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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.



  • 1 grady
    · Feb 23, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    the answer is creating schools that work, work for their consumers, the students.

    So then, are prisoners the ‘consumers’ of the prison system?

    Consumer implies choice (see: “Stupid in America”).

  • 2 Chaz
    · Feb 23, 2006 at 6:32 pm


    Teaching in an overcrowded large Queens High School and getting more students who could not get into the small schools created from the closed down large schools, I am very interested in what the UFT is doing about the strangling of the large high schools. Whether I agree or disagree with you is not important. What is, that Randi’s public silence on this issue is deafening!

  • 3 jd2718
    · Feb 24, 2006 at 10:56 pm

    “An outside evaluator found fifteen percent higher daily attendance, lower suspension rates and higher retention rates.”

    Thanks for the link to the report. In fact, they arrive at the 15% increase in attendance by comparing apples and oranges (there is no 15% increase in attendance)

    At some points the report compares all the students in New Century High Schools with all the students in the large high schools the New Century High Schools are housed within. At other points, the report compares only the Bronx sub-groups of each of these groups. In addition, for several individual items they exclude one or two specific schools. Each of those exclusions is justified in the report, and, to me, makes sense.

    They use numbers to describe kids – I’ve isolated 5 categories of interest.

    1. Special Education
    % SpEd 6% New Century / 25% large high school — % SETTS 5% New Century / 7% large high school — % moderate – serious handicapping conditions (deafness, autism, mental retardation, emotional disturbance) 0% New Century / 3% large high school

    2. English Language Learners
    (numbers exclude 2 schools designed specifically for ELLS)

    % ELLs in New Century high schools = 6%, in large high schools = 15%

    3. Income
    The New Century high schools have 19% who do not qualify for free lunch. The large high schools have the same number. However, the large schools also have 10% who have not filled in forms. The vast majority of these will turn out to be eligible. If we allocate in the same proportion as the rest of the population, we get 11% ineligible.

    4. Grade 8 Academic Performance
    The New Century kids averaged 20 and 15 points higher respectively on the State ELA and Mathematics assessments in Grade 8. (682 and 686 for New Century kids and 667 and 666 for large high school kids)

    In terms of performance levels 1, 2, and 3, the New Century students, when they were 8th graders, were already stronger than their peers. The following chart shows the per cent at each level (apologies for formatting)

    – – – – – – – – – – – Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
    New Century ELA – 10 – – – 73 – – – 17
    New Century Math – 38 – – – 48 – – – 14
    Large HS ELA – – – 35 – – – 56 – – – 8
    Large HS Math – – – 64 – – – 30 – – – 6

    5. Grade 8 Attendance
    The New Century kids’ attendance in grade 8 was 91%. The large school kids’ attendance in grade 8 was 81%. This was grade 8. These groups were different before they attended high school. In terms of days absent, this translates into roughly 8 absences per term vs 18 absences per term.

    What should be clear is that the kids who ended up in the New Century Schools were going to have better attendance, no matter what school they attended. The New Century schools 1) enrolled far fewer ELLs, 2) far fewer kids needing special education services, and those generally needed SETTS only, 3) students who were not, on average, as poor, 4) students whose test scores were already significantly higher, and 5) students who were absent in 8th grade only half as much as the students who ended up in the bigger schools. In fact, that last factor accounts for most of the observed attendance gap. The other factors more than account for the rest of the difference.

    The New Century Schools have had no measurable impact on attendance.


  • 4 Peter Goodman
    · Feb 25, 2006 at 3:53 pm


    Over the next few years small high schools will begin to graduate students and the data will be self-evident. For me the question is not whether or not small high schools are “better” than large high schools. The role of the union is to assist all schools to be more effective. Inner city high schools across the country have astronomical dropout rates.

    The next round of reform will attempt to replace unionized teachers with some form of vouchers, non-union charter schools or tax credits. In my view teachers and their unions are fighting for their very existence.

    Weak school leadership, inadequate funding and poor use of resources are endemic in inner city schools. Kleinberg will pass, just as Levy and Cortines and a long forgotten list of Chancellors have come and gone. Kleinberg’s passing will not result in a return to a previous era.

