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.