Hundreds of Fed Up Parents, Students to Rally to “Fix Schools, Not Just Close Them”
Leaked memos, recent government report point to flaws in City’s “phase-out” decisions; protesters question admin’s motives
Leading advocates, lawmakers join call to hold PEP members responsible for final vote this week on 26 school closings
New York City public school parents and students will be joined by leading advocates and lawmakers Monday outside Department of Education (DOE) headquarters to demand the City “fix schools, not just close them” as the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) prepares to vote this week on whether or not to close 26 schools. The rally is organized by the Coalition for Educational Justice and the Urban Youth Collaborative.
The protesters are angry with the DOE after it sought to close a number of schools under questionable circumstances – with no transparency in how and why they chose particular schools and not others – and following an Independent Budget Office (IBO) report out last week that showed dramatic increases in recent years in the number of students who require special education or live in temporary housing at many of the schools on the cut list. The protesters will argue that the these schools were set up to fail, or, at the very least, the City’s method of choosing schools for closure is deeply flawed and unfair.
According to the study by IBO, a government agency and the City’s watchdog, “the schools on the closure list generally have been serving students with greater needs compared with other schools, and the share of their enrollments in some high-needs categories has been increasing in recent years.” Its report concluded, “there is no guarantee that a closing school will be replaced by a more successful one.”
More than 20% of students at 12 of the schools on the chopping block are in special education programs, compared to an average rate of 14% citywide. In addition, the number of homeless students enrolled in the 26 closing schools jumped from 245 in 2008 to 1,149 in 2009—an increase of 904 homeless students in these already struggling schools.
The average percentage of students in special education programs or temporary housing in the 26 schools on the list is one-and-a-half times the citywide average.
The large increases in these challenging demographic categories clearly affected school performance and possibly led to artificial drops in graduation rates, protesters will argue on Monday. For instance, the graduation rate at Paul Robeson HS in Brooklyn plummeted from 46% to 38% between 2006 and 2009 while the percentage of homeless students shot up from 1% to 13% and the percentage of special education students also rose from 10% to 14%. Rapid increases in rates of high needs students like that at Robeson were common at many of the schools on the closure list—such as at Academy of Collaborative Education, where the percentage of special education students also increased quickly from 11% in 2008 to 21% in 2010.
Angry parents, youth and advocates will say Monday that many of the schools on the closure list could be turned around with the right mix of support and resources, and that the DOE’s failure to provide that help at these schools often led directly to their decline. Parents and students at schools on the state’s Persistently Lowest Achieving list are also concerned that their schools could be next if they continue to be neglected, and if the City does not offer a comprehensive plan to fix them. City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson expressed that concern as well, saying last week that “advocates, teachers and students provided compelling testimony refuting DOE’s statements that students from closing schools received all the necessary support and resources to succeed during and after the phase-out process.”
The PEP will make the final decision this week whether or not to close 26 schools, yet only one member of the 13-person panel has weighed in on the debate. In years past, the members of the board have gone largely unscrutinized—often thought of as the rubberstamp for the mayor’s policies. Now, however, alarmed parents and advocates concerned about the impact of a record number of school closings have been targeting the PEP members themselves with flyering outside their offices—calling on them to vote “no” without a comprehensive plan to fix struggling schools, and to be accountable to the children, not just to the mayor.