Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Closing Time (or, Oops! I Did It Again.)

Yesterday, NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein wrote an op-ed in the New York Post ("Closing Time") outlining the rationale for closing schools in NYC. Klein explained:
Starting in 2002, we began phasing out and shutting down schools that had a history of failure. These decisions...were an acknowledgement that the schools weren't remotely educating students - and that they weren't going to get better on their own.
To demonstrate the success of prior school closings, Klein provides us with the example of Bushwick High School in Brooklyn:
Bushwick HS had a graduation rate of just 23 percent. We replaced it with four new small schools, which now make up what we call the Bushwick campus. Last year, the new schools had a combined graduation rate of nearly 60 percent -almost triple what it once was. The students literally paraded through their neighborhood in June, demonstrating the pride that they feel for their schools and their community.

If the intent of school closings is to clear out the students who previously attended the "failing school," replace them with higher performing students, and declare victory, Bushwick is a marked success.

The tables below compare the incoming 9th grade students at Bushwick High School with the incoming 9th graders at the small schools that took Bushwick's place. Bushwick stopped taking 9th graders through the formal admissions process in September of 2002, but continued receiving "over the counter students" (OTCs)- students who have not been placed in any school, who are transferring, or who arrive in the middle of the year - in the 2003-2004 school year as well. Zoned schools like Bushwick represent combinations of the formal admissions process students and OTC students; while the small schools do receive OTCs, the proportion of the student population comprised by these students is much smaller.

How was the old Bushwick different from the schools that replaced it?
  • The most notable differences include the ELL population and the percentage of students who come into 9th grade proficient in reading and math. Bushwick 9th graders were 30.6% ELL, while in their first year, the new small schools served between 19.5 and 26% ELL. Even more drastically, 83% of the Bushwick OTC kids were ELLs.

  • On most other indicators listed in Table 1 below, the Bushwick 9th graders were lower performing than the 9th graders attending the new small schools. This is particularly true of the Bushwick OTC students.
Table 1. Characteristics of Incoming 9th Graders at Bushwick Campus
(click to enlarge)

  • Though the small schools are supposed to serve more ELLs as they grow, Table 2 below demonstrates that they are actually serving fewer ELLs over time. By September 2005, the small school 9th graders were between 14.8 - 17.5% ELL; recall that Bushwick served 30.6%.
  • Table 2 below shows that the second year classes (04-05) at the Bushwick small schools are significantly more advantaged than the first year classes. (The more disadvantaged population of the first class is a result of the small schools missing the first round of the admissions process in their first year, leaving them to choose from lower achieving students.)

  • While the last Bushwick 9th graders had fewer than 10% of students proficient in both reading and math, the Harbor School had 20.2% proficient in reading and 45.5% in math in 2004; the Academy for Urban Planning 9th graders had 24.1% proficient in reading and 22% in math. Even when the percentage of proficient incoming students drops in 2005, they are still much more likely to be proficient as 9th graders than the Bushwick students were.

    Table 2. Characteristics of Incoming 9th Graders at the Bushwick Campus, September 2004 and 2005

This is an "oops! I did it again" moment for the Department of Education. As I wrote in a previous post, the DOE already made this mistake by declaring victory at Evander Childs in the Bronx.

Can the DOE out-oops Britney? We'll see.


Oona Chatterjee said...

I work for a community organization which has engaged parents and students in organizing around education policy issues for some time. I live in the Bushwick community and care a great deal about the families and young people here.

I do not believe that it is appropriate to downplay the profound impact that the presence of the small schools on the Bushwick campus has had in our community. Our neighborhood has strong graduation rates for the first time in years. Students and their families have the option to choose good schools close to home. The schools demonstrate incontrovertibly that our students can succeed. This is a tremendous boon.

That said, I appreciate much of what you raise. An overall reduction of high school seats in a community is no small issue. In a community where a large zone high school is closed, hundreds of incoming ninth graders, among them some of the most vulnerable of students, will face confusion come September, when they arrive at school and see that there is no space for them. The demands of closing a large high school almost guarantee that staff at the closing school will feel pressure to move students out at a rapid pace, making mistakes in the process that can damage lives.

Ensuring that LEP students and Special Education students are as well-served as other students should be at the top of everyone’s mind. Our small school leadership stretch themselves and their staff members everyday to try to effectively address these issues, and I and the student and parent leaders with whom I work will continue to strive to bring these issues to light, as we have for over five years.

Because of our experience here in Bushwick, however, we will also continue to support the move towards creation of small schools as an important strategy in remedying what ails our school system – and we will praise those who toil in these schools at every opportunity.

The small school reform here in Bushwick, while it does not completely address the dire educational needs in our community, is very much a success -- and to characterize it otherwise is inaccurate and unfair to the students, families, and educators that have brought it about.

Oona Chatterjee
Co-Executive Director
Make the Road New York
(718) 418-7690, x.204

skoolboy said...

I don't think that Eduwonkette's main point is that small schools are bad, for Bushwick or elsewhere. And she's certainly not critical of the staff who work in small schools -- just the DOE officials who have designed a system that is a sophisticated shell game. I think that what she's saying is that these small schools are enrolling different kids than the kids served by the large high schools they're replacing. And this inevitably and appropriately leads to the question, what's happening to the kinds of kids who previously attended a large high school but are not found in the small schools replacing that high school? For Bushwick, these are predominantly ELL, special education and low-achieving kids, who are less likely to be found in the small replacement high schools than they were in Bushwick HS.

eduwonkette said...

Hi Oona,

Thanks for weighing in - skoolboy pretty much summed it up, but to reiterate: my intent was certainly not to disparage the efforts of small schools educators and the partner organizations working with them.

Rather, my point was simply that we can't compare the old and the new graduation rates and declare success as they are very different populations. That does not mean that small schools are not doing a good job with the students they serve; the schools with which I'm most familiar certainly are.

But as skoolboy noted, I do worry about the outcomes of the kinds of kids (lower scoring and ELL) who used to go to Bushwick, and wonder whether they are better off, worse off, or unchanged as a result of these reforms.

all the best,

Rebecca Segall said...

hi there, i run the blog at writopia lab and i tagged you in a meme... a game of blogger tag. www.WritopiaLab.blogspot.com.. you're it! :-)