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UFT.org Home > News > Op-eds & Letters to the Editor > Mayor Bloomberg: Stop closing schools, there’s a better way
Mayor Bloomberg: Stop closing schools, there’s a better way
The Chancellor's District worked, and we can learn from it
by Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew | published July 22, 2012
[This op-ed was originally published in the New York Daily News.]
While the fight over closing schools may be hotter than the weather this summer, the evidence shows that this is not a strategy that works to help all New York City kids get the education they deserve. Yet Mayor Bloomberg has adopted it with a single-mindedness that makes no sense. He has closed more than 140 schools since he took control of the city’s school system in 2002.
Bloomberg’s agenda has disrupted school communities, alienated parents and destabilized neighborhoods. College-readiness rates in the new schools created to replace closing schools are abysmally low, and overall grad rates in these new schools have actually been falling, even as overall grad rates remained flat.
Instead of closing schools, there is a better and more effective intervention to turn them around.
The Chancellor’s District was an innovative program involving nearly 60 schools that flourished from 1996 to 2003 under a joint agreement between then-Chancellor Rudy Crew and the UFT. It’s an approach we can use in the 24 schools that are now the subject of litigation between the Department of Education and the principals’ and teachers’ unions over how they will be staffed.
Schools in the Chancellor’s District were given a fiscal shot in the arm — spending an average of $2,700 more per student than at comparable schools. That extra money was well spent, on an intensive and cutting-edge literacy curriculum to bring students up to speed, additional teachers to help lower class sizes, academic after-school and summer programs to get struggling students the extra help they needed and school-based professional development that helped teachers to constantly improve their skills.
The results were clear: In the three school years studied in a comprehensive report, the portion of students meeting standards on the statewide fourth-grade reading test rose 17.7 percentage points, while scores in other struggling schools rose 11.9 percentage points.
When negotiating the Chancellor’s District agreement, Crew and the UFT knew that real accountability meant supporting schools so they can get better, not just standing by while they struggle and fail. To his credit, Mayor Rudy Giuliani agreed with this approach and funded it.
With mayoral control, Bloomberg has direct authority over the entire school system, not just a handful of schools — but he has taken none of the responsibility for their results. By failing to do so, he has missed an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of all our students and school communities.
In the days of the Chancellor’s District, schools entered the district in June and were ready with new programs in place by September. There is no reason we cannot enact a similar, fast-track transformation — using federal dollars — in the 24 struggling schools whose fates now hang in the balance.
The only difference between that time and today is collaboration. At that time, when we needed to fix schools, we stood together to do it: the mayor, the chancellor, the Board of Education, the State Education Department and the UFT.
We are ready to work with the mayor and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to fix, not close, our struggling schools, including taking part in real negotiations to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations. We know we can transform those schools — but first we need the city to transform its approach to them.
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