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Mayoral Candidates and Education Leaders Discuss School Closure Policy

April 17, 2012
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Panel Members Release Report, Recommend Alternatives to Bloomberg Administration’s Close-and-Replace Policies

(New York, NY – April 17, 2012) – Leading candidates for mayor – Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson – joined education leaders from the Working Group on School Transformation today to release a report (click here to download report) on Mayor Bloomberg’s school closure policy and recommend alternatives as part of a breakfast forum on education at New York University’s Kimball Hall Lounge.

Councilmember Robert Jackson, Chair of the Education Committee

The mayor’s controversial school closings policy and approach to struggling schools has been met with increasingly harsher criticism from communities and elected officials, and lower approval ratings from voters over the last few years.  In response, the forum’s panelists – including the mayoral candidates, City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson, former DOE Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina and NYU Professor Pedro Noguera – discussed alternatives to the unpopular policies and the potential for change that could benefit students in the coming years.

“This report hits the nail on the head: the Administration’s practice of closing schools first and asking questions later is a recipe for disaster,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “I applaud the Working Group for conducting such a detailed analysis, and for acknowledging that Tweed’s unilateral decision-making process hurts students.  The strategies outlined in this study will better serve New York’s struggling schools and improve public education in our city.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer

“Every year there’s more evidence that the DOE’s closure policy is putting schools into crisis – one after another – by flooding them with large concentrations of high-needs students.  We simply can’t continue down this road,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  “Fortunately, the Working Groups’ report offers thoughtful guidance on ways to move forward.  We need to work with schools to identify and address areas of need, and then address those needs through a comprehensive plan that involves the entire school community.”

Former Comptroller, William Thompson

“Closing a school for poor performance, while a necessary tool for any school system, should be a last resort and not an intervention strategy,” said former Comptroller William Thompson.  “Unfortunately, what we have witnessed in recent years is a shuffling of high-need students from one failed and shut down school to the next. It resembles an educational Ponzi scheme that cheats our children and their families of assistance, support and success and it must end.  As President of the Board of Education, I was proud to help launch the Chancellor’s District that identified low performing schools for interventions, educational support and additional resources. This program helped turn around many schools and is echoed in some of the recommendations made today by the Working Group on School Transformation.  I am pleased to stand with them and other educational leaders in announcing these findings and proposing new responses for our struggling schools.”

“The Working Group’s report and recommendations offers our City a great opportunity to discuss alternatives from people directly impacted from school closures,” said former Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina.  “It is my hope that educator and parent voices will remain an essential part of any reform strategy as we move forward.  The Working Group provided a positive model of how all stakeholders can collaborate for the common good of all students.”

NYU Professor Pedro Noguera, Director of NYU Metro

“This report should be taken as a call for constructive action to address the serious challenges facing schools in New York City,” said New York University Professor Pedro Noguera, Director of NYU Metro.  “Given the extent of the problem, it would be wise for public officials to ask themselves what can be done to support schools and to provide them with the assistance needed to educate all children in New York City.  Given the disruption to children and their families, closing a school should be seen as the last resort, used only when all other strategies to improve the school have failed.  We need a more creative approach that draws upon the strengths of our communities to support struggling schools.”

CEJ Parent leader and AQE Advocacy Director, Zakiyah Ansari

“Parents, students and academics agree: Mayor Bloomberg’s approach to struggling schools has failed,” said Coalition for Educational Justice Parent leader and Advocacy Director of the Alliance for Quality Education, Zakiyah Ansari.  “When only 1-in-4 of our children graduate college-ready and only 13% of Black and Latino students graduate college-ready, it’s clear his way hasn’t worked.  Yet the mayor is pushing hard for his wrongheaded policies to continue long after he’s gone.  That can’t happen.  As the mayor finishes his final term, it is time to hold him accountable for his role in educating our children—and to make sure the next mayor does a much better job on behalf of our children.”

“These recommendations put the focus on building instructional capacity in struggling schools,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children.  “That will require a concentration of resources and expertise, but it’s the only way we’re going to see real improvement for the students who go there.”

“Students with learning differences and special needs are harmed in disproportionate numbers when we move to close schools rather than support stronger learning communities,” said Jo Haines, working group member and executive director of Everyone Reading, Inc.  “That’s why we’re happy to collaborate in the development of these recommendations and hope they spark an important discussion.”

The Working Group – chaired by panelists Annenberg Institute For School Reform Executive Director Warren Simmons and Coalition for Educational Justice parent leader Zakiyah Ansari – formed to analyze the mayor’s approach to struggling schools during his tenure.  The analysis found the City’s focus on school closings a drastic and ineffective response, and so offered alternatives to the policy that are based on research evidence  and engage the wisdom and experience of practitioners, parents and students.

“Though the administration insists that its reforms have produced dramatic gains in student outcomes, recent evidence provides a sobering contrast to claims of systemic progress,” according to the report.

Among the report’s findings and suggestions:

  • The 140 schools the DOE has closed since 2003 serve large numbers of the city’s highest need students.  Those schools had higher percentages of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a proxy for poverty), higher percentages of students with disabilities, and higher percentages of English Language Learners than the school system as a whole.
  • During the five years prior to the announcement of closing, the DOE significantly increased the percentages of academically challenged students assigned to the schools targeted for closing, thus setting those schools up for failure.
  • The Department of Education should refocus on strategic intervention, including: creating a pilot zone for targeted supports; involving schools’ communities and stakeholders in improvement planning and implementation; and centralizing DOE support for school improvement initiatives.
  • The Department of Education should work to build instructional capacity across the system, including: developing strategies to insure high-needs students are not concentrated in struggling schools; creating an early warning system to identify deteriorating school performance; and aiding interventions into struggling schools.

The Working Group on School Transformation includes the following members:

Warren Simmons, Executive Director, the Anenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University; Zakiyah Ansari, parent leader, NYC Coalition for Educational Justice and organizer, Alliance for Quality Education; Ruddie Daley, parent leader, NYC Coalition for Educational Justice ; Carmen Farina, former New York City Schools Deputy Chancellor; Maria Fernandez, Senior Coordinator, NYC Urban Youth Collaborative; Norm Fruchter, Senior Policy Analyst, Annenberg Institute for School Reform; Jo Haines, Executive Director, Everyone Reading, Inc.; John Jackson, President, Schott Foundation for Public Education;  Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education, New York university and Director, NYU Metro; Center for Urban Education; Christine Rowland, teacher, Christopher Columbus High School;  Jon Snyder, Dean, Bank Street College of Education; Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children of New York;  Philip Weinberg, Principal, High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology.

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