Mayor Bloomberg is intent on closing as many public schools as he can before he leaves office at the end of 2013 (his third term). He has already closed about 150 schools, maybe more, of the 1,100 or 1,200 that he started with. He has added hundreds of new schools. I’ve lost count. Maybe he has too.
The mayor loves privately managed charter schools, competition, and choice. He has done his best to promote those ideas over the past ten years. There was a time when the mayor and his public relations team sold the idea of a “New York City miracle,” but those claims blew up in 2010 when the state acknowledged that it had manipulated the passing score for years. When scores across the state were recalibrated, the “miracle” about which Bloomberg and Joel Klein had boasted for years evaporated. Now, the big boast is about climbing graduation rates, but since 80% of the city’s graduates require remediation in the city’s community colleges, those claims too must be taken with a large helping of salt.
By now it is clear that the mayor’s central “reform” strategy is to close schools, fire the entire staff, and open new schools, either small schools in the same building with new names or charter schools. Many schools that were the heart of their local community have been killed during the time in which the mayor has ruled the schools with an iron hand. Most of the closed schools had low test scores, and he assumed it was because they were bad schools, but they enrolled disproportionately large numbers of poor students, students with special needs, and English language learners. As large high schools closed, the new schools tried to avoid enrolling the same students, to burnish their own scores.
Last week, at a press conference called to announce that 1,100 professors across New York state had signed a petition opposing high-stakes testing, Pedro Noguera of New York University (who recently resigned as chair of the State University of New York’s charter school authorizing board) denounced the mayor’s school closing strategy as a “shell game” that harmed the city’s most vulnerable students. In a blistering critique, he said that our public officials literally have no idea what they are doing and cling to failed policies rather than listen to their constituents.
Last Friday, an independent arbitrator ruled against the mayor’s plan to do a “turnaround” at 24 public schools. Originally, the mayor planned to close 33 schools outright, but some powerful politicians stayed the executioner’s hand and got him to reduce it to 24. The mayor doesn’t listen when thousands of parents and students show up at public hearings, but he does listen when the head of the State Assembly’s education committee complains.
The mayor’s usual strategy is to just close the school outright, but he wanted to get millions of federal dollars available for the “turnaround” so he proposed to fire at least half the staff instead of everyone. The United Federation of Teachers sued to block the closings, on grounds that it violated their contract. The arbitrator agreed with the union.
The city will appeal. The mayor is defending the children, of course. Stay tuned.