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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

89%

81%

Promotion Rate (9th Grade)

87%

72%

Student Demographics (9th Grade)

(% African-American and Hispanic)

92%

72%

Percentage of students performing below grade level in math and English

(9th Grade)

67%

60%

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.

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16 Comments:

  • 1 mklonsky
    · Feb 23, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    I am the director of the Small Schools Workshop and one of the original advocates and researchers behind, what has become the Small Schools movement. It had little in common with Klein/Gates version which has aroused your skepticism (and rightfully so). In Chicago, the program is called Renaissance 2010, a plan to create 100 new “small schools” by the year 2010. Please see our analysis in the latest issue of KAPPAN, called: Renaissance 2010: The Small Schools Movement Meets the Ownership Society.” You can get to it through my blog.
    Small schools were meant to provide safer, more equitable and more effective learning environments for kids and teachers and provide teachers with professional learning communities. They were not supposed to be large-scale, business-type replications that in fact, replicate the system’s inequities.

  • 2 Miss Malarkey
    · Feb 23, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    Someone MUST tell the truth. I agree wholeheartedly.

    I work in a middle school that had wavered between corrective action and doing OK. Never SURR, at least not for many, many years. In the years I had been there (5 at that point) it had been mostly well run, one of the better schools in a crap district.

    Out of the blue some Region people decide that the building needs to be split up. They admit that it won’t fix our biggest problem- overcrowding. We had 36, 37 to a class. After the change, we lost classroom space to offices, making some classes even bigger.

    Now the new smaller schools are in their second year. My school got the veteran staff and had a smooth transition. The other two? Score-wise, about the bottom in the Region. One is on its second principal. The first one was an Academy person who had no clue.

    Both schools have serious behavior problems and the gangs are creeping back in. It breaks my heart to see my old students who were sent to the other two schools, now 8th graders. They came to me in ’03-’04, on level, well-behaved. Now I see too many of them hanging out in the stairwells, cutting class, and nothing is done. The kids run those other two schools.

    The small school experiment in my building has been a disaster. Two-thirds of the kids from the original school were complete cast aside. It disgusts me, but it’s all the Region’s fault. Not that they care.

  • 3 redhog
    · Feb 24, 2006 at 9:40 am

    The Aztec and Mayan civilizations have passed on their legacy of human sacrifice to an unlikely beneficiary: Joel Klein and his Department of Education. The difference is that this time, children’s hearts and minds are on an agenda, not a menu.

    The size of a school does not by itself determine its merit. Breaking up a huge, mismanaged building, starved of resources, with all kinds of atrocities swept under the rug, will not cure its ills, just because the name of the school is changed and there are new institutions with absurd but specialized-sounding titles. Just because a large school’s name will cease to be referenced on the police blotter, doesn’t mean the public will believe that the problems have been fixed.

    Klein’s work is all about sound bites and sound stage. It is about performance art, not the art of performance. All his appeals to the public trust are plays on words: accountability, empowerment, standards, professional development, standards, parental engagement.

    When the world is finished, just one building will be left standing defiantly in indecent silence. It will be the Tweed Factory for Gimmicks and Platitudes of Mass Destruction. From this House of Gibberish and Jive comes more specimens of fraudulent “reforms” than there are listings of controlled substances in the Physicians Desk Reference.

    By rape of language we can call any atrocity “reform”. I used to believe that even the tormentors within the system were in some way victims of it. But now I know that if we could tap the merged wits of the ten most diabolical geniuses of a ten generations, paying each a handsome bounty, we couldn’t produce a more wrecked and wretched system than what Klein has wrought

    Even a broken clock is right twice a day. That much cannot be said of the Department of Education. A rehabilitated Department of Education is the sweetest but most futile of visions.

  • 4 paulrubin
    · Feb 25, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    A few dozen districts because less than a dozen regions. Some big schools become more small schools. Administrators with experience got forced out. Administrators who didn’t belong also got forced out. Now education is a political football even moreso than in the days when it was a political football. It’s all quite humorous tho those of us in the system and a little bit sad.

    In the end, the problem is quite simple. The administrative makeup of the system is really not all that important. Never was. Never will be. It will forever be about the individuals who made up that administration. Put the right combination of people in charge and the system will improve. Shake it all up and add a dash of those without the right skill set and you get a big mess.

    In the end what you have is a system run by:
    (1) a Mayor who wants to emulate his sucess in private industry only kids don’t work the same as price earning ratios and widget assembly lines.
    (2) a high profile attorney (need I say more)
    (3) a bunch of people who had the right contacts within the former Clinton administration, the current Bush administration, and the current Pataki administration.

    Here’s my prediction for how schools will look at the end of the Bloomberg era:
    (1) there will be more school numbers
    (2) teachers will be working 2 years without a contract
    (3) test scores will be up about 6 to 10% above where they were before Bloomberg but the tests will be easier yet and when compared via nationally given tests, there will be less than 3% improvement, most of it in primary schools
    (4) class size will continue to push the boundaries of what’s allowed in the teacher contract
    (5) the Democrats will take Pataki’s seat and the court case giving NYC more money to work with will be settled a year after that but the impact will benefit Bloomberg’s successor, not Bloomberg himself
    (6) crime in schools will be slightly higher than it is now
    (7) middle schools will come under increased attack but since Bloomberg will have little power in the final stages of his lame duck administration, not much will happen there.
    (8) more kids will be classified as gifted even though they aren’t and all gifted kids will be placed in watered down versions of their former programs
    (9) Within 15 months, the DOE will be approaching the UFT will a desire to rework the extra minutes yet again as fewer and fewer students participate.

  • 5 Chaz
    · Feb 25, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    I totally agree with paulrubin with one exception: I don’t believe you will see any further improvement in test scores based upon the DOE’s continued disrespect of the classroom teacher.

  • 6 paulrubin
    · Feb 25, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Read carefully. I didn’t say 10% better scores from now. I said 10% better than they were at the beginning of the Bloomberg era which basically means a slight improvement which should be reasonable given the extra time devoted to it at the end of the day. I’m a realist. If you keep increasing the effort devoted to this single thing, raising test scores, you will see some movement. Where I disagree with the current course of action is these improvements are at the expense of other subject areas and higher order thinking skills. I’m sure we’d all like to see test scores go up because that’s a concrete issue that is readily converted to numbers through the use and misuse of statistics. But at least it’s concrete.

  • 7 Persam1197
    · Feb 26, 2006 at 10:12 am

    I have always been told: follow the money. I’m trying to figure out who benefits from Kleinberg’s policies such as the Leadership Academy, the so-called “small schools,” the non-competitive bid contracts, and especially the big push for charters.

    All of this restructuring is bound to fail and the next mayor and chancellor will “reform” the school system once again.

    I will have the same questions in four years that I have now: who gets the money?

  • 8 Jonathan Halabi
    · Feb 26, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    “I will have the same questions in four years that I have now: who gets the money?”

    Persam, I believe the amount of money sloshing around with this project is relatively small. Rather, I think it is an attempt to attack our union and our contract.

    In some small schools chapters may not organize. In many, teachers will be asked to be “flexible” about work rules.

    If you believe there is strength in unity (no pun intended), then the smaller the chapter, the less strength. This is something we need to work against.

    Our DR in the Bronx has been quite effective with many small schools, getting chapters up and running. But there are so many more.

    In a sense, they have done the same thing to principals. They appoint novices, with no independent authority (in the sense of knowledge of teaching or of the system), making them wholly dependent on directives from Tweed.

    And that fits in with a bigger challenge: all of the changes, including the small schools, some of the contractual provisions, esp transfers, etc, seemed designed to reduce teaching (and administering? administrating?) to short-term jobs, 2 – 6 years, tops. The UFT has noted that the Board is going after older teachers (NY Teacher, 2/16, p6) As working conditions degrade, the average time in the job is likely to decrease.

    To have the high level sorts of discussions about our union and public education in the City that we need, we need teachers dedicated to teaching. And the City is making that hard. And I believe that the effort is conscious, and that the rush to massive numbers of small schools is part of that effort.

    I need to say here that I am in favor of a mix of schools. I am getting tagged publically and privately by people who say I just am opposed to small schools. That is not true. I am opposed, however, to the reckless way in which this current round of change is being instituted. And I think important evidence that it is reckless is in the way the DoE ignores or misinterprets its own numbers.

    Jonathan

  • 9 paulrubin
    · Feb 26, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    The ugliness and beauty of the system is that it’s so large, even major changes take decades to filter down. The damage to the schools in the 70’s really began to degrade the system in the 90’s. The mess that Bloomberg/Klein is making now will first have its real impact around 2015-2010. What’s consistent though is most of the changes are being made at zero or negative cost increase. We’ll make more small schools. That’s about an extra supervisor here or there. We’ll play with work rules, time schedules, public relations. We’ll make the test easier and change curriculum. All this is really peanuts in the overall scheme of things that is easily absorbed by retirements.

    The really costly changes:
    -lower class size
    -more competitive salaries
    -advanced technology introduced FASTER than it become obsolete
    -drastically extended time
    -etc.

    Those issues are being ignored because they cost money. As always, the politicians are trying to fool the public into thinking they’re making something better by simply vocally making changes rather than making the right changes which invariably cost large sums of money. Playing with statistics is simply part of the game they’re playing to make it seem like great things are being accomplished when in fact, it’s status quo for the vast majority of kids or worse.

  • 10 NYC Educator
    · Feb 28, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    We don’t need more competitive salaries, paulrubin. In this week’s New York Teacher, UFT President Randi Weingarten reveals that we’ve finally become comparable with the suburbs in terms of time and pay.

    Oddly, I thought we worked 7 days more than they did, and were paid 10-20,000 per annum less. Doubtless I’m laboring under the outrageous misconception we are the very lowest paid and hardest working teachers in the area.

    Or perhaps President Weingarten meant we’d caught up to where they were three or five years ago. Or maybe the extra days of training are regarded as “fun” days and don’t really count.

    In any case, I strongly agree with Mr. Halabi that when people use statistics to lie we must not look away, and that someone must tell the truth.

  • 11 paulrubin
    · Mar 1, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    We’re somewhere in the general vicinity of the bottom to mid-range suburban salaries. There are districts where veteran teachers make $100K, $110K, $120K. But there are also plenty of districts where the salary maxes out around $85K-$95K. If I had to guess, I’d say we’re still well behind Long Island and Westchester salaries and comparable to the central NJ salaries. We’re a bit behind North Jersey salaries. We’re ahead of south Jersey salaries but as you get closer to Philly, salaries go up again.

    And then there’s the issue of how long to get to maximum which our union conveniently forgets. 15-20 years is common. We’re at 22 years, well above the average negatively speaking.

    And of course our classes sizes are enormous by comparison, with far higher percentages of special needs students.

  • 12 Persam1197
    · Mar 1, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    I agree with the above, however, the restructuring of the DOE has to cost: more principals, a tremendously expensive “Leadership Academy” now fully funded by the DOE, duplicated administrations within large school campuses, no-bid contracts doled out with regularity, textbook contracts for new programs such as math, increased leasing of spaces including Regional administrative offices moved out of DOE schools, increased busing due to the misguided 37.5 minute tutoring sessions, and so on.

    I still would like to see who the beneficiaries of these monies are.

    I too have no problem with small schools, but there is certainly a place for the large high schools as well. This corporate mass production of small schools without real accountable oversight is going to be felt for decades to come. The UFT is in a position to provide the public with real stats as the only checks and balances left. The question is are we up for the challenge?

  • 13 Chaz
    · Mar 1, 2006 at 10:27 pm

    Persam1197;

    So far the answer is we (UFT) are not up to the challenge!

  • 14 NYC Educator
    · Mar 2, 2006 at 7:01 am

    “But there are also plenty of districts where the salary maxes out around $85K-$95K.”

    There are none that I know of. There were a couple in January 05, but unlike NYC, salaries actually go up in the suburbs. I doubt there are any more.

    Here’s a complete list of Nassau salaries as of January 05, according to NYSUT.

    It is preposterous, not to mention counter-productive, to maintain we’ve caught up with the suburbs.

  • 15 HS_ teacher
    · Mar 5, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    NYC Educator – you know I have seen you argue down ignorant supporters of vouchers and people who have blamed the teachers (and unions) for everything wrong with education in such an intelligent and constructive way. Why must you again hijack another thread so that people only read what you want to talk about (i.e., a personal political agenda)? As I have said before, isn’t that what YOUR blog is for? The issue here is about the manipulation of statistics of small schools by the NYC DOE and the loss of large neighborhood high schools. You have turned it around to make your political statement and even include a link to your blog?!? I am not telling you to “shut-up”, just stay on the topic of discourse. Perhaps those of us that participate should be more supportive of you when you do it right. Positive reinforcement!

  • 16 NYC Educator
    · Mar 9, 2006 at 9:47 am

    You must think I just fell off the tomato truck from New Jersey.

    It was not I who brought up teacher pay. And while you’ve grown marginally more civil, and somewhat more selective, you’re most certainly telling me to shut up.

    Bill Stamaty told me the same thing, on Ms. Frizzle’s site no less. You guys need to broaden your imagination, or learn a new song.

    Pardon me if I sit while I wait.