Co-Location of Schools in NYC Denies Services to Students

In New York City, due to school “reforms” undertaken during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s three terms, all high school students now participate in school choice; there are no longer comprehensive high schools with attendance zones. Many smaller high schools and elementary schools were opened, and many are now co-located, which means that several schools share space in what were once larger public schools.  While the mass of small high schools created under Mayor Bloomberg have received largely positive press, a new study demonstrates serious problems with many of the schools.

Even academic researchers have viewed Bloomberg’s policies as a help for struggling students.  For example, Greg Duncan, professor of education at the University of California at Irvine and Richard Murnane, economist in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, endorse the creation of New York’s small high schools.  In Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education, Duncan and Murnane accurately identify the educational implications of rising economic inequality in America’s metropolitan areas—accompanied by growing residential income segregation.  These authors then devote several chapters to what they consider promising educational responses.  One of the reforms they endorse is New York City’s “systemic initiative that has made it possible for tens of thousands of low-income New York City youth to obtain a higher-quality secondary education.” (p. 85)  However, despite supporting the “personalized attention, academic rigor and relevance, and abundant learning opportunities” (p. 106) available in the small high schools they examine, they note that “even the ambitious effort to create a system of effective small high schools left one in four disadvantaged New York City youth without a high school diploma.” (p, 107)

The new report released last week by the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, The Effects of Co-Location on New York City’s Ability to Provide All Students a Sound Basic Education, graphically explains why New York City’s small schools—many crowded together in shared space in what were once larger public schools—are not working as well as they were supposed to.  The researchers warn: “We do not claim that all small and co-located schools have these deficiencies, but the deficiencies that we have found in the high-need schools we studied are substantial, and evidence that students’ educational rights are being violated in any school must be taken seriously… We are encouraged that Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina has convened a task force to study co-location and another to discuss the utilization report upon which school-building utilization decisions are made.”

“In 2013,” report the Teachers College researchers, “1,150 (63%) of the city’s 1,818 schools were co-located.  Charter schools made up 10% of co-located schools (115); the other 90% were traditional public schools.”  The researchers estimate that formulas used to allocate space in the city’s public school buildings seriously underestimate needed space for reasonable class size, for the operation of sufficient services for all children, and for required programming for students with special needs.  “NYC DOE policy for allocating resources to co-located schools in the years of our study did not provide these schools sufficient space or staffing to afford students the full range of resources to which they are entitled and that they need in order to succeed.”  Here are some of the reported violations:

Violations in Access to Facilities:  When schools are co-located, many students lack access to a shared library, a shared auditorium, and a shared gymnasium.  Sometimes the physical education facilities are inappropriate for the age and size of the students in each of the small schools sharing a building. “In some schools as a result of co-location, specialized physical-education spaces—such as swimming pools, dance studios and weight rooms—were off limits to students in their own school buildings.  Some schools lacked adequate access to their building’s shared yard.” Special education students and English language learners were being taught in closets and storage spaces. “Schools also lacked adequate and appropriate space for student-support services like counseling, speech therapy, and health services…. In one school, the guidance counselor met with students in the stairwell landing.”

Oversized Classes: The physical capacity of shared spaces has left large numbers of students in classes well above the contractual maximum class size and without the capacity for required small group supplemental instructional support.

Violations in Access to Curriculum: “Some small, co-located schools lacked a sufficient number of teachers and classrooms to teach even the basic required curriculum, curtailing access to social studies, science, and physical education…. Many schools were unable to provide the full Regents-required curriculum.”  “In middle and high schools, as a result of a lack of space and personnel, some schools were unable to provide even the minimum required instructional time and course offerings in math, social studies, and science.”  Some high schools lack basic chemistry and physics classes and provide only limited instruction in foreign languages.  Many middle schools and high schools lack art and music programs.  Many of the small schools lack sufficient guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists.

Violations in the Provision of Special Education Services: “Most egregiously, for lack of adequate staff, space, and other resources, schools adjusted the individualized education programs (IEPs) of some students with special needs in order to fit the available resources in the school, rather than the needs of children.”

Diversion of Scarce Resources: “The creation of small schools requires that the system hire more principals and other administrative staff…. One building housing a number of small, co-located schools had 28 administrators making six figure salaries.” “Office space for principals and other administrative staff reduces the number of available classrooms and spaces for student-support services.”

The researchers challenge New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio and the new schools chancellor, Carmen Farina to investigate these shortfalls in the services to which all students are entitled: “It is incumbent upon city and state education officials to assess the extent to which all students in small and co-located schools are being afforded the educational rights and opportunities to which they are entitled.”

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