News stories

DOE overwhelmed struggling schools with high-needs kids, report shows

The Department of Education systematically overloaded struggling high schools with high-needs “over-the-counter” students who had not participated in the high school choice process, “accelerating a downward spiral toward closure,” a new report finds.

According to the report issued on Oct. 10 by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, every year between 2008 and 2011 the DOE disproportionately assigned these late-enrolling students — including many new immigrants, special-needs students, previously incarcerated teens, transient or homeless students, over-age students and students with histories of problematic behavior at other schools — to high schools that already had high concentrations of low-performing students, English language learners and dropouts.

“This new research confirms what we have known all along: that the Department of Education set these schools up to fail,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “It is failure by design.”

In 2011, the report shows, 20 percent of the students in large, low-performing high schools enrolled over the counter, compared to 12 percent at better-performing large high schools. For instance, 31 percent of the students at now-closing Jamaica HS in Queens between 2008 and 2011 enrolled late, compared to only 3 percent of the students at high-performing Midwood HS, also in Queens.

Schools targeted for closure or already being phased out were similarly swamped with a disproportionate number of late-enrolling students. When Christopher Columbus HS and John F. Kennedy HS, both in the Bronx, began the process of closing in 2011, 37 percent of the student body at Columbus HS and 29 percent at Kennedy HS were comprised of over-the-counter students, according to the report.

The policy didn’t just affect large schools, however. A disproportionate number of over-the-counter students — 20 percent — were assigned to struggling middle-sized high schools in 2011, while 11 percent were assigned to comparably sized better-performing schools.

Columbus HS teacher and UFT Teacher Center staffer Christine Rowland described the lines of late-enrolling students and their parents that would crowd the halls outside the school counselor’s office on the first day of school, anxious to begin the admissions process.

“Columbus bravely attempted to serve these students by establishing a number of specially designed support programs to meet their needs,” she said. “We were willing and found a way to work with them and their families, but were nevertheless penalized if they were unable to meet the same performance targets as all other students.”

Mary Mazzoni, the chapter leader at Kennedy HS, expressed her frustration that the mayor’s trademark small schools were allowed to “skim off the top” while large, struggling schools like hers were used as “dumping grounds” for high-needs students.

“We were sent English language learners and Level 1 and 2 students but were given very little support,” she said.

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Related topics: struggling schools
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