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Archive for the ‘Small Schools’ Category

Make the Case by Walking

Who briefs Joel Klein over at DOE?

Because what he told NY1 TV’s Mike Scotto on “Inside City Hall” Monday about the 19 closing schools was, “Nobody could make a good case why these schools shouldn’t be closed.”

Has he been away? His deputy chancellors, John White, Santi Taveras and Kathleen Grimm, chaired 20 public hearings over the last two months where parents, teachers and support staff, CEC leaders, Council members, Assembly representatives, grandmothers, local business leaders, students, graduates, principals and advocates testified on why most of the schools on the list should not close. Did the deputies not report back? More »

Graduation Rates Are Up, But That Could Change

On Monday the city learned that its on-time graduation rate rose to 66 percent, its highest level in at least 20 years. By the more stringent state counting method. the city graduated 56.4 percent of its Class of 2008 on time, a 10-year high at least. Either way, it’s pretty significant.

By now, the good news bandwagon has actually gotten a little repetitive.  (And the Mayor’s use of test score and graduation rate gains to flay opponents of mayoral control has gotten a little much.)  But the graduation rates are based on four years of coursework as well as five exit exams, so those gains should truly be celebrated. More »

Class Size Counts

Immediately before the holiday break, the New York City Department of Education published for the first time class size data for all NYC public schools. The data is far from complete: on the high school level, for example, it includes only classes in the four major subject areas [Social Studies, English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science]. There are also indications that it is not entirely accurate; some schools, it appears, took inclusion team teaching classes and reported them as two separate classes, one of general education students and one of special education students — even though they were instructed explicitly that they should not do that.

Yet even within these limitations, the data tells some very interesting stories. More »

The Civic Purposes of Public Schools And The UFT’s Support For Khalil Gibran International Academy

In an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times, our friend Rick Kahlenberg reflects on the controversy over the Kahlil Gibran International Academy [KGIA]. The task of public schools, he argues, is to teach what it means to be an American. Citing the authority of Al Shanker, he suggests that a dual language school such as KGIA, with a special curricular focus on a second language and its associated culture, would be more inclined to adopt an uncritical approach to that particular experience. Further, with its special focus on the particular culture, it would be more apt to neglect the teaching of what we Americans have in common.

We agree with Kahlenberg — and Shanker — that the preeminent purpose of public schools is the education of the next generation of American citizenry. But we do not believe that dual language schools have proven to be any more susceptible to failure at this task than other public schools with different curricular themes and foci, from enterpeneurship and math to social justice and core knowledge. Every public school faces the challenge of teaching students how to think critically, about their own particular history and culture, about the larger American cultural mosaic and its historical evolution, and about our place in world history and culture. Every public school has to figure out how to focus its teaching on our common national purpose — what we Americans hold in common that is the foundation of our collective well-being. More »

Credit Recovery: A Valid Approach to Credit Accumulation or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?

With ink on Regents Exams still wet Chancellor Klein announced 70% graduation rates in the 2007 small high school graduating cohort. The New York Times reported on the press conference pointing out the lower percentage of English Language Learners (aka ESL) and Special Education students in the graduating classes.

With cohorts of less than a hundred students, substantial grants from the Gates Foundation and “coaching/mentoring” from the intermediary organizations that the support the schools (i.e., New Visions for Public Schools, the Urban Assembly, International Partnership Foundation, etc.) one would hope that the schools are doing well. Whether these gains can be sustained when the grants and the intermediary organizations are no longer connected to the schools is the key question. More »

Bill Gates Discovers Education’s “Invisible Man”

“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids,” the narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man proclaims. “I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

In education, teachers, parents and community organizations often feel like the narrator of Ellison’s great novel — made invisible, simply because the power brokers and educrats refuse to see us.

There is an interesting admission of this problem in the Time Magazine cameo essay on Bill Gates, written on the occasion of his commencement address to the school from which he dropped out thirty years ago, Harvard.