    The union and its members must find workable models for schools, schools that graduate kids. Small school teachers and large school teachers, all of our members must develop strategies that create schools that work.

    There is a ticking clock … the UAW refused to see the handwriting on their wall, we have to be nimble and seek solutions together, as a union.


  • 5 jd2718
    · Feb 25, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    “the question is not whether or not small high schools are “better” than large high schools”

    It is good that every writer, every poster here, seems to agree. The key differences are between schools of the same type. Those differences will reveal what ‘works’ and what doesn’t. There is room for a range of schools, large, small, voc, alternative, etc… And a good mix is important.

    Having said that, these guys have cherry-picked students and have crippled the large schools in the meantime, and have not delivered on what we would have assumed small schools do best: improved attendance. You want to wait for graduation rates before you pass judgment? Fine. But I don’t think I need 30 years experience to read numbers.

    But we agree much more than we disagree. There is an attack coming, it is already underway, on the existence of teachers unions. Period. And in tandem there is an attack on public education. They are not the same, but they are closely related.

    “The union and its members must find workable models for schools, schools that graduate kids. Small school teachers and large school teachers, all of our members must develop strategies that create schools that work.”

    Very well put. Getting regular teachers to be part of that discussion is crucial. They might not have time to ponder the depths of the question. They might start with answers that are far too simple. But it is not enough for a few people in offices and a few DRs and Chapter Leaders to speak with each other. Generating that discussion is a huge challenge.


  • 6 Chaz
    · Feb 25, 2006 at 11:01 pm


    Unfortunatly you proved my point. The UFT,instead of screaming loud and clear about how the DOE is screening the students for the small schools to ensure superior statistics and screwing the large schools by dumping excess students into already overcrowded schools, you want to wait for more data. I’m still waiting for Randi to call a press conference and use the available statistics to blow Bloomberg and Klein out of the water.

    The sooner the general public is made aware of what’s happening the sooner we can improve our large high schools, with their rich history and tradition that is fast becoming a distant memory.

  • 7 Peter Goodman
    · Feb 26, 2006 at 10:31 am

    Most small schools are not screened programs, entering classes are typically level 1 and 2 kids … small schools do run around to feeder schools to encourage applicants … in 05 and again in 06 most new schools are in newly created space … the issue for large schools is poor leadership, at the school, Region and Tweed levels, not the small schools.

  • 8 Chaz
    · Feb 26, 2006 at 12:35 pm


    Then how do you explain Jonathan’s statistics showing a higher percentage of level 1 children going into the large high schools? If the small schools are to mirror the large high schools the statistics of levels 1-2-3 would be similar. Obviously, there not the same. Further, many of my friends work in small schools and they have informed me that the administrators and guidance do “screen the students” to ensure the best possible entering class.

  • 9 jd2718
    · Feb 26, 2006 at 1:10 pm


    if we truly believe that we need a mix of schools, then it would be well if we did not issue broadsides against one kind of school. You may not like what Chaz writes, but that is not an excuse to trash large schools and whitewash the problems with the small schools.

    We lost Monroe. We lost Morris. We lost Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. As these schools were shut, small schools WITH CAPS were placed inside. Of course there are not enough seats in the Bronx, why bother? So even one capped building created a problem: where would the extra kids go? Evander, Stevenson, Walton, Columbus, in the main. Clinton and Lehman were initially protected. And who got “deflected”? The academically weakest kids. The poorest kids. The kids with the most behavior problems. The ELLs. The kids who needed special ed services. The most needy and the most vulnerable. And wow, did the receiving schools’ stats get bad. Not that they were good before. But the Board transformed “bad” into “miserable.” They created the conditions where they could argue that these schools should be shut as well. And now they target the rest of the large high schools in the Bronx.

    You can bet your bottom dollar that teachers in large high schools in the Bronx are touchy about this. It is our job, it should be your job, to 1) explain that the teachers in the small schools are not the enemy, and 2) to tell the truth about how the large schools, their teachers, and their students have been victimized by a Board that is intent on setting up as many small schools as possible, as quickly as possible, without regard to the consequences or the outcomes.

