Friday, October 5, 2018

The PS 25 saga continues: the DOE apparently gives into Eva Moskowitz' demand to provide space for a Success middle school

PS 25 in 1931
Two days ago, Chalkbeat and the Daily News reported  that the DOE is planning to submit to the demands of Eva Moskowitz and provide space inside the PS 25 building for another Success Academy middle school.  As I told Ben Chapman of the Daily News, it is unconscionable to allow Success to expand its empire inside this building, especially given its history of repeatedly abusing children’s civil rights. 
If DOE goes ahead and closes PS 25 it would be even worse  – a school composed of 100% children in poverty, 95% of them black and Hispanic, about one quarter with disabilities, about 22% homeless.  And yet,  according to the DOE performance dashboard, PS 25 is the fourth best public elementary system in the city in its impact on learning, and outperforms every charter school in the city, except for one Success charter in the Bronx. 
And the school accomplished this without suspending or pushing out a single child, unlike the charter schools in the Success chain.  As Politico reported over the summer, Success ejected all of the students with disabilities in in the 12-1-1 class in their Bed-Stuy middle school last year.  And as I described here, this was no fluke, as the charter chain eliminated one fourth all their self-contained classes for special needs children last year. 
To recap, PS 25 parents sued last year after the DOE announced its intention to close it.  They won a temporary restraining order from Judge Katherine Levine of the Kings County Supreme Court to keep the school open for at least another year, until she could more carefully consider the legal issues in the case.  I wrote an open letter to the Chancellor that was published in the Washington Post, urging him to keep the school open because of its tremendous record of success in educating its high needs students. No follow-up legal proceedings have yet been scheduled and the DOE has made no move so far to violate the court order.
According to the just-released state scores, PS 25 surpassed the city average in its results, even more than in 2017, despite all the controversy and stress on children who had been told that their school might be closing right before the math exams.  PS 25 students achieved  50% proficiency rates in the  ELA and 70.7% in math as compared to Citywide averages of 46.7% ELA and 42.7% in math.
Alex Zimmerman of Chalkbeat claimed that the test score performance of PS 25 students “could partly be the result of natural statistical swings in scores that can occur in schools that serve so few students.”  Yet PS 25 test scores have risen steadily over the last four years, in a trend line that would be difficult to describe as a “statistical swing” by any definition.  Here are the comparative figures, with data taken from the DOE performance dashboard and this year’s results added: 
Though as I have written elsewhere, while the variable design of state exams themselves make year-to-year comparisons unreliable,  these results are exceptional, especially given the disadvantaged background of the school's students. 
Also, despite the account on Chalkbeat that the school is spending $50,000 per student, the DOE budget transparency report assumes total enrollment of 60 students, though according to Chalkbeat itself, PS 25 actually has 87 students this year; which means the real figure is about $29,000 per child.  Meanwhile, scores of other NYC public schools spend far higher per student amounts, according to that same budget document, with far worse results.
PS 25’s enrollment didn’t fall despite the best efforts of DOE, because parents refused to transfer their kids out of the school  when they were told to do so, even before the court ordered it would be kept open for another year. The school even has a (small) preK class and a Kindergarten class this year, contrary to reports.  
Zimmerman reported that DOE intends to hand over the space now occupied by PS 25 to yet another unspecified charter school if they are legally allowed to shutter it:  “But if the closure goes through, the education department will likely reserve the space for another charter school, officials said.”
 If so, a school building created with taxpayer money would be handed over to charter schools, with the entire building taken from the public and given over to private hands.  What a sad fate for a public school with a proud history of serving the community for nearly 100 years.
And all the PS 25 kids will literally be forced to leave an stellar school that has managed to provide small classes to its high needs students and proven itself over the last five years in terms of results.  Not to mention the likelihood that their excellent, experienced teachers will likely be forced to join the Absent Teacher Reserve, as what usually happens when a school closes, and never again be assigned to a permanent class or allowed to provide the close, ongoing instructional feedback and emotional support that students need.  This even as the ATR is already costing the city more than $150 million per year. What an awful waste of human lives and talent.
Instead, as I suggested previously, the Chancellor should be celebrating the achievements of PS 25, assigning more preK and 3K students to the school, and emulating its success as a model for what can be achieved when kids in poverty and with special needs can achieve when given small classes and a real chance to succeed.
If the school does close, and the building given over to yet another Success charter school, it will reveal that in this city, the vast public relations and political influence machine of the charter lobby, fueled by hedge-fund money, may have won over simple justice once again.

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