The essay recounts how Gates, in classic technocratic fashion, views social change much like the process of engineering computer software. What’s tough about the work of social engineering, he concedes, is that the people involved refuse to be ‘invisible men': they demand a full voice in change which involves them. More »

Tales of Two Schools, Large and Small

When the initial cohort of fifteen new small high schools started under Children First graduated their first class last June, Chancellor Joel Klein made a point not only of praising the work of these schools, but of making invidious comparisons with the large, comprehensive schools they were replacing. To hear the Chancellor, the contrast could not be starker: the new small schools are the crown jewels of Children First, complete academic successes; the established large comprehensive schools they are replacing are symbols of a failed educational past. For Klein, these are the best of schools and the worst of schools.

In an era of evidence based educational reform, we thought it would be an interesting experiment to put Klein’s Manichean worldview of New York City high schools to an empirical test. Using data from the latest published School Report Cards available at the Department of Education’s own web site, we did side-by-side comparisons of new small schools and the large comprehensive high schools in the buildings where the new small schools had been sited. Five such pairings can be constructed from the available data: the small Bronx Aerospace and the large Evander Childs HS; the small Bronx Guild and the large Adlai Stevenson HS; the small HS for Teaching and the Professions and the large Walton HS; the small Marble Hill HS and the large John F. Kennedy HS; and the small Pelham Prep and the large Columbus HS. The DOE does not provide a school report card for the last year of schools which have completed phasing out, so we were unable to make the same comparisons with regard to the new small schools placed in the South Bronx HS and Morris HS buildings. Nonetheless, this sampling is a large portion of the universe, and the trends are virtually identical in each particular instance. Data tables for each of these pairings are found at the end of this posting. More »

Closing a “Proficient” School:Who is Failing, Klein or Tilden?

The Department of Ed has announced the closing of five high schools, two small schools in Manhattan and three large high schools in Brooklyn.

The NYSun reports that one of schools slated for closing, Tilden High School, has been designated as “proficient” by the Department as part of the School Quality Review process. So, on one hand the Brits who are visiting and evaluating schools find Tilden “proficient,” and the denizens at Tweed decide to empty out the building.

Tilden is clearly a struggling school.

The School Report Card reports that student suspension rates are far above the average for similar schools: 163% for 2004 and 261% for 2005. Average daily attendance to date is 64%.

On the other hand the Department sends students well below standard: 50.1% of the 2005 entering class were overage and only 15.2% of the entering class met ELA standards and 16.5% Math standards. 14% of the students are Special Education.

Most disturbing is the school received $2,739 less per pupil than similar schools.

I don’t know whether Tilden should be closed. The Principal, in her second year is popular among the staff and students.

Klein is quick to laud some of the new small high schools. He raves about Bronx Aerospace – a small Empowerment High School in the Bronx. The School Report Card reports that only 17.4% enter the school overaged, 27.2% enter having met ELA standards and 38.1% Math standards. In addition the small high schools that are part of the Gates funded New Century High School project receive $1,000 per student in additional funding each of their first four years and substantial professional and operation support from the “intermediaries,” the not-for-profits who are the recipients of the Gates funding.

This is not a plea to keep Tilden open – I don’t really know enough – I do know when you send extremely needy kids to a school, and underfund the school you have created a recipe for failure.

Will the hundreds of small high schools survive and prosper as the years go by? What will happen when the Gates dollars end? Will Empowerment Schools have the capacity to meet the needs of their student and staffs? Especially with almost no external supports?

When Klein’s intellectual beau, Sir Michael Barber, addressed prospective Empowerment Principals last spring he urged Klein to make changes as rapidly as possible, and to make them “irrevocable.”

I don’t see a galaxy of 400 small high schools, divided into networks and “managed,” under performance contracts, by a revolving array of “educational management organizations” as the kind of “irrevocable” change that will benefit public children.

What I do see is a growing coalition: parents, teachers, unions, community activists and elected officials who question the “fad of the moment,” who question “experimenting” with the educational future of their children.

