Should low performing schools be closed or fixed? The most controversial policy of the Bloomberg administration was the closing of struggling schools, the creation of small schools and “choice,” a wide array of school choices. Are there unintended consequences to “choice?”
The Research Alliance for New York City Schools, housed at NYU, has released another report defending the signature policy of Bloomberg, school closing/school creation, High School Closures in New York City: Impact on Academic Students’ Outcomes, Attendance and Mobility which claims, “…apart from the general sense that school closures are painful, there has never been a rigorous assessment of their impact in NYC.” The Alliance studied 29 high schools closed between 2002 and 2008 and makes a number of overall findings,
* The schools designated for closure were, in fact, among the lowest performing in the City,
* Closures had little impact, positive or negative, on the academic outcomes of students who were enrolled during the phase-out process.
* Closing high schools produced meaningful benefits for future students
With the widespread use of credit recovery and teachers in the small high schools commonly marking regents exams of students they teach we’ll never know the actual progress of the schools. We do know troubling numbers of graduates require remedial courses in community colleges.
The Report admits ” …there are a range of other possible impacts from a school closure that our study did not examine, including, for instance, effects on educators, parents, and neighborhoods,” and the Report admits that the school creation reform is not a panacea,.
” … while this study shows clear gains for students in the wake of a closure, these students still did not fare well. On average, just 56 percent graduated from high school within four years, and less than half earned a Regents diploma. Finding ways to close the gap between these students and their higher-performing peers is essential.”
There is no question that most of the closed schools, there are a few exceptions, were among the lowest performing schools in the city, and, there comes a point when schools cannot be resuscitated. I served on the New York State Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams for a number of the schools and worked with school phaseout/school creation teams in a number of other closed schools. Jefferson, Taft, T Roosevelt, Canarsie were beyond help, the leadership was inept; teachers dispirited and schools were out of control.
The Report fails to address the core question: why did so many high schools become so low performing, and, how we avoid the reoccurrence?
The secret to school success has always been recruiting the “best” students, and best is defined as kids with high reading and math scores. The unwritten school leadership philosophy – attract the best academic students possible, Yes, teacher quality matters, great teachers make a difference, however, teacher quality cannot overcome the degradations of poverty.
In the 1970’s the Board of Education instituted a choice program called the education option (ed op) program. Schools created special programs within the school; students from across the city could apply to the program. For example, in James Madison High School the Center for Accounting and Management (CAM) opened 150 seats annually – half selected by the school and half spun out of the computer – all representing an academic span (16-68-16). Madison actively recruited CAM applicants from other zoned school, and received numerous applicants. A choice program eroded academic data in some schools and aided the data in other schools.
Let’s call it “educational triage;” the Board sacrificed inner city low performing schools with Black and Hispanic populations to benefit the more middle class White schools; an institutional racism that emanated from City Hall.
The current Department of Education has continued the same policy – the 649-page High School Directory offers hundreds and hundreds of high school choices, and, over 200 schools and programs are screened, meaning applicants must have high grades and/or high state test scores. Eighth graders can make up to twelve choices of schools or programs within schools; the applications are due next week and students are informed of their assignment in April. The Directory lists the number of applicants per seat for the prior year – the NYC iSchool, a fully screened school, had over 3000 applicants for 118 seats, other unscreened schools have 3, 4 or five applicants per seat. A dense computer algorithm matches students to schools.
I would wager the screened schools/programs have much higher percentages of White and middle class students than citywide averages. The iSchool has twice the percentage of White students as the citywide percentage.
The former Board of Education created education option programs, the current Department of Education created hundreds of schools, the screened schools and the highly popular schools attract the most academically able students. The polices of the former and the current school district leaders created winners and losers.
Virtually every high school should have a geographic zone.
If you live a few blocks away from a school you should have the ability to attend the school. Currently geography plays no role in school assignment. (Except for the few zoned high schools which still exist) .Neighborhood schools build community, build interactions among the full range of community organizations, from houses of worship to community and block associations. If a student wants to travel for 45-minutes to school, fine, if you want to walk a few blocks it should be your right.
The plethora of screened programs should be reexamined.
Do screened programs increase student achievement or segregate schools by race, class and achievement? The endless names of high schools promises careers in medicine or law or sports management or justice or whatever, in reality students have to earn 44 credits with all but a dozen credits prescribed by state requirements. Fourteen year olds cannot be expected to make career choices. Career and Technical Education (CTE) high schools, formerly known as vocational high schools prepare students for the world of work, we should create more CTE schools; do we need scores upon scores of small high schools with vague “titles?” Yes, aside from the eight entrance-by-examination schools we should have other gifted schools scattered in neighborhoods – do we need 200 plus?
Geographic high school superintendencies should be created to allow teachers by subject area to work and attend professional development across schools.
Teachers in small high schools do not have the opportunity to work together, there may only be two, three or four same-licensed teachers in a school. You grow by fertilization of ideas, by working with colleagues; school organizations should be structured to encourage cross-school interactions.
The Bloomberg/Klein regency believed in a disruptive innovation, create tensions in and between schools, create tension within the administration; under pressures schools increased graduation rates “by any means possible;” hundreds of high schools, some “succeeding,” aka increasing graduation rates, while others failed, and would be closed, an educational triage. The detritus: kids living in poverty.
Two years into the new administration time to take an in-depth look at the dozen years of disruption and return to sanity.