Sunday, February 11, 2018

School Scope: PS/MS 42 Closing Drama – NAACP Jumps into the Fray

I wrote both of these pieces for the Feb. 9 edition of The Wave. I went on the bus with the PS 42 people going to the NAACP press conference Thursday afternoon. They had a spirited group rally in front. A UFT official from the Queens office showed up and somehow we got invited to go in as there as a monthly meeting of the boro pres education advisory council taking place at 6. So the press conf never did take place and will instead take place this Tuesday (Feb. 13) at 5PM at the school before the 6 PM hearing.

As part of the CASCADE group to fight closing schools, we have been attending hearings and offering support. The UFT has shown some activity - Leroy Barr came to PS 42 on Thursday and is supposedly coming to speak on Tuesday - and probably Amy Arundel and others from the Queens office will be there. I can raise issues about what the UFT is not doing but will leave that alone pending the outcome --- there is hope they can play a role in saving the school. If they do I will praise them to the sky.

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School Scope:  PS/MS 42 Closing Drama – NAACP Jumps into the Fray
By Norm Scott

Last week I pointed to the political, not educational, irrationality of closing schools that are viewed to be performing poorly. In this follow up I hope to demonstrate there are other factors than mere educational performance behind the decision to close PS/MS 42. I’m writing this on Feb. 6 so I can’t report on the outcome of the NAACP press conference at Queens Borough Hall on Feb. 8 at 5PM. A bus is leaving from the school at 3:15. Email rvernam66@yahoo.com to reserve a seat. And come to the hearing at the school on Tuesday, Feb. 13. There will be food at 5PM and sign-up to speak at 5:30.  It should be some evening, better than the political battles on cable TV. PS 42/MS 42 community vs. the DOE --- more exciting than the Super Bowl.


As I get dragged into some of the sad stories of these closings I’m pulled off my couch to do a little digging. I get a headache from trying to read Department of Education (DOE) data, so I called on parent activist supreme Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters to do a little digging. In her view the closing of PS/MS 42 is completely unfair based on the data and suggests there must be other reasons. And never discount the role race plays in these decisions. Black students make up 72% of the population, Hispanics 23%. Do black and brown lives matter when such a drastic action as closing a neighborhood school are taken?


The numbers show that most of the students at PS 42 come from some of the most difficult situations, with 82% meeting the DOE’s economic needs index vs. 61% citywide (public assistance, free lunch and possibly homeless), 29% classified as disabled vs 19% citywide, and 14% self-contained (special ed) vs 4% citywide. Self-contained classes are known as 12:1:1 – a maximum of 12 students with a teacher and para. My school had many 12:1:1 classes and they are extremely difficult to teach and also very expensive. Knowing how the DOE tries to avoid spending money I would bet there are more kids who could be in this category who are in regular classes.

So the performance of the school is related to the situations of the students and their families, as test scores absolutely correlate to family income. Closing the school puts the blame on the staff. Now we recognize that even schools with students in difficult circumstances can improve, though many educators do not believe schools should be judged by numbers alone.

The DOE claims it doesn’t compare apples to oranges, i.e. expecting PS/MS 42 to perform as well as PS/MS 114 or schools like Scholars Academy. Supposedly schools with equivalent demographics are looked at and if the school performs at a lower level than their cohort then closing is considered.  So let’s take a look at the cohort and see how they do as well or better than schools that are not being closed. Let’s look at the numbers since the Renewal school program began and resources were supposedly thrown into the school. In fact these “resources” involve consultants and often useless professional development instead of the kinds of resources like lowering class size that would make a real difference.

On the ELA the school went from 6% in 2015 to 16% in 2017 almost triple over 2 years. It is still low but given the school population this is major improvement. And the cohort with which it is compared is also at 16% so they met their target. At that rate of improvement, by the end of this year they would over 20% by this June. In math they went from 5% to 11% and their cohort is at 12% - so just one percentage point short. On attendance they rose from 52 to 54%, short of the comparison group at 58% but not outrageously short. The numbers are close enough to not disrupt an entire school community. The city average on the ELA is 41% and on math is 39%. Given the demographics of the school, in the real world, the numbers will never get there unless the school begins to gentrify, which is the game behind many school closings: replace the students to make the numbers look better. You can see the numbers at: https://tools.nycenet.edu/dashboard/#dbn=27Q042&report_type=EMS&view=City

There are three legs to a school. Administration, teachers, students/parents. The DOE can easily change the administration without closing a school. But the DOE cannot rid an entire school of teachers, especially when there are many experienced teachers making a high salary. Under the de Blasio and Farina administrations the tactic to dump high priced teachers has been to send in a principal as a hit person to ravage the staff by going after teachers and creating a hostile atmosphere. From all accounts the current administration has not done that and possibly that has pissed some people off. On to Plan B: Close the  school and dump admins and teachers.