Nibbling at the Toes of the Emperor: High School Admissions Policy

If you wanted to fill a school auditorium for a parent meeting, just put “zoning” on the agenda. For parents the ideal zoning would be Pre-K through Medical School in the same building, about three blocks from their house.The NYTimes reports on how a coalition of City Council members derailed a plan to build an educational campus that included small high schools, in the Mott Haven section in the Bronx.

The imperial Bloomberg/Klein administration doesn’t take the time to “create” policies with input from all stakeholders. They “rule” by ukase and determined, focused press campaigns. The Klein High School Admissions program is a prime example.

In the seventies the BOE created a complex high school zoning pattern. Neighborhood schools could create educational option programs, basically schools within schools to attract youngsters from outside of their zones. Other schools also created theme programs to keep students who lived within their zones. It turned into an entrepreneurial system: some schools did it well and received thousands of applicants while others attracted few applicants.

Unfortunately it was a “leaky” system, the BOE didn’t monitor it closely, “deals” were made, and, High School Superintendents were allowed to “dump” low achieving and/or discipline problems into “less favored” schools.

We now have 200 small high schools with another 200 in the pipeline. The encyclopedic High School Directory is virtually incomprehensible. The High School Fairs are bazaars with each school flacking it’s wares.

The Klein High School admissions system is based on the premise that kids should be able to chose the school that they want to attend: a noble goal, however, there is no advantage to local parents. The system does allow parents to “rank” schools, however, the plan is a lottery. If you live across the street from a school you have no advantage, you have to take your chances with everyone else. The small high schools are limited to entering classes of 100 students.

If a parent calls their local City Council person and asks whether they can help them to get into a local school the answer they get is: “The DOE doesn’t acknowledge the existence of local legislators.”

The new admissions plan could have carved out seats for local kids, but the plutocracy at Tweed knows better, and, they are deaf to the lessons of history.

When Morrow high School opened after over a decade of parent advocacy the school had a creative three-tiered zoning plan. Kids who lived in a small area around the school had first priority, the school district that surrounded the school had the next priority and then kids from the borough. It was the result of many meetings with the stakeholder community and was accepted by all the “players.”

Democracy is a lengthy and ofttimes fractious process, (I can show you my scars!) but it’s worth the effort. Crafting policy from the bottom up builds constituency. For Tweed it’s a lot easier to hire “experts,” aka consultants, and release the “policy” with fanfare and a well designed public relations campaign.

The anger is bubbling in homes around the city. Parents are increasingly angry. Elected officials are tired about being “taken for granted.”

It will be fascinating to see whether the emperor realizes that for many parents, he has no clothes.

Well Worth Reading… [Updated]

Over at the Gotham Gazette, there is a rather interesting and thoughtful discussion of large schools and small schools, featuring New York Times education writer Samuel G. Freedman and Jessica Siegel, the New York City English high school teacher who was the main protagonist in Freedman’s award winning book Small Victories.

Freedman, who says he is not a “doctrinaire opponent” of small schools, makes some of the same criticisms the UFT and Edwize [see here and here] have made of the DOE’s implementation of the small schools initiative.

There was an earlier generation of small schools that were created with a lot more deliberation, they were opened a lot more gradually, they had a much more thought-through pedagogical center or core academic area. It’s not surprising that they have been successful.

The problem is that you have this tail of this big grant from the Gates Foundation wagging this policy dog at the Department of Ed. Because Gates has a big priority to start small schools, the Department of Education is jumpstarting 50 a year, year after year. It’s just impossible to have quality opening up schools in that kind of frenetic way.

Siegel has many valuable things to say about education generally from the perspective of a classroom teacher, including the paramount importance of small classes.

In Saturday’s New York Times, Steven Greenhouse has a good piece on the business offensive against ‘card check’ union recognition, now that they have figured out that it does not provide them the opportunities to deny the right to organize and bargain collectively they enjoy under labor law and a NLRB with an overwhelming anti-worker bias.

And this post at the Daily Kos, Reflections on a Four Year Strike, is a heart rending story of a coal mine company’s campaign to bust a union, and the four year strike that followed, from the point of view of a daughter of a leading union miner.



