News stories

Mayor would close schools that are making progress

Threat against 33 in federal program targets many unfairly

Mayor Bloomberg’s surprise move to close down 33 “persistently lowest-achieving” schools has swept up schools that are already making substantial progress.

It would also close schools that are confronting problems not of their own making. All but a handful were in a federally funded school improvement program that was in its first of three years.

But rather than allowing these schools the opportunity to succeed, the mayor has threatened to close them in a drastic “turnaround” model that will remove the principal and half the staff in each school.

“Having failed to provide these schools with the resources and supports they needed to improve, Mayor Bloomberg and the DOE have now taken them hostage, threatening their closure to advance the mayor’s political agenda,” said UFT Vice President Leo Casey. “When Bloomberg was elected, New Yorkers entrusted the care of our schools and our children to him. He has rewarded that trust with a cynical, unprincipled power play.”

The mayor made his threat in his State of the City speech on Jan. 12 after the UFT insisted in negotiations that the new teacher evaluation system in 33 restart and transformation schools allow a teacher rated “ineffective” to appeal that rating to a neutral arbiter.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said union negotiators had been working for months to craft a solid evaluation system for the 33 schools, a system that is widely expected to set the parameters for the citywide evaluation system. “Unfortunately, now I know the full meaning of the phrase ‘no good deed goes unpunished,’” he told state legislators at a budget hearing on Jan 23.

Maxwell HS in Brooklyn — one of the 33 schools — received an A on its latest report card, up from a B the previous year and a D the year before that. Yet that steady progress on the DOE’s own barometer of success did not earn the school a reprieve.

Six more of the 33 schools got Bs on their most recent report cards: Brooklyn School for Global Studies, Cobble Hill School for American Studies, Franklin Delano Roosevelt HS, William E. Grady Career and Technical Education HS, and IS 136 Charles O. Dewey, all in Brooklyn; and Harlem Renaissance HS in Manhattan.

Other schools on the mayor’s new hit list confront extenuating circumstances that were not considered when the mayor made his sweeping threat.

Long Island City HS in Queens shuttled through three different principals in three years. The administration mismanaged the academic program so completely at the school that student schedules had to be overhauled three months into the school year, forcing some students to essentially start the year over.

Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in the Bronx endured three difficult years under a principal who was accused of engaging in sexual harassment of his staff. The school finally got a new principal in September, who began working with the staff to turn the building around.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing examples is Bushwick Community HS, a transfer school that gets just a couple of years to help previously unsuccessful students pass five Regents exams and earn 40 credits.

The school opened in 2004 with a mission of serving students no other high schools would enroll. Unlike most transfer schools, which require students to have earned some credits in other high schools, Bushwick enrolls any student 17 or older who comes through the doors.

Given its mission, says chapter leader David Donsky, its low graduation rate is a given. “Most of our students come with less than 15 credits,” he said. “It’s mathematically impossible for them to graduate on time.”

Understanding its special circumstances, and impressed with its staff, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch has intervened to help keep the school open.

In a letter to Bloomberg, quoted in Gothamschools.org, Bushwick teachers wrote, “BCHS’s placement on the PLA list is the illogical conclusion of a crude, one-size-fits all accountability system. As a transfer school, BCHS is designed to be part of the solution for struggling students in the city, but the current accountability metrics punish us for working with our students, while allowing the source of their failures to go undetected.”

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