study says...

Closing schools serve students with greater needs, report says

picture-3The 25 schools the city is trying to close are low-performing, but their students are among the city’s most challenging — and are only getting needier over time.

Those are the findings of a report released today by the Independent Budget Office, the city’s data watchdog.

City officials argue that these low-performing schools should be closed because other schools serve similar student populations with better results. But critics of the closures often counter that the schools were set up to fail after the city sent them comparatively larger numbers of under-prepared, special needs and English language learning students.

The report confirms that many of the schools slated for closure have been enrolling increasingly high percentages of the city’s most challenging students since 2005.

In 10 of the 14 high schools on the closure list, for example, ninth-graders who entered the school in 2009 arrived with lower scores than their predecessors in 2007. The percentage of students entering the schools overage has grown to more than double the citywide average.

For the second time, the IBO report compared the academic performance of the schools slated to close both to citywide averages and to other schools the city says are similar. It also takes a close look at the demographics of the students who attend schools on the closure list, and how those demographics have changed over time.

City officials responded to the report by citing two studies conducted by the research group MDRC and funded by the Gates Foundation that found that the city’s small schools boosted academic performance for low-income students of color.

“Our reform efforts are absolutely focused on our students that need the most help, and independent research shows new small schools that replace large failing schools serve more disadvantaged students on average and help these students graduate at higher rates,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Academic achievement at the schools was much lower than citywide averages. Their performance also  fell below the average performance of the 11 schools the city selected last year to undergo the “transformation” model of school improvement and the three high schools that were on the closure list last year but were granted a reprieve this year.
  • But the schools produced mixed results when compared with other schools that the city says serve similar students. Three schools out of the 14 high schools on the closure list had more students earning course credits than more than half of their peer schools. Just three had credit-accumulation rates that were in the lowest tenth of schools in their peer group. Two of the 14 posted attendance rates that were in the lowest 10 percent of their peer group schools.
  • The schools slated for closure saw an increase in their rates of students receiving special education services or living in temporary housing that was larger than the increase citywide.
  • A disproportionate share of students in closing schools are in the Bronx. Nearly 40 percent of students who attend schools slated for closure do so in the Bronx. That’s compared to just over 20 percent of all city students who attend school in that borough.
  • Of the schools replacing closing schools as they phase out, 23 are new or existing small schools. Eight are new or existing charter schools, and seven are new zoned elementary or middle schools. The city has not yet released the plans for three schools set to open in buildings where a school is closing.

Read the full IBO report here.

(This post has been updated to provide the DOE’s response to the report.)

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:


The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.


In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news