And here’s one that just came in which will put quite a few noses out of joint in the highly politicized and deeply ideological world of private ‘think tanks’ which publish reports on educational policy issues. The Educational Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University has inaugurated a Think Tank Review Project which will review, from the viewpoint of the quality of social science, such reports. The first three reports are out, a University of Illinois Professor Christopher Lubienski review of a Cato Institue report on vouchers in Washington D.C. schools; a University of Colorado Professor Ed Wiley review of a Manhattan Institute report on Florida’s program to end social promotion; and a University of Vermont Adjunct Professor William Mathis review of a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute report on the achievement gap in Wisconsin’s high schools. Read the reviews: the examples of poor social science they expose are quite revealing.

Look for some push back on this issue. Outfits like the Cato Institute and the Manhattan Institute have a greal deal invested in having the conclusions of their reports taken at face value, and they will not go down without a fight.

How the DoE Misuses Statistics to Deceive About Small Schools

Jonathan Halabi is a chapter leader in a small high school in the Bronx.

In a February 1 press release the DoE announced that they are creating three dozen more small schools next year. This will make 185 small schools created in New York City from September 2002 – September 2006. Most of these have been high schools, while others are middle schools or 6 – 12.

The DoE includes numbers to support the claim that small high schools are better than large ones. Their numbers are intended to deceive. Here they are:


New Small Schools

2004-05 Average

Citywide 2004-05 Average

Attendance Rate



Promotion Rate (9th Grade)



Student Demographics (9th Grade)

(% African-American and Hispanic)



Percentage of students performing below grade level in math and English

(9th Grade)



Source: Data from DOE student statistics

1. Is attendance really better?

None of the new small schools in 2004-05 had a 12th grade. Many did not have an 11th grade. And the ones that were new last year did not have a 10th grade. So they are comparing a mix that is probably 50% 9th graders, 33% 10th graders, 17% 11th graders and 0% 12th graders (50/33/17/0) to a mix that is 25/25/25/25 (by age, not credits).

I know, you know, and the people who made this chart know (they have to know, don’t they?) that attendance for 9th graders is always higher than attendance for older students. In fact, if all they can find is an 8 point jump in attendance, there probably is no real improvement at all. Let them compare 9th graders to 9th graders and tell us the truth.

Am I really claiming that small school attendance is not better than large school attendance? No. Small schools throughout the country have shown improved attendance over large schools But there is something screwy in NYC. In NYC there is no evidence for better attendance in the new small schools. It is a wonder they don’t hide this data. NYC might be the only school system in the country that has failed to increase attendance through moving to smaller schools.

2. But the promotion rates, aren’t they better?

It might look that way; they are only comparing 9th graders to 9th graders. Shouldn’t these be more honest numbers?

Not really. If a school has 125 students, all 9th graders, and no one else, they will concentrate on promoting those kids. Administration resources are not directed to graduation requirements, not to passing regents, not to working papers, not to drop outs, GEDs, alternative programs. The school’s business in its first year is to move kids from grade 9 to grade 10.

Why not compare small schools with all four grades to larger schools? Because the gap will disappear, and the purpose of this chart is to promote the idea that new small schools are better, whether or not the evidence supports that idea.

3. At least the small schools are directing services to minority kids, right?

This distortion is especially disgusting. They foisted small schools, mostly, on minority populations. New schools don’t reach out to minority kids – minority kids are the ones whose high schools have been attacked, overcrowded, and now broken up by Klein. They have no choice. If new small schools are so great, so much better than large schools, how come they are not breaking up….[fill in the blank with a majority white school] ?


The emergence of such a large number of schools in such a short period raises many serious issues for teachers and students. Too many schools set up too rapidly, in conditions of overcrowding, have set school against school and teacher against teacher; instead of collaboration we are forced to compete for scant resources, especially space.

There is room in our system for a variety of kinds of schools. There is a need for a mix of small and large schools. But there is also a need for care as we institute changes which affect children. The DoE has not shown the necessary attention to detail, the necessary level of care. Instead, they continue to open new small schools without evaluating how effective their models have been. They do not collect and analyze meaningful data about their own performance.

