DOE to close four more schools, including Jamaica HS

Jamaica High School, a long-beleaguered school in central Queens, is among four more schools the Department of Education today said it would phase out beginning at the end of the school year.

The other schools are the School for Community Research and Learning, a Bronx high school; the Academy for Collaborative Education, a middle school in the Bronx; and PS 332, a neighborhood K-8 school in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. All four schools have poor state test scores and problems maintaining enrollment and discipline, according to the department. They join four other schools whose proposed closures were announced yesterday.

According to the school governance law passed in August, the proposed closures must be given public hearings and approved by the city school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy. The panel has never rejected a DOE policy proposal.

At more than 1,500 students, Jamaica is the largest school the department has so far this year indicated it would close. It has jumped on and off of the state’s list of “persistently dangerous” schools, and its graduation rate has hovered below 50 percent. This year, it has more than 500 ninth-graders but fewer than 200 twelfth-graders, according to DOE enrollment data.

Back in September, Arthur Goldstein, who teaches at Francis Lewis High School, offered some recent history about Jamaica’s trials in a column on GothamSchools asking why more wasn’t being done to help Jamaica improve. He wrote:

The city labeled Jamaica a “priority” school, and then an “impact” school. Ultimately, the state labeled the school “persistently dangerous.” Under NCLB, this triggered a letter home to all Jamaica parents, offering them an opportunity to transfer their kids to another school. Understandably, the school population dropped precipitously. Was Jamaica persistently dangerous, or was it just reporting more incidents than its neighbors? …

The DoE’s position was that Jamaica needed surveillance cameras, police, and metal detectors to improve. [UFT chapter leader James] Eterno felt it would’ve benefited more from additional counselors, teachers, and social workers. But that was not to be the case.

Below are the city’s bullet-points about why it is moving to close the schools, taken from an e-mail sent to reporters by a DOE spokesman, William Havemann:

Phase-out of PS 332 (23K332):

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of PS 332 Charles H. Houston, an elementary and middle school in District 23 that currently serves students in grades K-8. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new kindergarten classes starting in September 2010.
  •  The school has earned a C grade on its annual progress report for three consecutive years.
  • Student performance at PS 332 lags behind student performance district-wide:
    • In 2008-09, 51.8% of PS 332 students were proficient in ELA, compared with 58.9% of students district-wide.
    • In 2008-09, 61.2% of PS 332 students were proficient in math, compared with 85.9% of students district-wide.
  • Demand for the school is low.
    • Only 60% of the students attending the school are zoned to the school.

Phase-out of the Academy of Collaborative Education (05M344)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the Academy of Collaborative Education (ACE), a middle school in District 5 that currently serves students in grades 6-8. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new sixth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • ACE earned a C on the 2007-2008 Progress Report and a D on the 2008-2009 Progress Report, including Fs in both the Environment and Student Progress sections.
  • There is widespread dissatisfaction with the school across all constituencies:
    • The school earned zero points out of fifteen on the Environment section of the 2008-09 Progress Report.
    • Only 44% of students feel that their teachers inspire them to learn, and only 27% of students feel safe at school.
    •  Zero percent of teachers feel that order and discipline are maintained at the school.
    • Only half of the school’s parents indicated that they were satisfied with their child’s education.
  • Safety is a serious problem at the school:
    • The school was named to the State’s list of “Persistently Dangerous” schools in August 2009, even though other schools in the same building do not experience the same level of safety incidents as ACE.
  • Student achievement at the school is consistently low:
    • In 2008-09, only 38.1% of ACE students were proficient in ELA.
    • In 2008-09, only 47.0% of ACE students were proficient in math, a more than 10 point decline from the 2007-08 in a year when most schools experienced significant gains on State math exams.

Phase-out of Jamaica High School (28Q470)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of Jamaica High School, a Queens high school that currently serves students in grades 9-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The graduation rate at Jamaica High School has stagnated below 50% for years:
    • In 2008, the graduation rate was 44.5%.
    • In 2009, the graduation rate increased slightly to 46.2%. This slight increase still leaves the school twenty points below the projected Queens average of 67%.
  • Jamaica received a C on its 2006-2007 Progress Report, a C on its 2007-2008 Progress Report, and a D on its 2008-2009 Progress Report, declining in all three sub-categories.
  • Students fall behind early in their education, and the school doesn’t successfully get these students back on track.
    • Only 46.7% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits in 2007-08.
    • In 2008-09, this figure declined, with only 44% of first-year students accumulating ten or more credits.
  • Demand for the school has increased slightly, but remains extremely low.
    • The school currently enrolls 1,527 students, and is significantly under-enrolled despite the presence of severely overcrowded high schools elsewhere in Queens.

Phase-out of School for Community Research and Learning (08X540):

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the School for Community Research and Learning, a high school in the Bronx that currently serves students in grades 9-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The school graduates fewer than half of its students:
    • In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 47.3%.
    • In 2008-09, the graduation rate was 43.9%.
  • The school received a C on its 2006-2007 Progress Report, a B on its 2007-2008 Progress Report, and the lowest possible C on its 2008-09 Progress Report — with a D in both the Progress and Performance sections.
  • Students fall behind early in their education and the school doesn’t successfully get these students back on track:
    • In 2007-08, 48.9% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits.
  • In 2008-09, 53.1% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.