Closing High Schools/Creating Small High Schools: How Can We Support All High Schools and All Students?

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.

Suggestions:

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.

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11 responses to “Closing High Schools/Creating Small High Schools: How Can We Support All High Schools and All Students?

  1. If by return to sanity you mean return to business as usual, I would have to agree. No reform had a greater impact on the 30 percent rise in graduation rate than closing failed schools and opening over 500 new small ones.

    As the research to that effect increases, more imaginative ways to ignore it will likely surface in this administration and their allies.

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    • RUBBISH! What you and the then leadership did was push out kids who were not qualified for a diploma but gor one to inflate the Mayors numbers. The objective teste revealed a drop in scores over which you had no control.
      What you accomplished was to send unqualified kids to college who likely got college loans and are now, as dropouts, stuck with unforgivable loans at high interest rates. Proud now?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Eric/Dave/Carol

      For twenty years mayors(Koch, Giuliani) ignored schools, and, the Board of Education, appointed by borough presidents were absorbed by politics, high poverty schools were allowed to fester, a classic example of institutional racism.

      I don’t think anyone defends the array of failed schools; the failure was not the fault of principals and teachers, the failure was the result of governmental policies.

      Large high schools with diverse populations can thrive. I was at an alumni event in a large Brooklyn high school on Sunday … the stands were packed with kids watching football game, a student combo was playing in the hallway to welcome the alumni, kids were practicing for some event in the auditorium, the principal was a student in the school, a teacher, and an assistant principal. She lives in the zone and her son will attend the school in September; the school has vast course offering and an extremely diverse population – yes – a zoned school with an educational option.

      Some co-located campuses with four, five and six schools thrive, others stumble as the leaderships collide …

      Small schools allow for personalization, close relationships with staff, opportunities for in-depth work, research projects, others are plagued by weak leadership and a revolving door for staff.

      Few schools have mastered the “houses” model; administratively complex and an absence of commitment usually resulted in the houses morphing back to the large high school. Too often the large high school is driven by administrative convenience and instruction fades as a priority.

      The world of CTE, fka vocational high schools, is changing; many vocations require higher level skills, especially in math and technology. For years we thought that the kids who could not succeed in academic classes would succeed in vocational classes. No longer the case, the State requires extended periods of mentorships and passing of state certification exams.

      I was a fan of the Network System, schools clustering in affinity clusters, unfortunately the Department succumbed to decades-old failed paramilitary structure. High functioning schools are driven from classrooms not the aeries of Tweed.

      Like

  2. It sounds like they are saying, we have no way to tell if it is really working, but it is working great—becasue it’s what the Bloomberg agenda called for and if you want to keep your job, you have to tell the billionaire what he wants to hear so he can give himself a pat on the back.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lloyd, that’s precisely what Eric did when he spawned all those Bronx little schools-that and staff them with new untenured staff despite agreeing not to do so. In one school I know of, the teacher of a science class proctored her own Regents, took the papers home, graded them, and called the kids to tell them their grade! Sure there were a couple of great ones, but that was due to those schools leaders being experienced and hiring experienced staff. The rest, like the one that Taveras and Suransky were at, were diploma mills.

    Peter, my one argument with this post is the CTE school admission situation. I’ve seen kids sent into those schools who ABSOLUTELY did not want to work with their hands. Those admissions killed those schools. The school cannot survive within its budget if the number of students in a junior or senior CTE class drops to a small number.

    Once upon a time, the (then called vocational) schools were funded for an extra period of instruction per day in order to fit in a shop major in addition to the state required academic work. Con Ed and NYTel hired those kids by the hundreds. Every auto shop graduate at Smith VHS got a mechanics job in a first class auto dealership, often with tools–right up to the last reorganization of that school.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There is a big difference between a poor school (badly led, badly managed, resultant problems) and a school that serves a primarily impoverished, poorly prepared critical mass of students, many of whom were unable to access the myriad of “schools of choice.” The treatment of poor schools should differ dramatically from the treatment of schools dedicated to serving the impoverished and special needs students.
    A policy group would do well to commission an analysis of cost effectiveness of the plethora of small schools, each one headed by a fully paid principal, in a building housing four to six principals. What happened to the old notion of breaking schools into “houses” within a building, all headed by one principal (house master?) and each house headed by an AP fully supported by a school-wide SLT and principal? I don’t read anything about this in the blogs that I read regularly.

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  5. Eric/Dave/Carol

    For twenty years mayors(Koch, Giuliani) ignored schools, and, the Board of Education, appointed by borough presidents were absorbed by politics, high poverty schools were allowed to fester, a classic example of institutional racism.

    I don’t think anyone defends the array of failed schools; the failure was not the fault of principals and teachers, the failure was the result of governmental policies.

    Large high schools with diverse populations can thrive. I was at an alumni event in a large Brooklyn high school on Sunday … the stands were packed with kids watching football game, a student combo was playing in the hallway to welcome the alumni, kids were practicing for some event in the auditorium, the principal was a student in the school, a teacher, and an assistant principal. She lives in the zone and her son will attend the school in September; the school has vast course offering and an extremely diverse population – yes – a zoned school with an educational option.

