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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?

There was detailed oral testimony, reports in writing, PowerPoints, videos and presentations, mining school data and parsing each school’s performance, progress and circumstances. There were probably a dozen newspaper stories over the two months reporting on the hearings, several documenting the cases these speakers made. Independent research by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School confirms much of what the advocates were saying.

On Jan 26-27, Klein attended the 9-hour PEP meeting where the cases were made again, with passion and conviction, by the people who will be most affected. Klein was scanning his Blackberry a lot.

In one telling moment about seven hours into the meeting, someone asked the mayor’s appointees on the panel if they could make the case for closing these schools. None of them did.

So the question can’t be whether the supporters of the targeted schools made a case to keep these schools open: that case was made again and again and again, at meeting after meeting. It’s whether Klein and the DOE have made a case for closing these schools. And the answer is no.

The DOE overrode its own criteria for closing schools in several instances, by closing some schools even when their Progress Report grades were better than the cutoffs, and frequently ignoring proficient Quality Reviews.

“These are schools that have graduation rates in the 40s,” he told Scotto (and has told anyone else who will listen). Forty percent is a figure, not a case. Looking closer, the average four-year rate in the closing high schools is 49 percent. Their six-year graduation rate is much higher at an average 62 percent, as you would expect in schools that serve high numbers of special education students, recent immigrants, transfers and over-the-counter kids.

Defending his record on closing more than 90 schools over eight years, many of them large full-service high schools, Klein told Scotto, “We’re replacing large failing high schools, like Far Rockaway and others with new, smaller, often career and technical, places where parents and children want to go.” Yet the school that took Far Rockaway’s most needy students when it closed was the only other one on the Rockaways peninsula — Beach Channel High School. Now Beach Channel is on the DOE’s closing list, having gone from a 4-year grad rate of about 52 percent (above the citywide average at that time) before Klein, to below 47 percent last year.

In fact, there is something of a pattern in the closing high schools of rising graduation rates before 2002-03 when Klein came in and declining rates in the years that followed. So when Klein says “failing,” as if they were someone else’s mess, it’s fair to ask what he did about them–or didn’t. Those schools were left to die, in the views of parents and teachers who knew them well. Klein cannot make the case that he tried to save them.

Supposedly students do better in the new small schools. By way of proof, Klein told Scotto they have higher graduation rates. He says parents vote with their feet and don’t send their children to the closing schools. He has said the same about his charter schools versus schools in the surrounding neighborhoods.

But there is a reason that parents in some of the closing school neighborhoods are starting to use the S-word (segregation) about Klein’s policies. The small schools, and the charter schools as well, do not serve the same populations as those in the abandoned large high schools. There are distinctions, by level of special education services required, by percentages of students in extreme poverty, by ELL percentages and the numbers of homeless and over-the-counter students. These findings are available and have been presented to Deputy White.

Some people at the PEP meeting said they feared a pattern of closing schools and opening charter schools in their communities was a stealth effort to privatize the management of their local public schools and cream the best students, leaving the most challenging kids in under-resourced or neglected schools. Are they ill-informed? Check this interactive map to see where the closing schools and charters are concentrated.

Klein then told Scotto that the whole PEP meeting was orchestrated by the UFT. “They orchestrated the whole thing, there’s no question, and they had a big rally beforehand to get people whipped up, and of course, you know, their job is to protect jobs. My job is to protect children.” (Yes, he really said that.)

As UFT President Michael Mulgrew told Elizabeth Kaledin on Inside City Hall Wednesday, the parents who came to the rally and PEP meeting on union-provided buses got, well, transportation. What they came to say was their business. To charge that they came to push a UFT agenda is silly and insulting. What they said was that they are seeing a move toward a two-tiered school system. And they are not going to stand for it.

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1 Comment:

  • 1 Ann
    · Feb 9, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I would like to state for the record that I, a parent of three children in public elementary schools; a teacher, with over ten years of service at a large Queens high school being targeted for closure in the upcoming year; and currently, a per diem substitute teacher at a variety of high school settings, went on my own volition to the 9 hour PEP meeting. I paid for my own transportation and said what was on my mind without any intervention from the UFT. The people I spoke with at the meeting had procured their own transportation. Thus, once again, Klein manipulates the commentary on a situation to best suit his agenda. The truth is never heard.