Conference on Alternatives to School Closings
State and City government education chairs, Chancellor Tisch, UFT President Mulgrew, local and national policy leaders and educators discuss strategies for transforming struggling schools
Parents and students organize first-of-its-kind event with eye toward new reforms
As polls show popular discontentment with the state of New York City schools and the current administration’s education policies, the City’s largest parent- and student-run organizations will join together tomorrow to organize a one-day conference at the Bank Street College of Education. The conference will feature panels of education leaders from New York and around the country to share their expertise and discuss strategies for transforming struggling schools. The conference is the first of its kind in New York City.
A New York Times poll this month showed that only about one-third of New Yorkers approve of how Mayor Bloomberg is handling schools—one of many recent surveys to consistently show dissatisfaction with the mayor’s education policies. Advocacy groups and education leaders are responding with new ideas, and the Department of Education itself recently began embracing new models for fixing struggling schools other than its signature policy, school closings.
As representatives of public school parents and students, the state’s largest education advocacy organizations – NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, Alliance for Quality Education and Urban Youth Collaborative – will host the conference to specifically address alternatives to school closings. The New York State Assembly and City Council education chairs, New York State Board of Regents chancellor, United Federation of Teachers president, a Department of Education deputy chancellor and national school turnaround experts will discuss alternative strategies to improve struggling schools.
“There are plenty of education conferences seeking to improve schools’ performance—but this one is unique because it has been organized by parents and students in the low-income Black and Latino communities that most need the reforms to work,” said Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) parent leader Ronnette Summers. “Too often, closing schools is presented as the only option for improving schools, but there are other solutions. This conference is by us, for us—directly addressing how to improve the struggling schools that are not preparing our students for college.”
“This year, the Department of Education received $59 million in school transformation funds, but do they know what to do with it? There is very little expertise or track record in this area in New York City,” said Monique Lindsay, a CEJ parent and the mother of a student at a federally funded transformation school. “I worked to put together this conference so that we can learn from experts across the country about what it takes to really improve struggling schools. Parents have to be a full partner in the process of transformation with the school and the DOE—and that’s what this conference is about.”
“I think it’s important that Black and Latino students and parents are putting on this conference, since we are the ones most impacted by low performing schools,” said Melissa Kissoon, 19, a graduate of a closing high school and a leader with the Urban Youth Collaborative. “New York City’s schools need help now. As a student who went through the school closing process, I know how hard it is on students. We hope that everyone who comes to the conference hears about what other districts and schools have done to improve struggling schools without closing them down, and that our city and our Mayor will listen and learn.”
“New York’s education system faces real challenges, and there must be an ongoing conversation in our state about how to address them that includes parents and students,” said State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “This unique conference brings that important perspective to the forefront, and creates an opportunity to hear, learn from, and collaborate with all of the people who can improve our schools. I’m proud to be a part of it.”
“Test scores are flat, the racial achievement gap is as wide as ever, and college preparedness rates are shamefully low,” said Robert Jackson, Chair of the NY City Council Education Committee. “The public is well-aware of the problems, and clearly believes current policies are not working. At a time when we are beginning to consider a New York City with a new mayor in 2014, it is prudent to have a focused conversation on how to make fixes that work in the nation’s most influential city.”
“We need to have a significant public discussion about strategies that work to improve low performing schools—it is not good enough to simply close them,” said NY Assembly Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan. “This conference provides an important forum to engage in this public discussion and to take a serious look at alternatives.”
New York City educational reforms of the last decade have remade the public school system and affected others across the country, but there has been no comprehensive improvement strategy for the hundreds of schools serving the largest populations of special needs students and English Language Learners in the City’s low-income communities of color. In those schools, the primary strategy has been to close the schools down and replace them with new small schools.
But with 200 middle and elementary schools where fewer than one in four students are meeting state standards, and 213 high schools where less than half of students graduate with a Regents diploma in four years, New York City is in urgent need of a school transformation strategy.
Of the 4th graders who took their first state test when Bloomberg took over the system in 2002, only 13% of Black and Latino students graduated high school ready for college. Today, Black and Latino students also have only about a 50/50 chance of graduating high school in our city. Parents and youth hope that this conference will surface strategies to improve NYC’s most struggling schools and increase student success.
For more details and to register for the conference, go to http://www.nyccej.org/registration