    Some co-located campuses with four, five and six schools thrive, others stumble as the leaderships collide …

    Small schools allow for personalization, close relationships with staff, opportunities for in-depth work, research projects, others are plagued by weak leadership and a revolving door for staff.

    Few schools have mastered the “houses” model; administratively complex and an absence of commitment usually resulted in the houses morphing back to the large high school. Too often the large high school is driven by administrative convenience and instruction fades as a priority.

    The world of CTE, fka vocational high schools, is changing; many vocations require higher level skills, especially in math and technology. For years we thought that the kids who could not succeed in academic classes would succeed in vocational classes. No longer the case, the State requires extended periods of mentorships and passing of state certification exams.

    I was a fan of the Network System, schools clustering in affinity clusters, unfortunately the Department succumbed to decades-old failed paramilitary structure. High functioning schools are driven from classrooms not the aeries of Tweed.

    Like

    • The State is about as knowledgeable about CTE as a barnacle under a boat. Have they actually any experienced CTE staff in the State DOE, and is there any budgetary support?

      The fact that it may be the latest ‘darling’ demonstrates nothing. I worked in a CTE school for almost thirty years. It sent over half of its graduates to college and ALL of its grads were able to work after high school. It had the second best daily attendance in the Bronx year after year ( BX Sci being first ). It was well run and the students wanted to be there. Over the BloomKlein years years, it was starved of resources, and interested entering level kids. THEY killed that school, along with most of the other CTE schools (see previous response). The world of CTE is still a place where kids can learn to earn a great living! But the destruction of those schools is like Humpty Dumpty. It was a multi decade effort to get those educators–and now they are all gone. Unlike academic subjects, CTE people need a prior career in their field to really ‘bring it home’, yet they were never properly recruited or supported by salary (the Longevity salaries were really unearnable due to their late start).

      All the while, vest pocket schools where No science labs or libraries, improper equipment, green staff, and no nothing administrators like the two previously mentioned were talking BS while graduating kids with no education.

      There is NO question that large classes and impersonal schooling are inconsistent with academic success, especially when there is extreme poverty and little home support. Clearly there IS a big difference between a ‘bad’ school, and a capable school that cannot overcome the problems brought in by inappropriately placed kids with tremendous needs which school is not provided the fiscal and staffing and supply needs consistent with its mission.

      See the class sizes in the affluent suburbs, and the per pupil costs compared with NYC. The City still refuses to meet the court ordered class size requirements.

      All of us EDUCATORS understand that the total reorganization of the Public Schools of NYC was all about cutting already poor budgets, hiring a pile of no experience staff both at schools and at TWEED to give jobs during the recession, and about public relations.

      The rampant age discrimination which took place was an unpursued tragedy for education. High performing schools DO derive from great classrooms, and they in turn come from experienced teachers and supervisors, not TFA.

      Surely ‘The Emperor Who Had No Clothes’ has come to life.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Eric: Did you fail to remember how you put these CFN’s in different boroughs from their schools and few parents had contract with them? Hell. Most staff didn’t even know what CFN their school was connected to?

    Furthermore, Principals were free to hire whom they pleased and that included many uncertified teachers teaching Regents courses with the students doing poorly (example Earth Science). Furthermore, your small schools were mostly a disaster with high teacher turnover of untenured newbies once the extra funding and student exclusions were removed. Example, look at the Campus Magnet schools in Queens.

    Finally, the quality of principals worsened with your advocacy of the Leadership Academy where many of these principals were and are a disaster.

    Thank goodness your no longer in charge. Your reign was disgraceful and the badly though out policies under your watch will hurt the public school system for years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Those small schools are probably failing more students than it would appear, because many of them do not have the cohort size required to report on how their struggling and Title 1 students are truly performing (and for which I know from first hand personal experience.) Our local small rural district flies under the radar year, after year yet they are failing children such as my child. I say close these failing schools. It is a waste of good money and our children’s time. When kids have sat in schools for 13 years and yet graduate without foundational and grade level proficiency skill sets in reading, writing and math, there is no accountability and this has to change! How many CASDA reports have to report that our schools in NYS are failing?!?!?!

    Like

    • Maria,

      If you close public schools and turn OUR children over to corporations to teach, parents/voters will not have the power to close those schools if they fail to meet your expectations, but those autocratic, for profit, often worse and fraudulent corporate charters schools have the power to get rid of children who do not score well on tests, read below grade level or are behavior problems.

      As long as those small schools that you allege fly under the radar are community based, non-profit, transparent, democratic public schools, the voters always have the ability to bring about change by voting in an elected school board to do what the voters want.

      That ability doesn’t exist once an autocratic corporate charter school like the Success Academies in New York or KIPP charter schools across the country are the only choice. In New Orleans when children are removed from the corporate charters there that have taken over teaching all the children with no choice of public schools, those children vanish and then the streets become their schools.

      Don’t close public schools. If you and other parents and voters think those public schools need improvement, then work through the community based democratic system to bring about change. Every election offers that option. If you and other Americans turn your backs on democracy and let someone like Trump make all the decisions for you, what do you think you are going to get?

      Like

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