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NYC school closings run counter to research that warns against aggressive measures


EducationWeek published a story Thursday examining new fault lines that have emerged within traditional coalitions over the subject of urban-area charter schools. The narrative centers on a lawsuit filed jointly by the United Federation of Teachers, the New York state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other groups, that would force New York City School Department of Education to stall the closing of 22 schools and the creation or co-habitation of charter schools into existing district school buildings.

According to the article, the position of NAACP has infuriated some local members of the community who say the historic civil rights group is standing in the way of education reform that would benefit minority students.

The suit alleges the board of education used “dogmatic efforts to short-circuit community participation in school governance,” in part by disregarding a settlement the city and another teachers union struck last year that spelled out steps officials must take before closing down schools. Those terms concerned 19 schools and stated parents were to be engaged before classrooms were shuttered.

The issue of charter school take-overs has frequently been charged with racial and socio-economic undertones. In 2010, the University of Minnesota Law School’s Institute on Race and Poverty completed a study examining the charter school effect on post-Katrina New Orleans, finding the biggest school re-organization effort in the country has led to “‘a separate but unequal tiered system of schools’ that sorts white students and a relatively small share of students of color into selective, high-performing schools, while steering the majority of low-income students of color to high-poverty, low-performing schools.”

Putting a kink in the school choice argument that competition among schools promotes a scaling up of working education models, the study warned “that school choice in the form of charter schools does not by itself empower students of color to escape the negative consequences of segregation, especially when it leads them to racially segregated, high-poverty, low-performing schools.”

In another study from 2010, a team at the University of Colorado in Boulder followed the graduation rates of displaced students who were relocated to new schools after administrators closed down ones in which they were enrolled. The results, summarized in a feature that appeared in Ed, the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, show transfers hurt a pupil’s performance:

[D]ropout rates among displaced students rose from 7 to 15 percent; the likelihood of graduating fell from 71 to 49 percent. Study coauthor Matthew Gaertner, who produced calculations for this article that were not part of the published study, said displaced student test scores dropped 12 percent in reading, 9 percent in math, and 19 percent in writing compared with what they would have scored had the school not closed (using modeling developed from historic test data).

The study also included surveys and interviews with 115 displaced students in which 25 percent reported being mistreated by youths or adults at new schools, blamed on the stigma of coming from a failed school. Forty percent described a loss of friendships; 40 percent also reported weaker relationships with adults at their new school. Only 8 percent appreciated the new school’s greater program offerings. Because the study tracked students for just one year after closure it’s possible that they may perform better and feel happier as time passes.

Despite evidence that shows school reform projects offer minimal or counter-productive benefits to affected students, many district administrators move forward with them. Cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York have all pursued major charter and school-turnaround initiatives (in which students stay but staff and personnel are asked to go).

While senior school officials practice autonomy, many recent leaders of the nation’s largest school districts have spent time at the Broad Superintendents Academy. Named after the billionaire philanthropist couple Eli and Edythe, the program promotes a business focus in running urban schools. The current superintendents of Los Angeles and Chicago are graduates of the program, as is the number two rank in the New York public school system, Shael Polakow-Suransky. U.S. Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has partnered with the president to expand testing and school closings through Race To The Top, also has established ties with the Broad Foundation.

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