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March 1, 2011
City postpones vote on its last closure proposal of the year
The city is postponing tonight’s Panel for Educational Policy vote on the last of its 25 proposals to close district schools this year. City officials…
February 22, 2011
As Brooklyn school nears closure vote, public advocate steps in
With little more than a week to go before the citywide school board votes on a Brooklyn elementary school's closure, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is entering the debate over the school's future. Canarsie elementary school P.S. 114 has been one of the most controversial stories of this year's school closure season. Teachers and parents at the school have argued that the Department of Education caused their schools' problems when it installed a principal who overspent her budget by $180,000.
February 2, 2011
Seven things you need to know about last night's PEP meeting
Seven takeaways from last night's marathon Panel for Educational Policy meeting, for those who don't have time for 6,000-plus words, minute-to-minute updates, or actually traveling to Brooklyn Tech in the storm: 1. Bloomberg's agenda was unsurprisingly approved: 10 schools will phase out, four new co-locations will occur. But on the panel, opposition now comes from more members than simply the Manhattan and Bronx appointees. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president's appointee, is no longer the sole voice of opposition on the panel. And while Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr.'s appointee has been making opposition known for a while now, the other borough representatives are beginning slowly to join. Only mayoral appointees, for instance, voted in favor of proposals that would benefit the Success Charter Network schools run by CEO Eva Moskowitz, a former City Council member and perennial mayoral hopeful. Besides 'no' votes, another manifestation of opposition to Bloomberg came in the form of a skirmish. From 9:53 p.m.: Audience members told Anna that they saw Sullivan push Morales from behind. Then Tino Hernandez, the panel’s chair, and Deputy Chancellor Santiago Taveras got between them and escorted Sullivan back to his seat. Sullivan then told the audience that one of the mayoral appointees on the panel had approached him to "taunt" him, kicking off the clash. He proposed that the panel postpone their votes to another day on account of the bad weather, but this motion failed. When the parents behind Anna saw the tussle begin, they started yelling: “Security! Where is security?” A few security guards did edge onto the stage but then backed away, Anna reports. Sullivan told the Daily News that he was just tapping Morales on the back. 2. Families reached out across the closure aisle, sometimes poetically. From Anna's 9:12 p.m. report: … some MCA [Metropolitan Corporate Academy, slated for closure] kids are rapping about racism and school closure. The charter school kids and parents are clapping the beat.
February 1, 2011
You ask, we answer: Yes, we will be live-blogging tonight
Last night we received an email from a reader with a good memory: Subject: Will Gotham Schools be blogging the PEP meetings 2/1 and 2/3? Message: Last…
January 31, 2011
As closure votes near, thoughts on what will follow for students
Department of Education officials frequently claim that students who attend schools that are phasing out benefit from being there. As school officials told City Council members last week, students get more attention and a stronger push toward grad as the schools get smaller. Today, two posts in the GothamSchools Community section challenge the city's story. In the first (reposted from the blog EdVox), Melissa Kissoon describes what happened to her school after it started phasing out. She writes: My first two years of high school at Lane were great. There were clubs and extra credit activities to help students get ahead or to help struggling students pass. ... Now all the great teachers we once loved have either switched to the other schools in the building or have just gone to another school completely. Now there is no money for the last year of students within my school. For example, there is no longer a library! A second Community piece, by Christine Rowland, looks at graduation and dropout rates at the four schools where she has worked — two of which closed in 2006 and two of which are up for closure this year. At last week's City Council hearing, the department presented data that showed that both graduation rates and dropout rates climbed at schools in the process of phasing out. Rowland dug into the DOE's data archives and found that that pattern hasn't always been true.
January 31, 2011
Closing Schools: Myth and Mystery
A few weeks ago I sat in the library at Christopher Columbus High School and listened to a Department of Education official explain to our confused and upset parents that closing our school would actually benefit their children. The official argued that the school's closure would actually increase students' chances of graduating, rather than damage them. This seemed a counterintuitive idea to me, so I decided to dig into the data. The DOE keeps a wonderful public archive of graduation and dropout data in longitudinal reports. I looked at what happened to students at Bronx high schools Roosevelt and Taft during the years they phased out, and compared them to Columbus and John F. Kennedy along with city averages. Why did I focus on these schools? I began my career as an English as a Second Language for seven years at Kennedy. In 1999 I was invited to become a staff development specialist for the DOE's Office of Bilingual Education (later the Office of English Language Learners) and for two years I visited Roosevelt every Tuesday and Taft every Wednesday to support their bilingual and ESL teachers. Then in 2002 I moved to Columbus, where I've worked as teacher and UFT Teacher Center staff. Looking at these four schools provided me a glimpse into the sad unraveling of the places I spent my career. First, I took a look at the 7-year longitudinal studies — those showing the ultimate outcomes for students who entered Taft and Roosevelt in the last four years the schools admitted students. In both cases, graduation declined for the first couple of years by a small amount, with the final two cohorts doing significantly worse. Roosevelt graduated only 17.6 percent of the students who entered in 2002, and Taft graduated just 29.5 percent of them. These outcomes did not compare favorably with either the citywide average for those years, or schools currently on the chopping block, Columbus and Kennedy. Conversely, I took a look at dropout rates for the same cohorts. Here we see rates in the closing schools rising to the point where, in the final cohort, over 80 percent of the final cohort at Roosevelt dropped out, and over 70 percent of the final cohort at Taft.
January 31, 2011
City officials confront blame for a Brooklyn school's fall
City officials came the closest they've gotten to acknowledging the Department of Education's role in a Brooklyn school's problems on Friday when a deputy chancellor said he was aware that teachers and parents feel abandoned. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky spoke at P.S. 114 — a Canarsie elementary school the city hopes to phase out next year — after more than two hours of parents and teachers testifying that the DOE ignored the school's problems. Though they'd petitioned the city to remove a principal who overspent her budget by $180,000 and was hiring unnecessary staff, Maria Pena-Herrera wasn't forced out until 2008. Now, the school owes the city thousands of dollars and has seen its students' test scores plummet in the last year. Polakow-Suransky responded to the outpouring of anger by telling parents that the city hasn't made a final recommendation to close or keep P.S. 114 open.
January 31, 2011
How Not To Close A School
Melissa Kissoon is an 18 year old graduate of Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn and a youth leader with Future of Tomorrow and the Urban Youth Collaborative. This post originally appeared at EdVox, a blog featuring members of UYC and the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. I was a victim of high school phase out. My first two years of high school at Lane were great. There were clubs and extra credit activities to help students get ahead or to help struggling students pass. I had some teachers I really liked and there were many teachers who had been in the school for over 15 years. Overall it was a great school despite its reputation and as a student, I would say it was improving. Then one day in 2007 the principal and deans got us together to tell us our school is phasing out, which meant that they would be putting another school into our building and would no longer accept any new students or freshman. Also, the building would be incorporating not one school but FOUR. Do you know what it's like to have four new schools come into your school building? Once the four new schools came, it was hard to be proud of a school that was no longer ours. I was a cheerleader for my school, so school pride was something that was very important to me. The four schools came and took the fourth floor in our building and we weren't allowed to set foot on the fourth floor anymore. Then when the next year came, and there were more students in the new schools and fewer in our school, the DOE split the rest of the floors in halves. So, if your classroom was around the corner, you could no longer just walk over to your room, you'd have to go upstairs and around and back down stairs to make it to your class. As a result of this, many students became late for their classes. Students missed class time and got in trouble because our school was chopped up and our building was divided! Now, all the great teachers we once loved have either switched to the other schools in the building or have just gone to another school completely. Now, there is no money for the last year of students within my school. For example, there is no longer a library! Lane doesn't have enough money for a library and the other four schools have small budgets, so none of the students have a library. Students with essays due and no printer or computer can't print-then they struggle to figure out how to pass their class. Almost all the after school activities belong to the other schools, including the sports and the ROTC. Two of my friends are in their last year at Lane this year, which is also Lane's last year open.
January 28, 2011
Black on city history, teacher turnover, and school closures
Chancellor Cathie Black showed what she has learned and what she hasn't in her first month on the job on NY1 last night. Chancellor Cathie Black's interview on Inside City Hall last night is worth watching in full. The interview exposes just how much Black has been able to absorb in her first month on the job — and how much she hasn't. In a moment first highlighted by NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ on Twitter, Black declared, "The public school system in New York City has been unbelievably successful since the birth of our nation." She was responding to a question from host Errol Louis about why she chose to send her children to private rather than public city schools. Black did not elaborate, but the statement is confusing given that public schools in New York City did not emerge until the early 1800s. Another moment of exposure had to do with teacher attrition. After a discussion about the "last in, first out" policy, Louis asked Black if she was concerned that almost half of New York City school teachers leave after 6 years in the classroom (PDF link). Here's how Black responded: Well you have to know, like, what's really at the heart of the issue. I don't know that we know what's really at the heart of the issue. Teaching is a hard job. We want the ones who are committed. We want the ones who make a difference. We want the ones who want to work hard and really change the lives of these young people. They're there on a mission. So, you know, some are going to leave. She then returned to the "last in, first out" question, arguing that perhaps teachers would be less likely to leave if they weren't concerned about being laid off. "Right now there have to be a lot of teachers thinking, 'Maybe I don't have a job next year.' Can we afford to have thousands of teachers think to themselves, 'I have to leave the system now because I may not have a job in a few months?' That's going to be a catastrophe," she said. For years, researchers have asked why teachers leave schools — particularly struggling schools. A 2007 paper by a group studying New York City teachers, the Teacher Pathways Project, summarized the major findings this way: "Teachers are more likely to stay in schools in which student achievement is higher and teachers — especially white teachers — are more likely to stay in schools with higher proportions of white students." "Teachers who score higher on tests of academic achievement are more likely to leave," as are teachers from out of town. Less-qualified teachers are more likely to stay at a school than teachers with higher qualifications, "especially if they teach in low-achieving schools."
January 27, 2011
Black defends closure at school where there's little opposition
As the snow began to fall last night, Chancellor Cathie Black headed to Harlem's I.S. 195 to attend her first public hearing at one of the 25 schools the city wants to shutter. The city has been holding hearings at each of the schools slated for closure all this month in advance of next week's Panel for Educational Policy vote on the plans. At some of the closure hearings, city officials have faced off with angry, passionate crowds protesting the city's plans. Black did not see that anger at last night's meeting, which no parents attended, reported WNYC's Beth Fertig. The bad weather may have discouraged turnout, but the school's chapter leader also told Fertig that the school has struggled with parent involvement and the city's teachers union has not mobilized to challenge the school's closure as it has elsewhere.
January 26, 2011
Closing schools serve students with greater needs, report says
The 25 schools the city is trying to close are low-performing, but their students are among the city's most challenging — and are only getting needier over time. Those are the findings of a report released today by the Independent Budget Office, the city's data watchdog. City officials argue that these low-performing schools should be closed because other schools serve similar student populations with better results. But critics of the closures often counter that the schools were set up to fail after the city sent them comparatively larger numbers of under-prepared, special needs and English language learning students. The report confirms that many of the schools slated for closure have been enrolling increasingly high percentages of the city's most challenging students since 2005. In 10 of the 14 high schools on the closure list, for example, ninth-graders who entered the school in 2009 arrived with lower scores than their predecessors in 2007. The percentage of students entering the schools overage has grown to more than double the citywide average.
January 25, 2011
DOE: Why big schools fail and closure is the cure is unknown
City officials often defend their strategy of replacing large, struggling high schools with smaller ones by arguing that it's the only proven way to boost student achievement in those schools. Today, a top official in the office that supports schools as they phase out said that the reasons for why that strategy works remain a mystery. At a City Council hearing today called to discuss how the Department of Education monitors students in schools as they phase out, officials argued that as schools closing shrink by a grade each year, students receive more individualized support from remaining staff members. Josh Thomases, the Deputy Chief Academic Officer of the DOE's school support division, cited a 2005 New York Times story that described the final years of Morris High School in the Bronx, when students reported receiving more individualized attention as the school shrank. The piece recounts an incident in which a student left school one day, forgetting that she had a second Regents exam to take that afternoon. An attendance teacher was dispatched to pick up the student as she got off the bus near her home.
