The Department of Education last week announced its plans to close or phase out 19 public schools. This year, the school-closure list includes high schools, middle schools, and grade schools. Beyond the closures, the DOE is also planning six “truncations,” where a school’s grade configuration changes from, say, a secondary school, serving grades 6 through 12, to high-school grades only (9 to 12).
Chancellor Dennis Walcott has stated a personal and departmental goal of creating 50 new, high-quality middle schools during the last two years of the Bloomberg administration. Accordingly, middle-school grades are often lopped off in this year’s truncations, perhaps to create room for a swath of new middle schools come September. (At a town hall meeting in Brooklyn last week, the chancellor said the DOE would open 50 new schools this fall, but he did not say how many would be middle schools.)
The department has, since 2002, closed 117 schools and opened 535, including 139 charter schools. Critics have long charged that DOE is focused on dismantling poor schools in tough neighborhoods, where children are at greatest risk (and vulnerability); DOE consistently parries with its desire to improve schools across the board, even in the city’s toughest districts—an outcome that means disrupting old systems, breaking old patterns and, yes, closing schools. This year, that means closing some schools that were created during the current administration’s tenure: Seven of the 15 schools that may close were created by the current administration; one was the subject of a City Limits article last year.
Some schools, like the all-boys Academy of Business and Community Development in Bedford-Stuyvesant, say they had no notice of the possible closure. DOE says it has visited all of the schools over time, in an ongoing effort to improve them, but that certain schools—those on this short list, for example—can no longer achieve meaningful change and must be replaced.
This year’s list includes schools in all five boroughs, although many more in Brooklyn and the Bronx than in Queens and Staten Island (one school each).
DOE data show that the schools on DOE’s closing list serve more poor students and more children of color than NYC public schools do, on average.
All of the schools serve a greater majority of children of color, whose families live at far greater levels of poverty, than the school system as a whole. Of the 25 schools listed, black and Hispanic students make up at least 95 percent of the student body at 19 of the schools, compared with the NYC public school average of 68 percent children of color. At 18 schools, at least four of every five children enrolled are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch—long a proxy for poverty—compared with just over one in four children under 18, citywide.
Additionally, most of the schools listed this year by DOE serve large populations of children who receive special-education services; nine schools on the list count at least one in five students with special-ed needs, well above the city average of 15 percent special-ed students. Eight of the targeted schools enroll a higher-than-average proportion of students who are English language learners, or ELLs, a specialized population that requires robust academic support. Six schools exceed city averages for both special-ed students and ELL children.
In an accountability-bound era that began with No Child Left Behind and has been taken up with vigor by the Bloomberg administration, the data tell the story: The closing schools have a tougher burden than the average NYC public school. They serve higher-need students and children who live in far greater poverty than most other public school students.
The Panel for Education Policy, which replaced the Board of Education when Mayor Bloomberg first took control of the city’s schools in 2003, will vote on the DOE’s planned school closures and truncations in February. The PEP’s majority membership serves at the pleasure of the mayor; it has not voted against school closures during the Bloomberg administration.