The other leg, the students and parents, are not so easy to get rid of, especially in a zoned school which must serve the neighborhood. Next week we look at the possible games being played with zoning. If the DOE is not trying to dump the kids, then why not offer every kid a seat at the replacement school? Read this little segment from the “The concurrent proposals to open a new elementary and middle school are contingent on this proposal to close P.S./M.S. 42 as they will occupy space vacated by PS/MS 42; however, this proposal for the closure of PS/MS 42 is not contingent on the proposals involving the new district elementary and middle schools.” Legally, should it be?

Leonie Haimson comments in an email:
“The main legal problem is that though they seem to be opening up a new zoned elementary school and a new zoned middle school to take the place of PS/MS 42, they also say that the closing of the school is not dependent on the latter two proposals taking place -- which it should be, because then you are eliminating zoned schools, essentially eliminating/changing zoning lines which should take a vote of the CEC.  The other issue is that they do not seem to promising seats in the new zoned schools for the existing students in the school -- which they should be for all zoned students.”

That the DOE is using some fuzzy language around this issue is cause for suspicion. You can read more DOE gobbledygook about all school closings at:
 http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/leadership/PEP/publicnotice/2017-2018/February282018SchoolProposals

Next week I will report on my conversation with CEC 27 president Wendy Pratt and also on the outcome of the NAACP press conference but the Feb. 13 meeting report will be past my deadline, though The WAVE may send a real reporter to cover.

Norm tosses around gobbledygook every day at ednotesoline.com


For The Beachcomber section of The WAVE:
On Thursday, February 8, the NAACP and parents, teachers and students from the PS/IS 42 community are holding a press conference at Queens Borough Hall to send a message that the school must remain open to local politicians like borough president Melinda Katz who has not yet committed to supporting the school. Borough Presidents appoint one member of the 13 member Panel for Educational Policy which will vote on the closing at its February 28th meeting at Murry Bergtraum Campus in lower Manhattan. Katz appointed Deborah Dillingham (DDillingham@schools.nyc.gov) as the Queens rep and people will be watching how she votes. Her bio says she has many years advocating for advocating for students, parents, and schools. A former D28, neighbor to our own D27, Community Education Council President, she should know very well how the DOE has ignored the parents and community, as many people from a variety of CECs speak up at PEP meetings decrying the arrogance and outright lying emanating from the DOE. Dillingham was a witness at the last PEP and one would hope she would truly advocate for students, parents and schools by speaking up. What the community would want her to do is join with all the local pols representing Rockaway who support the school and lobby her fellows on the PEP to vote down the closing.

Here are PEP members' emails if you want to share.
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Peter Calandrella - Staten Island Representative
Email: PCalandrella@schools.nyc.gov

Isaac Carmignani
Email :ICarmignani@schools.nyc.gov

Geneal Chacon - Bronx Representative
Email: GChacon@schools.nyc.gov

April Chapman - Brooklyn Representative
Email: AChapman7@schools.nyc.gov

T. Elzora Cleveland
Email: ECleveland@schools.nyc.gov

Deborah Dillingham - Queens Representative
Email: DDillingham@schools.nyc.gov

Michael Kraft - Manhattan Representative
Email: MKraft2@schools.nyc.gov

Vanessa Leung - Panel for Educational Policy Chair
Email: VLeung@schools.nyc.gov

Gary Linnen
Email: GLinnen@schools.nyc.gov

Lori Podvesker - Panel for Educational Policy Vice Chair
Email: LPodvesker@schools.nyc.gov

Ben Shuldiner
Email: BShuldiner@schools.nyc.gov

D. Miguelina Zorilla-Aristy
Email: MZorillaAristy@schools.nyc.gov

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