Final decisions about the futures of 47 schools under consideration for closure will be announced over the next two days.

Over the past three months, the Department of Education compiled the list of schools based on their poor performances on the city’s annual progress reports. Of the 47 schools, 20 are elementary and middle schools, 21 are high schools — including middle school grades of four secondary schools — and six are charter schools.

Last year during a similar two-day period, the city announced it would shutter 26 schools, a total that was whittled down from 55 schools. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy eventually approved all but one closure.

Since the DOE released its list two months ago, officials have met with school officials and community members to review intervention options. The “early engagement” process began last year as a sort of legal protection in response to a lawsuit that reversed the city’s plans to close 19 schools. In his decision, the judge concluded that the DOE had not adequately engaged or notified people in school communities before their schools were put up for closure.

In an email to reporters this evening, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg emphasized that this legal requirement had been met.

“This engagement is above and beyond what is mandated by State law and leads to better decision making,” Sternberg wrote.

Regardless of which schools are picked to close tomorrow, the decision will surely draw heavy criticism. Since September, dozens of protests and rallies have been organized by advocacy groups opposed to the city’s school closure policy. They have argued that many of the schools have struggled because the DOE has not provided them with enough academic support and resources.

Below is Sternberg’s email in full:

All:

Over the next few days the Department will be making a series of announcements related to our work to propose interventions and supports for struggling schools.

Every child in New York City deserves the best possible education.  This starts with a great school – led by a dedicated leader and talented teachers who share a goal of student success.  We count on each of our schools to provide a high-quality education to all of its students – and we hold all schools to the same high standard. When a school is failing its students, we are compelled to take action to provide better options.

Under this administration, New York City has phased out 117 of our lowest-performing schools and opened 535 new schools:  396 districts schools and 139 public charter schools. As a result, we’ve created more high-quality schools for students and families.  Overwhelmingly, new schools are doing better than those they replaced.  But when they are not we will hold them accountable, as we do for all of our schools.  Please find below several key statistics about our new schools:

  • Graduation rates at new schools are higher than the schools they replaced.  For example, the new schools we have opened on the Van Arsdale campus in the Brooklyn had a graduation rate of nearly 83% in 2010 – 38 percentage points higher than the 2002 graduation rate at Van Arsdale High School.  The new schools on the Van Arsdale campus are achieving these results with a similar population of students that were served by the school they replaced.
  • When today’s ninth graders were entering Kindergarten, 16,000 New York City high school graduates enrolled at CUNY schools.  Last fall more than 25,000 City graduates enrolled, an increase of over 50%.
  • New schools have higher average scores on the parent survey than other schools in the system.

New Schools are also excelling on the progress report:

  • Un-screened high schools opened since 2002 continue to earn higher grades and have better graduation outcomes than un-screened high schools opened before 2002.
  • Charter schools earned a higher percentage of As and had a higher average percentile rank than non-charters, led by CMO-affiliated schools and charter middle schools.

In advance of announcements about this work later this week, I wanted to remind you about the steps we took to help inform our proposals. Consistent with our approach last year and our desire to incorporate school and community input in our decision-making process, in October and November we had conversations with 47 struggling schools (41 district schools and 6 public charter schools) that were eligible for an intensive support plan or intervention.  We also sent letters providing detailed information on the process to elected officials where these schools were located.  This engagement is above and beyond what is mandated by State law and leads to better decision making.

Early engagement schools were identified by public criteria.  In our conversations with struggling schools we shared information about school performance and talked with the community about what was working at the schools and what needs to be improved.  In addition to collecting feedback from the community, we took a close look at the academic performance and environment at these schools to inform our decision making.  At the end of this process, our analysis and engagement directed us to a set of schools that quantitative and qualitative indicators show do not have the capacity to significantly improve.  Deciding what course of action can best support the students and community of a struggling school is not easy, but we are compelled to act based on our commitment to ensuring that every student has access to high-quality school.

Last summer, when the Judge denied the UFT and NAACP’s petition to prevent the Department of Education from moving forward to phase out 22 failing schools it acknowledged that we can’t stand by and allow schools to keep failing our kids when we know we can—and we must—do better.  As Judge Feinman stated in his decision, “If the failing public schools are not closed, students may be subject to substandard educational environments which will obviously cause them to be considerably harmed.”  Deciding to phase out a school is the toughest decision the Department makes. But it is the right thing to do for current and future students.

We will be in touch over the course of the next two days with additional information, and I will be available to further discuss our work.  I ask that you please direct further questions to Natalie and Frank.

Best,

Marc Sternberg

Deputy Chancellor for Portfolio Planning