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Closed Schools Ten Years Later: Who Goes There Now?

In case you have not been paying attention, the mayor is vowing to dismantle about 30 school communities for reasons that pretty much no one can figure out. In fact, things have reached such a level of absurdity in New York that there are very few New Yorkers who actually believe that the campaign against our schools has anything to do with “school quality” or a desire to make things better for at-risk kids.

I mention this because in the face of such a situation, it seems ridiculous for me to continue my private crusade to correct the DOE’s misrepresentations about the schools that close and the new ones that rise up in their midst. The DOE mask, truly, is off. Still, even though no one in New York believes the mayor, New York City mayors often have national ambitions. It can’t hurt to set the record straight.

So, let’s look at a few big old schools and the new ones that replaced them in the same building. In particular let’s look at the schools’ comparative reading levels and comparative math. Until very recently, I didn’t have these files, and until very recently I didn’t think about same-building schools (called campus schools) too much, either. But then, the DOE made an inaccurate and unsupported claim about one of these campuses, and a few weeks later, Communities for Change set the record straight. The DOE’s claim was the usual one (“similar” kids, astronomically better results). But the report from Communities for Change, showed that campus schools across the city were serving much lower concentrations of high-need special education students than the schools that they replaced. Before the old Seward shut down, for example, the concentration of self-contained students was 9%. In 2011, the new campus schools served 0%. Seward Park campus is in Manhattan, and the new schools earned As and Bs.

Like disability averages, school wide average scores give us a good indicator of whether or not kids are ready for high school. Here is a comparison between incoming scores at closed old high schools and at the new schools on their campuses. These are actually relative rankings, and the details are explained below.

School percentile ranking based on incoming reading and math scores compared to all other city high schools

Click image for a larger version.


What you are looking at in this colorful little chart is not a direct comparison of passing rates, which would be impossible. Rather I have percentile-ranked the schools, comparing the incoming scores with those of all other high schools that existed in the city that same school year. (Details on the method I used are included at the end of the post.)

To understand the results, look again at Seward Park. In 2001, the percent of students meeting standards in math and reading ranked at the 24th percentile. This means that the percent of students passing at Seward was lower than the percent at 76% of all schools citywide. But in 2011, the new high schools on the Seward campus ranked at the 60th percentile. The highest-ranking school (in the final column) serves students who enter with scores better on average than 91% of all students in the city.

Of course, New York City does have some new schools that serve high concentrations of high-need students, and sometimes these high-concentration schools are in the same building as older schools that closed down. Yet, when the needs get to a certain point, these new schools tend to struggle, just like the schools they replaced, and just like the still-standing older schools that serve similar concentrations. Here for example, is a comparison between the now-closed Taft and the new schools Taft campus. Overall, the needs at the new schools are not quite as high, but clearly, there are challenges:

Taft in 2001 5 replacement schools
Self-contained 13% 7.70%
Citywide Rank of Incoming Scores 6% 20%

That’s the needs overall, and here is a look at those needs, school by school. The bars represent the percentile rank of the school based on incoming scores. The letters on top of the bars are each school’s 2011 Progress Report grade.

Score percentile ranking Taft campus 2011

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Most of these schools had high needs and are struggling to get good Progress Report grades. The only school with a Progress Report higher than a C (Bronx Expeditionary) has been wavering between Bs and Cs these past four years

And here are the same schools, this time showing concentration of the highest-need students (self-contained).

Percent of self contained, Taft campus 2011

Click image for a larger version.


So, keep this handy. Fold up the chart and put it in your pocket, or pin it to your wall. And next time you hear about the miraculous rebirth of failed old schools into sky-high images of success, then check the chart and ask yourself what, really, is happening in New York.

Note on the methodology: State-level information on incoming scores in 2001 tells us the percent of entering students who are meeting standards in ELA and Math. Data on current schools, however, is slightly different. It tells us each school’s average incoming score rather than the percent meeting standards. The percentile rankings still stand on their own, but for extra caution one can add a range of 10 percentage points (5 on either side) to the 2011 calculations. The range is based upon an analysis of grade 8 scale scores and passing percents.


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