After a year-long battle, four Queens communities have had schools closed by the city Department of Education’s Panel for Educational Policy, whose members are appointed by the mayor. The mayor wants to close schools and divide them up into smaller schools. Many people believe this is a desire by hedge funds and business people who realize they can make money by getting into the school business by operating schools or providing services.
Close to Fresh Meadows, Jamaica High School was voted to be closed. Not answered was the question of where and how the 40 percent or so special needs and non-English-speaking students would be taught. Most of these new, small schools do not have provisions to help these students, so their parents send them to large, under-funded high schools which receive poor grades and are targeted for closure.
The latest growth industry is running charter schools or providing services to public schools with some leaders earning salaries of $300,000 to $400,000. Private consulting firms have sprung up to advise these new schools using retired school officials. Big business has discovered that providing supplies and services for schools is a growth industry.
The DOE believes schools and teachers should be evaluated on grades the students make on standardized tests and on the graduation rates of high school students. These are flawed evaluations since statistics are often flawed.
The state Board of Regents has lowered the grades which students received on their tests because the tests were too easy. This means graduation rates based on state test scores were inflated, so the 63 percent citywide graduation rate is inflated. Jamaica High had been criticized as having only a 50 percent graduation rate. If the school was graded fairly, if the large number of non-English-speaking students need five or six years to graduate and if there is a large number of low-level special-needs students, then they were doing an acceptable job and should have been provided more services and not closed.
The closing of schools and starting of new, smaller schools does not answer the question of where the special-needs and non-English-speaking students will go to school. There are also the students who have so much baggage from their homes or neighborhoods that they cannot function in regular schools. The new schools and schools do not want these students because they will pull down their statistics. If they attend the big, urban schools, then the statistics of these schools go down and they are in danger of closing.
It is amazing that so many people showed up at the new round of school closing hearings since so many knew the DOE wanted to close the schools. People care about their communities. They care about the schools they attended years ago. People want neighborhood schools and to not have to send their children by bus or train on one-, two- or three-hour rides every day.
The solution to helping students learn is to provide services. The DOE had allocated $10 million for after-school programs to help struggling students. This is good, but the DOE still wants to fire teachers, aides and paraprofessionals. What is needed are more adults available to talk to, guide and instruct students. So many students have so many problems that they need people to talk to, guide and mentor them.
Another solution is smaller class sizes. Even the United Federation of Teachers contract, which stipulates 32 in elementary schools, 33 in middle schools and 34 in high schools, is too high and often broken due to lack of money. The principals were given a lump sum of money to run their schools, but with so many mandates this is not a plus.
Often students cut school or classes and wander the halls because they cannot function in an academic class or have problems. The regular schools cannot legally get rid of these students who do not fit in. Non-academic places for students are needed. The city should provide programs for needy students and get rid of all or most of those high-paid consultants to free up money. The older, experienced teachers can often help students who need help.
GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: We are trying to help our students learn more.
BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: We have not figured out that not all students learn the same.
©2011 Community News Group
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