Sunday, September 09, 2012

Why Are Small Schools Bad For Students? Let Me Count The Ways.

During the Bloomberg Administration's tenure many of the large comprehensive high schools have closed and many more are in danger of closing.  To replace these now closed or closing schools are almost 500 small schools, many of them with themes such as preforming arts, sports, or journalism, just to name a few.  While the Bloomberg Administration has hailed them as a success because of an artificially  higher graduation rate, the truth is very different.  What are the problems with these small schools for many students?  let me count the ways.

Limited Curriculum:

All small schools have less than 500 students and there is usually a limited curriculum consisting of the core subjects, a selected Advance Placement course or two and electives that are connected to the school's theme.  In other words, a rigid and limited schedule. Many students regret going to these schools because of the lack of flexibility in course selection and are frustrated about the "one-size-fits-all" approach in scheduling.

Lack Of Extracurricular Activities:

One of the most recurring complainants by students in small schools are the limited number of extracurricular activities available in the school.  Some of the more fortunate schools that are located in a campus of a closed large comprehensive high school, pool their resources to have a PSAL sports team.  However, the majority of the small schools do not have that luxury and PSAL sports programs are usually limited to two or three sports teams compared to the twenty or more PSAL sports teams at the remaining large comprehensive high schools.  Furthermore, the small schools lack funds for clubs and only a few clubs are available to the students and the lack of variety of these clubs leave many students on the outside looking in..

The Staff:

During the time I was an ATR and moving to different schools weekly, I noticed that the small schools had only one teacher for each subject (two for English and Social Studies) and when I covered for these teachers some of the students complained that they do not like their teacher and would want to transfer to another class but can't because there is only one teacher teaching the course.  Moreover, the rigid scheduling of the small school makes a transfer virtually impossible.  Worse of all, many of the small schools are staffed by Leadership Academy Principals and untenured staff.  The inexperienced Administration and teaching staff puts these students at a competitive disadvantage as these students are guinea pigs as the staff must experience a steep learning curve.  This shows up in the abyssal college readiness scores of 11% for the small schools.  Too many students are caught in classes that they don't want and with teachers who are just learning how to teach themselves. Moreover, when study/teacher interaction is not good, the student has no option but to stay in the class since there is no alternative. The result from a student's perspective is that these small schools are more like a prison than a true learning institution where they can blossom and expand their academic and social horizons.

The Budget And Bureaucracy:

While the Bloomberg Administration made sure that these small schools receive their full funding, unlike the large, comprehensive high schools, the budget is still limited and a significant amount of school funds go to the Children First Network (CFN) Bureaucracy.  One Principal complained privately that over 15% of the school budget goes to unwanted and unnecessary programs that his CFN imposed on his school.  The bottom line is that too much money of an already tight budget goes for non-classroom programs and the result is that principals can't or won't hire experienced teachers to mentor the many inexperienced teachers who struggle with classroom instruction and management, because of their salary and this is especially true of the small schools.  Is it any wonder that the students quickly get disenchanted with their small school?

The bottom line is for the small schools to really succeed, the DOE must increase their budgets to provide more curriculum choices and extracurricular activities, eliminate the CFN's that siphon much needed funds for programs that do not work, and encourage not discourage the hiring of experienced teachers to improve the overall quality of classroom instruction at the schools.



Anonymous said...

My experience observing the small schools that were placed in my phased out traditional academic high school are as follows.
-school aides were placed as dean of students.
-labs were non existent although brand new labs were part of the sca reconstruction.
-teachers had 4 preps as the norm not the exception.
-class size were not balanced as some classes had more than 30, others fewer than 10 reg ed.
-there was no SAVE room.
-the library was treated as a room with the plague.
-there were no building wide safety meetings.
-there were some chapter leaders but they were at best ineffective.
-the uft sent in retired teachers to mentor the new cl's but they were as ineffective as the cl's in the new small schools.
-the uft teacher center was dismantled.
-students ran between the corridors from one school to the other with impunity.
-the discipline code was non existent.
-I first learned the term credit recovery.
-it was deemed a great success by Tweed.
Did I miss anything?

Anonymous said...

Why don't people more file appeals with the Commissioner of Education under Education Law §310 to attempt to rectify the unsatisfactory conditions that exist in many schools across the State?

If the Commissioner doesn't grant the appeal, his denial can be appealed to the NYS Supreme Court, Albany County, within four months, pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules.