Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Closing Large High Schools

From Leonie Haimson listserve:

The Comptroller has received several calls from other elected officials concerned about the closings of these schools. We are interested in finding out if anyone can tell me if the DOE did any outreach at all to parents or the effected communities prior to making this decision….and if they have any plans do so now with respect to the next steps they will take re: the creation of new schools/programs at these site.

Comments from Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters on Dec. 12:

The pattern that we have repeatedly seen of closing failing large high schools down and opening up new small schools in their place sounds good; but in the end, it often hurts rather than helps our neediest students, leading to even higher discharge and dropout rates.

For example, Tilden HS has 300 special ed students and at least 300 ELL students, many of them sent there originally because other large high schools nearby were closed in recent years, like Bushwick, Prospect Park, Wingate and others.

Why? As we know from recent reports from the CCHS, Immigration Coalition and NY Lawyers for Public Interest, most of the ELL and special ed students will be excluded from whatever new small schools are formed in their place.

When a school is being phased out, no one cares about the students who still go there – they no longer count in terms of any accountability system. This may be one of the reasons we’ve seen a steady increase in discharged students over the last four years. In many cases, these students are denied the classes they need to graduate, even if these same courses are being given at the small schools opening up in the same building.

If they don’t manage to graduate in the few years that their original school continues to exist – and many won’t – most of the lowest-performing students will be discharged to “alternative” or GED programs, or transferred to other large high schools. These schools in turn will likely become even more overcrowded than before – and in many cases, destabilized.

In either case, many of the students at the schools that are were announced today as closing will likely end up as dropout statistics, or even worse, if “discharged” they will be expunged from existence, and not even counted as dropouts.

Today I spoke to a teacher at Tilden HS, one of the schools being closed down; he told me that school has never been given the resources or programs it needed to improve. He has many ELL classes that have 30 students or more – classes that should be no larger than 20.

Four of these five schools also had principals who graduated from the Leadership Academy. What this shows is that leadership alone does not help, unless classroom conditions are also addressed.
Until this administration has a plan to improve opportunities for all our students, including providing them smaller classes no matter where they go to school, we will continue on in this cycle of failure, far into the future.

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