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A Case of Educational Injustice

PS 194, the Countee Cullen School, is nestled in the heart of Harlem in Community School District Five, one of the poorer districts in New York City. On a Tuesday evening a few weeks ago, it was the scene of a tense hearing. The full school auditorium was fiercely divided into two camps — on the one side, parents of PS 194 students fighting to keep their neighborhood school open, and on the other side, Eva Moskowitz and her supporters demanding that the entire building be turned over to her Harlem Success Academies.

Behind that conflict was the New York City Department of Education — and not just because it was the DOE which was planning to replace PS 194 entirely with one of Moskowitz’s schools. There is a long and sordid record of DOE neglect and underfunding of PS 194 — it had one of the largest class sizes in CSD 5 and on average 7 more students per class than Moskowitz’s schools — and of the imposition of a series of ineffectual principals — five over the last five years. Yet despite all that, PS 194 was a school that had met its Annual Yearly Progress Benchmarks under No Child Left Behind and was in good standing with the New York State Education Department until last school year. And still the DOE has decided to close it down based solely on the school’s failing grade on the city’s School Progress Reports. One can not help but wonder if that is a decision being made not on academic merit, but out of a desire to create new space for the schools of a politically powerful former city councilwoman.

On Tuesday of this week, parents of students from PS 194, together with parents of students from two other New York City public schools — PS 241 in Harlem and PS 150 in Ocean Hill-Brownsville — joined representatives of the Community Education Councils for those schools, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the UFT in filing suit against the Department of Education over its plans to close all three schools and replace them entirely with charter schools. The law suit charges that by closing these three schools and not replacing them with new district schools, the DOE is illegally eliminating the school attendance zone for the three schools. All zoning changes must, by statute, go through the Community Education Councils for the district.

PS 194, PS 241 and PS 150 have a few things in common. First, they serve a significantly poorer student body than the rest of their district and the city as a whole — one of the schools, PS 150, has 97% of its students receiving free lunches. Second, they have significant numbers of English Language Learners in their student population — one of the schools has as many as 1 in 5 students in that category. And lastly, two of the three schools —PS 150 as well as PS 194 — were meeting their Annual Yearly Benchmarks under No Child Left and were in good standing with the State Education Department through 07-08. The third school — PS 241 — went from a ‘B’ on its NYC School Progress Report last year to a ‘D’ this year, meaning that the decision to close it was based on a single year’s drop in test scores.

These schools and their neighborhoods need additional supports and resources, not the abolition of the neighborhood school.

And how do these schools compare to the charter schools which will replace them? We compare them in the chart below. For the school year 2006-2007 [the latest period for which there is published data], the two charter school brands slated to occupy these buildings ran 4 schools serving 584 students. Only 52% of their students received free lunches; they had enrolled NO English Language Learners; and they had an average class size of 24 students. The three neighborhood schools slated for closure served 1290 students. 84% of those students received free lunch and 11% were English Language Learners. The average class size in the neighborhood schools was over 25.

Who will now serve the students of PS 194, PS 241 and PS 150?

Institution Enrollment Average Class Size Free Or Reduced Lunch English Language Learner
PS 194 338 31 66% 9%
PS 241 402 23 71% 18%
PS 150 550 22 97% 7%
Excellence Charter School Of Bedford-Stuyvesant 173 20 34% 0%
Harlem Success Academy Charter School 156 24 65% 0%
Leadership Preparatory Charter School 116 29 49% 0%
Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School 139   63% 0%
Closing Schools Average/Totals

1290 25.33 81% 11%
Brands Moving in Averages/Totals 584 24.33 52% 0%
Difference 706 1 29% 11%

Data is from the NYS 2006-2007 report cards, the most recently published.