Monday, May 28, 2007

"Revolutionary" changes to alternative schools?

In a move called "revolutionary", Tweed announced the closing of two types of alternative schools. The first are the "P-Schools," schools for pregnant girls established in the 1960's. Eliminating these schools, which had been criticized for years as being unnecessarily stigmatizing and not providing the credits needed to graduate, was far from "revolutionary" -- instead it was long overdue.

In 2000, a NYCLU letter complained that pregnant girls were often illegally forced to transfer to these schools, which offered a substandard education. In 2003, Comptroller Thompson released a report revealing that only a small fraction of teenage mothers and pregnant girls in NYC received the necessary services to help them remain in school -- including child care.

Beth Fertig of WNYC did an expose of the pregnancy schools in 2004 -- and still nothing was done to improve or eliminate them. Even now, as pointed out by the NYCLU, there is little in the DOE press release about the closing of these schools about what will be offered in their place:

"The plan to close the 'pregnancy schools' must be accompanied by an aggressive strategy to change the culture hostile to pregnant and parenting students -- and a comprehensive plan to build active support systems that will help them stay in or return to regular schools. "

The other type of alternative schools to be phased out are the "New Beginning" centers, where high school students with a history of minor behavior problems or uneven attendance were often transferred. Of course, all of these programs were a godsend to high schools that wanted to get off their rolls any students considered marginal or troublesome.

Unnoticed in any of the articles reporting their elimination was that these centers were first established with great fanfare only four years before. Here is an excerpt from a 2003 press release from the Mayor's office:

The New Beginnings Centers enable the Department of Education to remove these students from the classrooms that they disrupt so that other students may learn there. Once removed, the students are placed in classrooms under the close supervision of an instructor using a specially-designed standards-based curriculum that allows students to earn credits towards Regents exams. Students are also provided with integrated guidance and supportive services.

A 2004 New York Times article featured an interview with Chancellor Klein, bragging about this particular reform:

Mr. Klein...praised the New Beginnings centers, 16 mini-schools for disruptive (but not extremely violent) high school students. The high schools that send students to the centers say they are also pleased with the program. As a result, four more centers are being created this spring. But some New Beginnings staff members say the program, like much else about the overhauled school system, is still getting its footing. Some sites have been sent students they are unprepared to handle, like violent or special education students.

Only this administration would claim "revolutionary" credit for getting rid of a failed program that had been created under its leadership, as well as schools for pregnant girls which lasted far longer than could be justified.

Still remaining, unfortunately, are the SOS suspension centers that the DOE has placed in the basements of community or drug treatment clinics, which provide little in the way of either education and/or counseling. The continued existence of the SOS schools continues to be a major scandal waiting to be told.

(For more on the dreadful legacy of the Pregnancy schools, see the 2006 NYCLU testimony to the Citywide Council on High Schools here.)


Gary Babad said...

What a great parody I could write on this, I thought! I would really exaggerate and write that the DOE came up with a "revolutionary" change that got rid of the entire system of centralized regions. Then it would turn out that it was the DOE that instituted the very system they replaced. But then I realized: That's what actually happened! Maybe the DOE should just write their own parodies directly to the blog and save Jan and me the trouble.

Leonie Haimson said...

Yes, they uproot the changes that they themselves instituted -- and each time, it's even more brilliant than before.

There always seem to be (magical) cost-savings too -- by eliminating the structures that they themselves put into place.

NYC Educator said...

I had one kid who was sent to one of these last-chance-style facilities. Now I can't say for certain it was New Beginnings, but she came to visit me on a parent-teacher night and seemed to be doing much better than she had been previously. But she's the only one I ever saw.

While these schools may not have worked, we could really use a good program to reach out to kids like her. I've been getting scores of kids from Korea who live in this sort of church-home arrangement. While the parents value an American education, they sorely underestimate the effect of direct parental supervision (or lack thereof). They pay these churches to supervise their kids, and they certainly aren't getting their money's worth.

The New Beginnings idea strikes me as potentially good. However, the NYC MO is to create a new school, lose everyone and anyone who had any stake in its mission, and let absolutely anyone run these schools.

If you're gonna target these kids, you have to be prepared to dig a little deeper than their previous teachers did. Guidance counselors at most schools are so preposterously overworked they may not even know who these kids are.

You'd need a much, much lower ration with these kids, reflecting dollars that always come way more first than children first ever could.

NYC Educator said...

That should be "ratio," not "ration."

Jeff Kaufman said...

Thanks for the "SOS Scandal" to come reference. When are we going to see the expose.

Patrick Sullivan said...

Klein and Walcott identify a failing program and announce that closing it down is "revolutionary". Instead of doing some checking to find out these guys created the program in the first place, the Sun just runs their story verbatim. If that's what passes for journalism, perhaps a more concerted effort is needed to provide a factual record of what's happening in the schools under the Bloomberg administration.