Teachers, both in large schools and in small, through our union, the UFT, should together join with parents and students in holding the DoE accountable for the policies it implements. If their policy today is to open as many small schools as possible as quickly as possible, without regard to their long-term viability, to the effect on the remaining large schools, or their overall impact on the quality of education in New York, then someone has to tell the truth. We must tell the DoE that they are wrong. We must tell parents and students what is being done to them. And if the DoE tries to use statistics to deceive, we must not look away. Someone must tell the truth.

It’s Not Large v. Small Schools, It’s the Survival of Public Education.

Remember when an automobile worker was a great union job? The UAW was a powerful union: when anyone complained about the quality of American cars the union averred, “We don’t design them, we simply build them.” And, besides, what option did car buyers have? They would never buy foreign cars?A few decades later General Motors and Ford struggle for their very existence and foreign owned non-union car factories expand in the south. Who would have “thunk it?”

At least half the kids who enter high schools in New York City drop out, we can argue about the exact numbers or definitions of drop outs but the numbers are staggering.

Will public high schools still exist in a decade or two? We point our finger at Tweed and their predecessors and say, “We don’t design schools, we just teach.

Are we heading down the same road as the UAW?

The creation of small high schools may offer a guide to creating more effective schools.

The current wave of the small school movement began with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation providing hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide to create small schools. The New York City initiative is called the New Century High School program. The Board of Education decided to place the initiative in the Bronx high School superintendency and rapidly “closed” large schools and created small high schools. In some instances they phased out the schools, in others they created small schools within existing larger schools. In the Bronx there are only a few large high schools remaining. In Brooklyn and Manhattan the closing of large high schools “deflected” students and created overcrowding in other large schools.

The UFT Small High School Task Force Report, the product of a committee made up of both large and small school teachers is sharply critical of the Department lapses and creates a path for small high schools within the union.

The Gates folk require detailed evaluations of their funding efforts. The question of how well small schools work is closely scrutinized. An outside evaluator found fifteen percent higher daily attendance, lower suspension rates and higher retention rates. Only time will tell whether these gains are transitory or permanent. This June the first cohort of New Century schools will graduate: we anxiously await the data.

We are a large and diverse school system with space for large and small high schools as long as they produce graduates.

The rapid scaling to almost two hundred small schools created within a few years is an overwhelming burden. The new small schools receive external funding and support during their first four years: can they sustain themselves over the long run?

We hope the DOE isn’t creating small failing schools?

Finger pointing and scapegoating is not going to create effective schools. Unless we, the union, figure out how to create effective high schools, and effective is measured by graduation rates, we may not have schools in which to teach.

The State Education Department has redesigned, i.e., closed, almost twenty high schools, schools that were graduating only a handful of students each year. Unfortunately other large high schools continue to stumble. According to the SED the primary reason is poor leadership.

The public school system in New Orleans is gone: to be replaced by vouchers and charter schools. Katrina created an experiment that could be replicated in other cities. Pataki has introduced a private school voucher proposal; Kleinberg wants to create endless unregulated charter schools. We will fight back these proposals; ultimately, the answer is creating schools that work, work for their consumers, the students.

The battle is not over what type of school is “better,” small and large school teachers within the union must be allies in a battle for the very survival of public education.

Small Learning Communities Redux

John Jay High School was a struggling low-performing school and the overlords at 110 were encouraging schools to create "Academies." Paul Feingold, the Jay Chapter Leader, and a number of his colleagues created a wonderful “Small Learning Community.” It had its own space and a “dedicated” staff of teachers, counselors and paraprofessionals. Student attendance improved, teacher morale was high and the classrooms were “exciting.” The school administration changed, the Assistant Principals abhorred it, funding ceased and the Academy ended, and, the school went into redesign. No good deed shall go unpunished.