January 24, 2011
Scenes from three hearings: Jamaica, Columbus and Robeson
Jamaica High School students, teachers and parents cheer a speaker at the school For the past two weeks, education officials have spent nearly every weeknight holding public hearings at each of the 25 district schools the city wants to close next year. Seventeen of the schools are in this for the second go-around, after a union lawsuit foiled the department's attempt to close them last year. As a result, this year's hearings are both formatted differently — part of an attempt to better explain the closure decisions and avoid another lawsuit — and less emotional, despite communities' still-simmering anger and frustration. GothamSchools reporters recently attended three of these hearings. Jamaica High School The group of students, teachers and parents that gathered in Jamaica High School's auditorium was smaller than the large, boisterous crowd that packed last year's hearing. But, as several students pointed out, the school is also smaller this year. After the courts blocked the city from closing Jamaica and 18 other high schools last year, the size of the incoming freshman class shrunk dramatically.
January 18, 2011
Black makes first visit to school targeted for closure in Harlem
For the first time on Friday, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black visited one of the schools she's planning to close. Black spent Friday at I.S. 195, Roberto Clemente, a Harlem middle school that the city is trying to shutter this year. She also visited KIPP Infinity, a high-performing charter middle school located in the same building. The city plans to replace I.S. 195, whose progress report score dropped from a B to a D last year, with a new middle school. According to an internal space planning document (pdf) obtained by the New York Times, the city wants to install a new charter school in the building, possibly a replica of Democracy Prep. I.S. 195 is the first school Black has seen that received anything lower than a C grade. Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Black's appointment in November, she has visited 28 schools, spanning every borough and grade. Of those schools, 11 were given A's in the most recent round of progress reports. Nine of the schools received B grades and five received C's. Since she started visiting schools, Black has fielded questions over whether an itinerary so focused on high-performing schools has given her a realistic view of the challenges facing the school system. On her first official day as chancellor, a city spokeswoman said that while Black had not yet visited any of the city's lowest-rated schools, she planned to. I.S. 195 is also one of about 500 schools that Black announced will receive extra funds to tutor students who failed last year's math and reading tests. Black's visit to the school last week was unrelated to today's announcement, Department of Education spokeswoman Deirdrea Miller said.
December 23, 2010
On his way out, Klein pushes for end to ATR pool, last-in first-out
The final installment of Joel Klein's weekly memo to principals In a nostalgic final missive to city principals this week, outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein suggested three things to do once he's gone. He urged lawmakers to end the last-in first-out process of teacher layoffs, pushed for an end to the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, and underlined his belief in the importance of closing struggling schools. Klein's statement that "we have to eliminate the ATR pool" ratchets up the city's position on the pool of teachers — city teachers who lose their positions, don't find new ones, but stay on the city payroll anyway. Previously, the city has asked the union, in contract negotiations, to add a limit to the amount of time a teacher can spend in the reserve pool. That would make the pool smaller, but it would not cause it to disappear altogether. Describing the costs of keeping those teachers on the city payroll as exceeding $100 million a year, Klein argues: We cannot afford it, and it's wrong to keep paying this money. It amounts to supporting more than a thousand teachers who either don't care to, or can't, find a job, even though our school system hires literally thousands of teachers each year. That's money that could be spent on teachers that we desperately want and need. Klein also describes teacher layoffs as a sure thing. "I wish it were otherwise, but the economics of our state and city make this virtually impossible to avoid," he writes. The Bloomberg administration has a history of being bullish on layoffs in order to push for the end of the state law regulating how teachers lose their jobs. Klein reiterates that case in his letter: If we have layoffs, it's unconscionable to use the last-hired, first-fired rule that currently governs. By definition, such a rule means that quality counts for zero. Our children cannot afford that kind of approach. They need the best teachers, not those who are longest serving. (If you had to have surgery, would you want the longest-serving surgeon or the best one?) This doesn't mean that many of our longest-serving teachers aren't among the best, but this is not an area for "group think." We need individual determinations of teacher effectiveness to decide who stays and who doesn't. Klein also quoted his favorite T.S. Eliot poem, "Little Gidding," excerpting four cryptic lines that seem to summarize his "odyssey" as something more complex than a straight line of a progress: We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time. Other curious lines from the poem: ... Either you had no purpose Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured And is altered in fulfilment. ... Klein has sent a memo to principals every week for years. Read the full letter here and below.
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