Saturday, June 06, 2015
Bringing Back The Neighborhood High Schools Is The Only Answer In Improvimg Our Struggling Schools.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina have a program to improve the struggling schools called the School Renewal Turnaround Program. They include targeted funding, better oversight, and more programs for the high schools to turnaround them academically. However, there are some very serious problems associated with these schools that the De Blasio administration has failed to address and I question their prospects for success, especially when it comes to the DOE's misguided school funding policy known as "education on the cheap".. Let's look at the major problems facing the Mayor's renewal high school program.
Student Population The renewal high schools have a very similar student population distribution. A poor minority student cohort with a high percentage of "high needs" students. These "high needs" students whether they are homeless, special education. English language learners, or behaviorally challenged, are associated with low academic achievement. How does the Mayor's renewal program address that problem? If you were a parent of a high achieving student, would you send your child to one of these schools? I think not.
Enrollment: Many of these renewal schools are under populated and struggle to keep enrollment up. In a previous post, I showed how many vacant student slots are available in these schools. The less students, the less money is available to the renewal schools to add courses, services, and hiring quality teachers. Limiting the "over-the-counter- students" for these schools is a double edged sword since less enrollment means less funds for the schools.
Fair Student Funding: The renewal schools are still subject to the 800 pound gorilla in the room and that is the DOE's ill advised "fair student funding" and that ensures that the principals will still be forced to hire the "cheapest and not the best" teachers for their students. That means high teacher turnover and an unstable learning environment.
Small Schools: There are just too many small schools that offer limited courses, few extra curricular activities, and suffer from poor leadership. Worse, these schools are always experiencing high teacher turnover with too many "newbie teachers" who may not have the pedagogy or classroom management skills to be an effective teacher. These schools are always competing for enough students to fill their schools and many should not exist as a independent entity. The result is too many schools are competing for a dwindling amount of academically preforming students not selected by the better schools.
Class Size: Most schools, to save on money and hire fewer teachers have class sizes near the contract limit of 34 students. This is much too large for proper learning in these struggling schools but for the DOE its always been about the budget and not about what's best for the students.
Longer School Day: The renewal schools will have a one hour longer school day. However, the DOE and UFT have not decided on the payment rate for teachers who work the extra hour. Furthermore, how will the extra hour affect the mandated Professional Development requirements? In other words, its still a work in progress to schedule the extra hour and how to incorporate it into a daily schedule.
The solution is to reimpose high school zoning, recombine the small schools, have significantly smaller class sizes (20-25 maximum), and bring back the large comprehensive neighborhood schools. This will allow for more course selection and a better learning environment. Moreover, eliminating the "fair student funding" will free up the schools in hiring the "quality teachers" necessary to improve student academic achievement. Finally, each school should have a program magnet that attracts the academically performing students back to the school and provide the school with a solid foundation for attracting experienced teachers to the school and reduce the unacceptably high teacher turnover in the renewal schools.