  • 10 Chaz
    · Feb 26, 2006 at 4:48 pm


    Thank you for understanding what DOE is doing. However, Peter knows what is going on, his articles are well-focused and to the point. However, Peter is just following Randi’s orders and not expose DOE’s assault on the large schools.

    My problem is why the UFT is not making this a big issue? Why are we PAYING DUES TO A UNION THAT REFUSES TO BRING THIS PROBLEM TO THE FOREFRONT! It’s almost as if the DOE and the union have decided that the large high schools no longer serve their interest.

  • 11 jd2718
    · Feb 26, 2006 at 9:23 pm


    Because, mistakes or not, it is our union. You might want to reform it, change its policies, change leaders. But the moment somebody suggests that it should not exist, or that we have an open shop, or that we stop supporting it, that brings the danger of losing our union. And having no union is far worse than having a union, no matter how many problems we might think it has.

    Earlier this week a supporter of closing big schools foolishly suggested to me that throwing teachers into small schools would force the UFT to nurture a new generation of leaders. I could not agree less. Same problem. We want everyone to work with union protection. We should not countenance letting teachers work without a union. We should not consider teaching teachers a lesson by making them work in a school without a functioning chapter.

    Union first. Then we can discuss policies and politics.


  • 12 Chaz
    · Feb 28, 2006 at 9:25 pm


    I didn’t say junk the union. I said why is the union not representing the classroom teacher? Forgive me if I am so niave to think that the union is supposed to represent the teachers.

    Dissent is important in the exchange of ideas and when the union educrats don’t do their job then they need to be put on notice. I do not apoligize for my attack on the UFT educrats and these complaints will continue until the UFT “does the right thing” and starts to represent the classroom teacher.

  • 13 jd2718
    · Mar 1, 2006 at 7:23 am


    “I said why is the union not representing the classroom teacher?”

    I wouldn’t have reacted to that question. You have a right, really an obligation, to raise that as you see it.

    But you actually asked “Why are we PAYING DUES…?” which is a classic anti-union question.


  • 14 Chaz
    · Mar 1, 2006 at 8:20 pm


    Questioning why we pay dues to a union that fails to adequately represent the classroom teacher is not a knee-jerk anti-union statement but a correct response to the union’s failure to do it’s job.

  • 15 frogmugsy
    · Mar 1, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    Gotta agree with Chaz there.

    And the “Because, mistakes or not, it is our union.” is so quite unfortunate. Randi being paid a quarter of a million dollars and having months of negotiations and then making those “mistakes”, who do you think suffers the most from those “mistakes”? It’s the teachers in the classroom that have to “pay” for those “mistakes”. I am vexed.

  • 16 HS_ teacher
    · Mar 5, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    Chaz- You know throughout your dialogue here, you didn’t seem to acknowledge that as “mighty” as the union is, just because Randi calls a press conference, doesn’t mean everyone will listen. We have done it before (several times last year and see who still got re-elected). I imagine that at least part of it is timing, the right venue (instead of just a press conference), and even more so our members activism-to testify, right articles to papers, to participate on blogs and elsewhere, to contact their local politicians, and hundreds of other actions. For all that a president can do, it all depends on the members and their willingness and ability to make their message effective.

  • 17 Chaz
    · Mar 7, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    HS_ Teacher

    Really? Randi’s complaints must have been in sign language? I certainly would have heard Randi’s complaints since I’m quite upset over DOE’s attack on the large schools. The last time I heard the UFT hold a press conference on this issue was 2000 over the situation in Norman Thomas.

    I’m not happy that the UFT is laying back and allowing this travesty to continue. Rather then protect the UFT you should be questioning what the union’s prorities are? In fact, what are the UFT priorites? Besides giving themselves a 15% raise without working with the students for 37.5 minutes?

  • 18 Bloomfield Hills One High School Continued « Bloomfield Hills Schools Forum
    · Jun 25, 2010 at 1:11 am

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