For the third time in the past three years, the teachers union is suing the City of New York in an effort to halt the closure of 24 schools in 2012.
But these schools aren’t exactly closures. They’re part of a turnaround strategy that will allow the Department of Education to access federal grants designed to improve the schools. The turnaround — or overhauled — schools will reopen in September under new names, be partnered with nonprofit groups, and have significant changes made to their staffs (principals who have been there longer than three years will be replaced, along with at least half of the teachers at each school).
The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) has also voted to permanently close several other schools, and begin phasing out 22 others.
At the same time, the Department of Education has announced plans to open 54 new schools — mostly small schools or charter schools — in September 2012, and the majority of these will be housed under the same roofs as the schools that are closing, being phased out or undergoing major restructuring.
To help put the process of school openings and closures in greater context, MetroFocus created this interactive map to show you what’s staying and what’s going.
The decision to fully phase out 17 schools between 2013 and 2015 is not without controversy, particularly because some of the 54 new schools will be installed in the same buildings as the schools being phased out. In many cases of co-location, teachers have claimed there simply is not enough room in the buildings for additional schools.
The turnaround schools have elicited the most critical response, since these schools will undergo rapid, and often massive restructuring. Before the 24 turnaround schools can be closed and reorganized, the PEP’s decisions must be approved by the State Education Department. As the map shows, these 24 schools (represented by red markers on the map) have yet to be renamed,though the DOE has decided to co-locate a handful of smaller district schools and charter schools within some of the buildings.
All of these schools were put on this list for possible closure — which the PEP voted on during two different meetings, in February and April — either because they had the lowest testing scores out the schools receiving Title 1 funding (funds that go to schools with a high population of low-income students) or they had a graduation rate below 60 percent for three consecutive years.
In 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had planned to implement a more stringent model of evaluations for teachers and principals. This would have allowed the city to choose from three less drastic overhaul strategies for these 24 schools than the turnaround model. When the United Federation of Teachers resisted new evaluations, the city objected to the union’s request for further discussion. In January, Bloomberg explained that the city would move forward with the turnaround model.
Seven schools scheduled for turnaround were later dropped from the closure list, because they had improved between 2011 and 2012, and in April two other schools were saved from closure.
Under the turnaround model, a school can potentially receive millions of dollars in federal improvement funds. But due to the mixture of opinions about the results, the turnaround model is controversial, reported Gotham Gazette.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has consistently stated that the DOE is not merely seeking to close the schools in order to “chase dollars,” and told WNYC that the turnaround plan was designed to help districts “aggressively accelerate their [the schools’] reforms.”
In short, the UFT is in strong disagreement regarding the motivation behind the turnarounds. The UFT argues that many of these schools have recently received new principals, and need more resources (such as smaller class sizes and specialized programs) and time to improve, given that their student bodies are predominantly composed of low-income students and many non-native English speakers. Additionally, many teachers argue that their schools are severely in need of resources, and that the buildings in which many of the schools are housed are in poor physical condition.
“Sometimes the reformers don’t understand how big and complicated this system is,” said a special education teacher at Robert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, which is scheduled for closure and turnaround by September. The teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, added, “Lehman specifically is the size of some cities in this country [3,441 students, according to the DOE]. You have to understand the magnitude of the support that’s required and the vision that’s required, and that just hasn’t happened.”
The teacher added that she is sometimes unable to teach classes due to repairs, and questions to what extent School Improvement Grants will be used to repair the aging building after the school is turned around in the fall.
Of the teachers union lawsuit, Walcott said in a written statement, “The UFT and CSA [Council of School Supervisors and Administrators] have shown that they would rather leave our students’ futures to the courts than do the difficult work of turning around failing schools and giving students the education they deserve.”
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, when New York City public schools open for the 2012-2013 school year, the educational landscape will still have changed dramatically from the year before — just as it has for the past three years.
Watch MetroFocus for more videos and articles about education in the metropolitan region.
“MetroFocus: Education Innovation” premieres on May 15 at 10:30 p.m. on WLIW21; May 16 at 10:30 p.m. on NJTV; and May 17 at 8:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.