The recent announcement of a “Small Learning Communities” initiative in nine high schools sounds a lot like “Houses/Academies Redux.” Tweed has created 150 small high schools in the last two years. These schools are supported by grants from the Gates Foundation to “intermediaries,” not-for-profit organizations that provide a range of supports for the schools during their first four years. For example, over seven hundred teachers in schools sponsored by New Visions for Public Schools, the largest of the “intermediaries,” trekked up to a hotel in Westchester and spent a day and a half working on a school “issue” of their choosing.

However, the small high school creation effort also “deflected” students into other schools and created serious overcrowding. The teachers in the small schools are predominantly new to the system and many of the principals have limited experience. The move to “small learning communities” is a reaction to the criticism of an overly aggressive small school creation effort.

Can you “redesign” an existing school? Some have compared it to repairing a 747 while in flight.

The real world of the urban high school: five classes a day and at least 150 student a week, common planning time takes place in the car pool and we race into school early to find a parking spot and a duplicating machine that works … The kids see six or seven teachers a day and rarely develop a relationship with any adult, except, maybe, the Dean. The factory model label fits, for teachers and kids.

 While Tweed has chosen to obliterate history we did go through the small learning community era in high schools, called “Houses,” or “Academies.” Taking a group of kids and calling them the “Harvard” House or the “Achievement Academy,” and telling the Assistant Principal that in addition to his usual duties he/she was the Academy Director was not a glowing success.

The irony is we know what works:

 • Block scheduling that allows teachers to teach longer blocks of time with significant fewer kids.

 • Common planning time during the school day that allow colleagues to discuss practice and talk about their students.

 • Family Group/Advisory were teacher and small groups of kids can develop relationships

• Lead teachers who can model and coach newer teachers.

Many of us are victims of a kind of Stockholm Effect. We rigorously defend a dysfunctional system. Change is scary and really hard: we have to figure out how to do it together, as colleagues. Change imposed from above always results in a teacher intafada and a continuing underground combat. We have to use our union to create a functional school system, not use it as weapon to fight a never ending fratricidal conflict.

Staffing A High Needs, High Poverty Urban School

"Compare and Contrast": this is a term of art for many a Social Studies teacher, as it is a common device used to stimulate analytical thinking in students. In the spirit of inquiry and investigation, students are asked to identify the similarities and the differences, the continuities and the breaks, and the parallels and the incongruities in the events and phenomena they are studying. It is a practice that can be just as useful in the field of educational policy.

Take the issue of how to best staff low performing schools serving a large number of high academic needs students living in poverty. The educational literature tells us that one of the most significant features of low performing schools in such settings is an exceptionally high rate of teacher turnover. The faculties of such schools are disproportionately made up of novice, inexperienced teachers, often without the full certification and licensure other teachers possess and often teaching out of license they do have. Consequently, the school is never able to acquire a sufficient large corps of experienced, accomplished teachers to break out of a cycle of low performance and turnover, as the one feeds the other. For the full analysis, see here and here and here and here.

It is instructive to compare and contrast the approaches of Chancellor Klein and the DOE, on the one hand, and Randi Weingarten and the UFT, on the other hand, to this problem.

More »

Does Klein Support Small Schools?

If you follow DOE press releases you would think that Bloomberg/Klein “invented” small high schools. Last spring Klein attacked a group of small high schools that are among the most innovative and effective schools in the city. More than a decade ago a group of small high schools applied to the State Commissioner of Education asking for a waiver from Regents examinations. They established a process, referred to as “portfolios and roundtables,” whereby students were evaluated by teachers based upon the quality of student work. The schools formed the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium and invited the education community to assess their efforts. Educators from around the country lauded the work of the Consortium.

Last year Commissioner Mills refused to renew the Consortum’s application for a waiver. The schools had friendly legislators introduce a bill to continue the waiver (in English and social studies) and allow additional schools to apply. Joel Klein vigorously opposed the legislation! The UFT supported the bills and set their lobbyists to work. When it appeared that the bills might pass Mills caved and renewed the waiver. Rather than lauding innovative and effective school Klein has tried to destroy them … In a system struggling to identify effective practices I guess “effective” is defined as “must be created by Klein.”