools to offer priority rather than a guarantee to local kids.

In the longer term, the rule could have a significant impact in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn. Thousands of city high school students still attend one of the 28 neighborhood high schools.

Next fall, Lehman High School in the Bronx and Flushing and Newtown High Schools in Queens, which are cutting enrollment, will no longer guarantee admission, officials said.

At Long Island City and Martin Van Buren High Schools in Queens, the city has proposed adding new schools to the building — wiping out sufficient space to guarantee admissions to local kids, according to documents posted on the agency website. A vote is scheduled for the same Oct. 30 Panel for Educational Policy meeting where the rule change will be decided.

“Across the city, we want to create new high-performing options in areas where we see low demand, be it for a zoned school or otherwise,” said schools spokesman Devon Puglia.

The process of applying to high school is stressful for parents and students — and the rule change will only make it more so, admissions experts said.

“I would be worried if I were a parent that I might be closed out of the school,” said Pamela Wheaton, of InsideSchools.org at the New School. “A good zoned school offers something for everybody — for low achievers, for special needs, for high achievers.”

Ironically, at the same time the Department promotes opening more small high schools the very same Department released credit recovery data for the 11-12 and earlier school years.

… nearly 40 schools awarded between 5 percent and 31 percent of their credits to kids through makeup work in 2011-12, while close to three dozen gave between 5 percent and 46 percent of their credits that way the previous school year.

The NYS Education Department tracks College and Career Readiness as well as Graduation Rates. While 74% of students graduate in four years only 35% graduate College and Career Ready (at least grades of 75 on the ELA Regents and 80 on the Algebra Regents), and depressingly only 12% of Afro-American students, 16% of Hispanic students and 7% of English language learners graduate College and Career Ready.

The dogma of the Department: choice is the answer to improving student achievement; be it charter schools or small secondary schools, “starve” and close large high schools.

The Department “stacks the deck” against the zoned high schools.

Zoned high schools in some areas of the city have shrinking enrollments, in other areas large high schools are bursting at the seams. Stuffing struggling high schools with special education students assures lower graduation rates. Jackie Bennett on the Edwize blog site tracked Progress Report grades and percentages and categories of special education students here and here.

The Department assigns much larger percentages of the most challenged students into large, zoned high schools; once the Department “targets” a school it is not surprising that the number of applicants decreases.

A “dirty little secret:” very high failure rates in first period classes in high schools across the city. As students travel across the city by public transportation – 45 minutes, an hour, more than an hour, lateness to first period classes is endemic.

Creating communities means providing a wide range of educational and social services within a neighborhood; at the beginning of the Children First initiative the Department created ten Regions – each encompassing over 100 schools and a parallel structure, the Student Placement, Youth and Family Support Services – (See more at: http://www.edwize.org/the-death-of-spyfss-tweed-abandons-at-risk-children#sthash.xXONSuex.dpuf). In 2006 in one of many redesigns the Department decided to dissolve the structure that guided all student and family support services.

Building communities means that we must support students and attending neighborhood schools strengthens the ability to provide a wide range of support services.

All secondary school should have a zone that surrounds the school – if you live within walking distance of a secondary school you should be guaranteed a seat.

The Department is moving in a totally wrong direction, by scattering students all over the city they are fracturing communities.

Cities are composed of scores of “micro-cultures,” neighborhoods with barber shops and beauty parlors and Chinese take-outs and bodegas that cater to the neighborhood. The guy behind the counter may not know your name but he knows you like your coffee black. A neighbor may mention that your kid was rowdy, or if you get home from the hospital offer to shop for you. Kids know that other adults know your parents. Neighborhoods have strong internal bonds and the stronger the bonds the stronger the neighborhoods the better the chances that your kids will feel safe.

Encouraging, not discouraging, neighborhood schools should be a primary goal of the next mayor.

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6 responses to “Abolishing Zoned High Schools is Antithetical to Building Supportive Communities: All High Schools Should Be Zoned High Schools

  1. The idea of doing away with neighborhood schools defies all logic. It seems to say we will set up more challenges to an age group that needs the most help.
    Who speaks for the children?

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  2. For 35 years, NYC warehoused kids in zoned high schools, many of which barely graduated 30% of students. Housing patterns in our city are segregated by race and poverty. To suggest that we do the same for our children’s schools is a disastrous attempt to return to the imagined perfection of the past; a time when only one out of two students graduated from high school.

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  3. Christine Rowland

    Eric – NYC sent disproportional percentages of its neediest children to zoned high schools, often ‘over-the-counter’ for over a decade. Frequently the sheer numbers caused massive overcrowding in zoned schools and contributed heavily to the struggles those schools experienced. Many of the challenges of zoned high schools were created by a critically flawed pupil placement system. A cynical person might even conclude that such policies were engaged in with a political end in mind – to prove that smaller is better. A less cynical individual may think that the zoned high schools were more accepting of students who faced greater challenges (foster care, the shelter system, family break-ups, recently arrived ELLs etc.) and were better equipped to meet their needs, The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Until we stop pitting schools against one another in a competitive environment we cannot resolve the issues of equity of access in this system. Hopefully a new mayor will tackle this issue as a high priority.

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  4. I first heard about this on the radio. I was outraged! Schools are part of the fabirc of community life. Schools should function as educational institutions – also as places for after school activities, for parent meetings, for performances, etc. If kids live far away they can’t participate. This is part of the attack on public education. Fix the problems but leave the schools as community infrastructures. It creates a feeling of security within families and the near communities at large. The DOE is still trying to destroy what was once the best public school system in the country.

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  5. Why do we have to live in an all or nothing world? There is nothing wrong with giving studenyts an option for a variety of schools, but there is also nothing wrong with high schools being an important part of the community. Students should not have to travel miles on public transportation in order to
    attend school. This phase out process has been going on since Bloomberg came into office. Sadly, I do not think the mayor wanted to see schools occupy the role of being a community center because he was completely unaware of the realities of living in a community!

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  6. Carole Silverstein.

    I can’t believe that at this time we are going backwards. As a union rep. I always visited my zoned HS and it was part of my assignment. It is true that kids hung around for social purposes and to play sports. They came from the neighborhood and participated in the community. Most of my students who had to travel either to middle or high schools had trouble paying even half fare.,I had to give them the money. My favorite school board member and an aide in the HS had many discussions with the forgotten students.Many of them had to work to support their families. They would never been able to travel any long distances from their homes. The HS enrollment or graduation would even be lower.

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