Saturday, February 13, 2010

The "New Math" of Closing Large High Schools?

Earlier this week, I picked up a copy of the latest West Side Spirit newspaper to read their cover story, "McCourt High School Recruiting Students." The whole enterprise -- a planned, four-year high schoolwith an anticipated enrollment of 432 (108 per grade level) to begin operation in September 2010 -- is of course a heartwarming memorial to teacher/author Frank McCourt. However, as I read the article, I saw this:

"In addition to being evaluated on grades and attendance, students interested in enrolling must take part in an interview, which screens for writing ability and collaborative skills. Part of the interview will include an on-demand writing test and a group task to gauge students' interest in collaboration."

Given the less-than-stellar history of Brandeis High School, which is being closed to make way for McCourt and at least three other schools, this screening process struck me as not likely to select many students comparable to those who have been attending Brandeis in recent years (a population that in 2005-06 was 24.5% ELL and 11.0% Special Education). To the contrary, it seem more suited to Upper West Siders looking for a local, "top tier" high school on the order of Lab School, Millennium, SOF, or Eleanor Roosevelt.

The West Side Spirit included the names of three other new schools already in their first year of operation in the W. 84th Street building even as the old Brandeis H.S. phases out. There's the Global Learning Collaborative with a 9th Grade of 108 students (based on their January 15, 2010 DOE register); there's the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers with a 9th Grade of 98 students; and there's Innovation Diploma Plus, a Grade 9-12 transfer school "for students who have fallen behind and are at risk of dropping out," with a total current student population of 137 (and a less-than-sterling year-to-date attendance rate of 67%).

So if McCourt serves few or none of the kind of students who used to fill the halls of Brandeis, that leaves Global Learning and Green Careers, each of which looks to be targeting enrollment of 425-450. Innovation Diploma Plus might eventually ramp up to 300 or more, but transfer schools by definition would not be taking in incoming 9th graders who might have attended Brandeis were it still operating. A few more might make it through the McCourt H.S. screening process, so let's say that brings us to 250 annual incoming ninth graders. Even if the DOE eventually adds two more small high schools in the building, it seems unlikely that the total number of incoming ninth graders in the building would exceed five or six hundred.

Here's the rub. As recently as 2005-06, the old Brandeis school's CEP reported a Grade 9 population alone of 1,243 (with total 9-12 enrollment of 2,751). Those 1,243 ninth graders would be looking at perhaps 250 available seats this coming September and perhaps 600 available seats in another couple years.

Where do those 600 - 900 left-out students go instead of Brandeis? Not nerby Martin Luther King -- it's being closed. Not Norman Thomas -- it's being closed as well. Not Julia Richman or Seward Park -- they're already long gone. And not Park East or Columbus or Adlai Stevenson or Evander Childs.

If every other former large high school goes the same route as all these, is the end result fewer total public high school seats than before these closures began? Are they all the same as Seward Park, where a former, single-school student population of 2,542 is now 1,686 spread over five schools? Or Canarsie High School, still phasing out from when it housed 2,885 students in 2007 and now has three new schools with combined Grade 9 and 10 populations of just 564 (which projects out to full enrollments of perhaps 1,100)? Even with two more schools added to the Canarsie Education Complex, the total served populatin would probably just reach 2,000.

Will the net impact be the same in all these new, multi-school "education complexes" (Bushwick, Franklin K. Lane, Wingate, Tilden, Far Rockaway, Beach Channel, Evander Childs, Adlai Stevenson, Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, Jamaica, Alfred E. Smith, etc.) compared to their former, single-school enrollments? The performance numbers (attendance, Regents pass rates, graduation rate) for the small, replacement schools may look better now, but how much of that is the result of skimming off the cream? Maybe Canarsie and Brandeis were overcrowded before, but that begs the question of where those missing (unaccommodatable) students will have gone, perhaps 800 or so in each of those two schools alone. And where do the ELL and Special Education kids go who previously attended those now- (or soon-to-be-) closed schools?

Is this the DOE's version of "new math?" Or is it a form of forced educational triage?


ed notes online said...

Predicted DOE press release one year from now:

A comparison of the old Brandeis and the new school we replaced it with confirms out strategy of closing replacing large high schools with 4 smaller ones as McCourt HS has had a tremendous success rate.

Pogue said...

Whatever large high schools are left, no matter where in the five boroughs, that is where the high needs kids will be sent to. It's Overcrowd, Lower the Scores, Then Close the School 101...the DOE way. Yup, third terms are a wonderful thing. What you didn't destroy in eight years, you can totally wipe out given an extra four.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis and your conclusions are correct. When Lafayette HS started its phaseout the first year saw problems in Dewey HS a few blocks away. In fact, Sam Friedman at the Times wrote an insightful article depicting the cause and effect of the closing of Lafayette and the trouble it created for Dewey. No doubt this scenario will play out and has already happened to students and high schools throughout the city.

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Custom Home Detailing said...

We hope to see a better change in our schools this next few years. This is a good article and we will share it with class.