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Third Turn of the Screw: The DOE and Closing Schools

Which Schools Close?Most New Yorkers who follow these things know that the DoE has targeted for closure four high schools with a C on their annual high-stakes Progress Reports even though schools with a D or F have not been targeted. The DoE might argue that this is proof that they take a nuanced look at each school’s quality, but the evidence suggests something different. These “C” schools have higher — and unacknowledged — concentrations of high-need students then the D schools that they outperformed. And, when the DoE chose which schools with Ds to close, again chose the schools with higher concentrations of very high need students, all the while saying that the difference was the quality of the school.

It is not as if it did this with intent to get the students with the highest needs more quickly into the newest schools. For all its focus on numbers, these concentrations have been ignored by the DoE in their reams and reams of justification about why they chose the schools they did. What’s more, our newer schools tend not to serve the high need students who would have attended the older schools but have been scattered by their closure.

A little background, and then some charts. First, the high needs I am referring to here are the needs of students who arrive at a school overage for their grade, a condition that has a huge impact on whether or not a student is apt to graduate on time or even at all. Overage students can have significant learning disabilities, low academic scores, limited English language proficiency or interrupted education. In many cases, with or without academic challenges, their private lives are careening out of control. Any one of these issues represents a challenge, and many students are struggling with all or most of them at the same time. In all, only 19% of overage students wind up graduating or getting a GED. Their needs impact the school as a whole and this single characteristic (being overage for the grade level) has been identified by the DoE and its consultants as about the most significant predictor of a student’s, and a school’s, success.

The DoE knows about the challenge, but its policies, by design or otherwise, seem to be taking a major challenge and making it much worse. In the first turn of the screw, the admissions and transfer policies seem to have concentrated overage students into a few schools in every neighborhood, thus creating large disparities in local populations. Next, the DoE created Progress Reports that punished the schools that had these concentrations, even though the Reports were supposed to be demographically neutral, measuring the quality of the programs rather than the high needs of the kids. A chart from my post last week compares schools that received As to schools that received Ds in the neighborhoods (districts) of closing schools. In 8 out of 11 neighborhoods, the schools graded as D or F work with at least twice the proportion of overage students as the A schools. In some neighborhoods the difference is eight-fold. In most of the closing schools themselves (not charted there) one out of four, and sometimes one out of three, students arrive over age.

So, first the DoE policies concentrate the high-need students. Next the DoE creates Progress Reports that give failing grades to the schools with higher concentrations. But then comes the third turn of the screw. The DoE moves in to shutter even the high-concentration schools that avoid a failing grade.

The whole thing is bizarre.

Here again is a summary of the concentrations of overage students in the closing high schools, compared to all other high schools that received a C or D/F. This chart is followed by comparisons within the individual neighborhoods.

Which Schools Close?

While non-closing C, D and F schools had high concentrations of incoming overage students, all except one of the closing schools had more. Look at Robeson on the right where one out of every three students enters over age. Only three high schools citywide received performance bonuses this year and two of them were closing schools. Robeson, with its incredibly high need population was one of them. But none of that has stopped the hell-bent DoE in its zeal to shut it down.

It is also worth noting also that three of the four closing schools with the lowest concentrations are new schools. The difficulties these schools have had even without the same concentrations may attest to the struggles that can affect a newer school.

That’s the summary. But the disparities become more glaring when we compare the closing schools to schools in their own neighborhoods. Here are four closing schools that had higher concentrations than the other neighborhood Ds (red, center) as well as the As (blue). Note again that two of the closing schools with high concentrations got Cs.

Closing schools and their districts

Here are five more closing schools that did not have any other D or F schools in their neighborhoods. These charts compare the percentage of overage students in A schools (blue) to the closing schools (red).

Closing schools and their districts

For me, these charts are very troubling. Each represents incredible disparities in populations among schools right in the same neighborhood. Each also represents disparities in how the schools were graded.

But they represent something else as well. In the service of “bolder, faster change” DoE seems to have embraced a course of action that is as heedless as it is reckless. It is possible that the DoE doesn’t realize what it is doing, and it is possible that it knows and does not care. But it is not possible that it did not notice that in community after community, New Yorkers have been asking the DoE to look again at these schools because something in the DoE’s calculations isn’t adding up. Why they have not listened well enough to take another look, I do not know.

Source: 2009-2010 DoE Progress Reports and the CEP Reports on each school’s DoE website. All can be found at schools.nyc.gov



  • 1 jd2718
    · Mar 30, 2011 at 6:34 am

    We should carefully point out that the Progress Reports are not meaningful. The As Bs Cs Ds and Fs are reflective of school quality. It is good to show that the DoE cynically uses those letters when it is expedient, ignores them when it is expedient.

    But let’s be clear: there is not a ‘right’ way to use the Progress Reports – they are irremediable garbage; there is not a ‘right’ way for the DoE to close schools.


  • 2 Michael Fiorillo
    · Mar 30, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    A very fine, well-documented piece, Jackie.

    I’d only make one suggestion: when you write, “It is possible that the DOE doesn’t realize what it is doing, and it is possible it knows and does not care,” you leave out an important possibility: that they know precisely what they are doing and are doing it purposefully.

    It is their full intention to close more and more schools, creating more and more disruption, and creating more falling dominoes, all in the service of turning school management and infrastructure over to private interests. When the story of corporate ed deform in NYC is written, real estate, as always, will be an important factor, though it is under-acknowledged at the moment.

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  • 5 Dee Alpert
    · Mar 31, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Given the extremely sophisticated analyses of high schools the NYC DOE has gotten from Parthenon and, presumably, other expensive outside consulting groups, it hardly seems reasonable to assume the NYC DOE doesn’t realize what it’s doing. Looking at what it has done in the past, although it’s mostly something one must glean from bits and pieces of info. let escape here and there by Tweed. It would appear that overage students are to be pushed into D. 79 GED programs as much as possible and as soon as possible. This large group of kids is one which the NYC DOE has never, in any significant way, been able to deal with successfully, so it’s set up a funnel-them-out system so it can stop trying.

    Sound incredible? I almost hit the floor a month or two ago when I read that D. 79’s GED programs/schools and the like enrolled 30,000 students. That is not chump change – it’s huge and mostly kept quiet.

    There are research-validated programs for working with these kids successfully, but since they aren’t part of the NYCDOE’s all-eggs-in-one-basket philosophy, they’re not considered. And the one time that Parthenon did mention on research-validated program for remediating reading disabilities and problems, the NYCDOE negotiated a “custom” program with the creator which was so “custom” that it failed abjectly, never to be mentioned again … in public. Then there was the large-scale evaluation the NYU Grad. School of Ed. did on the NYCDOE’s Title 1 program. Aha! The longer a school remains in NYC Title 1, the more its students’ scores decline … and that was before State Ed. cleaned up its tests and brought everyone’s scores down by yards. Did Tweed heads roll when the NYU study was published? Nah! I suss they just gave the relevant officials a $ billion in shopping money to … start the iZone. If at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail again.

    At some point folks will start saying what I’ve been chanting for some years now: Tweed is incompetent; Tweed is incompetent; Tweed is incompetent. And so is the Mayor who appoints the head of Tweed.

  • 6 jd2718
    · Apr 2, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    in my comment, up top, I omitted the word “not” – shifting my meaning. The Progress Reports are NOT reflective of school quality. I apologize for the error.