Monday, January 25, 2010

Why the administration should not close these schools!

Class Size Matters submitted comments on Friday on the proposed closings of 22 schools; check them out on our website here.

We point out how DOE’s Educational Impact Statements are profoundly flawed, with incomplete or inaccurate graduation rate data, and how DOE officials have refused to follow their own accountability standards in proposing these closings.

There is strong evidence that large numbers of students will drop out and/or be discharged in high numbers as these schools phase out, with no chance to graduate with a high school diploma, as has occurred in the past.

The NY Times just published a piece implying otherwise, about Columbus high school:
“… [DOE officials] say they make the closing process as painless as
possible. For the closing school, it is a gradual death, with current
students allowed to graduate if they do not fall behind, but no new classes
admitted. As space opens up, the new schools come to life, adding a grade each
"New schools come to life"? A "painless" process? A "gradual death"? "...current students allowed to graduate if they do not fall behind"?
Sounds very humane, like someone putting a dying animal out of its misery. Unfortunately, the reality is quite the reverse.

The fact is that most students at Columbus and the other high schools slated for closure are already "falling behind" in that they are not slated to graduate in four years. Many of them require special education services and/or are English language learners, and take up to five or six years to graduate. And as these schools phase out, it becomes more and more difficult for students to gain the necessary credits, as their schools no longer offer all the necessary courses.
Indeed, low four-year graduation rates are the prime reason the DOE cites in proposing to close these schools, and there is no plan provided to ensure that the majority of students currently in these buildings will ever have a chance to earn a high school diploma.

See this chart, from the discharge report I co-authored with Jennifer Jennings, showing how discharge rates skyrocket for students at NYC high schools - to up to 30% or more of the students in each graduating class for last two years before they phased out. These students are forced to leave for GED programs, or sometimes simply disappear off the rolls, never even counted as dropouts.
The schools targeted for closure have been flooded with the most vulnerable students in recent years, including disproportionate numbers who are homeless. Closing them will doom these students to failure.

Other problems with the impact statements include: the DOE has failed to acknowledge how these closings will likely lead to even worse overcrowding elsewhere, with several thousand high school seats lost the first year alone.

There is no mention of the fiscal impact these closings will have in an era of contracting budgets, with up to a thousand teachers put on Absent Teacher Reserve, and millions of dollars in start-up costs for the new small schools and charter schools.

Indeed, mass school closings are poor educational policy; and will likely lead to high numbers of dropouts and/or discharged students, more overcrowding, and higher class sizes at a time enrollment is increasing, and school budgets have been slashed to the bone. There is no evidence that the administration has made any efforts to improve these schools before closing them.

We are calling for a moratorium until the Independent Budget Office can prepare an analysis of the considerable fiscal impact of these proposals, their effect on class size and overcrowding, and what’s likely to happen to dropout and discharge rates at these schools as they phase out, as well as other issues insufficiently (or inaccurately) addressed in the Educational Impact Statements.

Finally, the DOE should consider developing a genuine turn-around strategy, implementing targeted improvements, including reducing class size and a host of other reforms proven to raise student achievement, boost graduation rates, and enhance the learning environment.
Please send in your own comments today to the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, and to the DOE. The PEP members’ contact information is on the right hand side of the blog. The DOE contact information is on the public notice page here; for high school closings, send them to
All comments sent are supposed to be summarized, posted and presented to the PEP before the vote. And hope to see you tomorrow night at Brooklyn Tech High school; come at 5:30 PM to sign up to speak.

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