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.”

In NYC, Charters May or May Not “Backfill” Students; Public Schools Take Everybody

Who knew that New York City has a name for what lots of charter schools do or fail to do: accept new students when students drop out.  Backfilling students.  In NYC,  “backfilling students” is a practice that is chosen or rejected by particular charter school operators.

Right now it is also the subject of policy discussions in NYC about what should be expected of charter schools and charter school networks as a condition of their charters.  According to an excellent article that explains all this from Chalkbeat New York: “Charter schools (in NYC) must spell out their enrollment policies when they ask for permission to operate.  But authorizers have been loath to require charters to adopt one backfill policy or another, seeing it as one way in which the schools exercise their autonomy that defines them as a charter school, and so schools frequently include vague language in their charters.”

Chalkbeat New York continues:  “Now, the issue is growing in prominence as school leaders try to anticipate how the mayor will deal with charter schools in the years ahead, and especially how the city might charge charter schools rent to operate in public space.”   There are important considerations of equity as the new mayor, Bill de Blasio and his education chancellor Carmen Farina try to address the privilege and favored status some charter school operators received under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “One charter leader described the potential trade-off this way: The city provides space rent-free if the schools commit to more inclusive enrollment tactics.  Then the choice becomes the operator’s: do we want to go along or stick to our model and pay a penalty for it?”

Some charter school operators in NYC and elsewhere refuse to fill places vacated by children who drop out, because they claim that it is more difficult to bring newcomers fully into the school’s culture or to catch new students up academically.  “Backfilling seats that open up can pose steep challenges for schools.  Students who enter the school midyear or at one of a school’s higher grade levels can have trouble adjusting to the new school and be academically behind.  Midyear entries especially are more likely to have unstable home lives, leading to them leaving the school—meaning that one ‘backfilled’ seat might actually be filled by two or three students over the course of a year.”

This is a common situation for traditional public schools, but Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools, for example, “backfill” only young children in the very early grades—only “through the third grade, and students in all subsequent grades up to high school must have started by that grade.”  It is believed that one reason Moskowitz’s schools and others that refuse to “backfill” are able to post high test scores is because they do not continue to accept new students, as traditional schools are required to do.

In contrast, Chalkbeat New York describes Harlem Link Charter School’s policy of accepting new students to fill vacated seats.  The school’s founder believes the school should continue to accept new students in every grade despite that, “Last year 17 percent of its students cleared the state’s proficiency bar in reading, below the city’s average, and 29 percent did in math, which is at the city average.”

The issue is complicated because some charters are privileged by receiving free rent in district-owned buildings. Public funding for charters in New York is provided on a per-pupil basis.  Schools that are paying rent for their facilities must accept enough students to fill all the seats because each child carries part of the funding that will pay the rent.  The privileged charter chains, Success Academies, for example, can afford not to “backfill students” because they are not faced with the expense of paying rent.

Ironically, there isn’t a name for the historical practice of accepting all children who present themselves at traditional public schools across America. Children come to school and a place is found for them in class.  When a practice is just part of what has always happened for as long as anybody can remember, there is no reason to consider giving that practice a name.  I suppose in a traditional public school it might simply be called the “we take everybody” practice.

Diane Ravitch Explains Why New York’s Governor Cuomo Loves Charters

This morning in a very important blog post,  Why Cuomo Loves Charters, Diane Ravitch connects the financial dots.  New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo has received political financial backing from the leaders of New York’s very powerful charter school sector.  Cuomo’s financial backers include powerful members of the board of Success Academy Charter Schools; Great Public Schools—Eva Moskowitz’s own PAC; and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) , the national pro-charter school PAC.

I urge you to read Ravitch’s post and the articles linked to it which detail the size of financial contributions made to Cuomo’s political campaigns.  It is important to follow the money trail.

I blogged earlier today about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s over-the-top praise this week for charter schools and especially for Eva Moskowitz’s politically connected Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City.

Cuomo has made it his business to support Moskowitz and her charter network and to oppose New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio’s request for enabling legislation in Albany to allow New York City to tax those with incomes over $500,000 annually for pre-kindergarten for thousands of children and middle school after-school programs for New York City’s children.

Mayor deBlasio has prioritized the needs of the traditional public schools in New York City which continue to serve the vast majority of the district’s 1.1 million students.  He has criticized NYC’s practice of allowing charters to co-locate in New York City’s public school facilities without paying rent.  deBlasio has said that well-funded charter networks like Success Academy Charter Schools should have to pay for the facilities they occupy.  After all, Eva Moskowitz’s board pays her an annual salary of $475,000, twice the salary of New York’s schools chancellor.

De Blasio Appoints Experienced Educator as NYC Chancellor: A Sign of Hope

In A Brief History of Reform!, life-long and much beloved educator Deborah Meier contrasts the educational philosophies of John Dewey, who believed the school should model and therefore teach democracy, and Ellwood Cubberley, the technocrat who promoted so-called scientific management of schools.  As an educator Meier founded schools that modeled Dewey’s philosophy; Cubberley was the direct ancestor of today’s school reformers.

Today Meier celebrates New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointment of Carmen Farina, a 40-year teacher, principal, and school administrator—her entire career spent serving the children of New York City.

Clearly Farina and de Blasio have much work to do to curb special favors like free rent for charters and to undo policies like almost universal school choice at the high school level.  This is the policy that the Annenberg Institute for School reform exposed last year for assigning what New York City schools formally designate as “over-the-counter-children” (the children of parents who do not participate in school choice but instead expect the district to make a school assignment) to schools already being dismantled in preparation for closure.  And then there is the school closure policy itself that is already underway to dismantle several of New York City’s comprehensive high schools one grade at a time.  Addressing these issues will be a daunting task.

As we begin a new year, however, there is reason for optimism in New York City.  A forty-year, veteran educator has been appointed chancellor.  It wasn’t too long ago that the outgoing mayor appointed as chancellor Cathleen P. Black, whose work experience was limited to publishing—overseeing Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, and Good Housekeeping for Hearst Magazines.

De Blasio Launches Campaign for Universal Pre-School With this Video

Here is the very lovely little video  that New York City mayor-elect, Bill de Blasio is using to promote his proposal for universal pre-school in New York City and after school programs for all students in middle school.

The state legislature would have to pass his program to tax the very rich to pay for these important programs.  He will become mayor on January 1, 2014, but he has already launched a campaign for these important programs for the children in New York City.

DeBlasio Appoints One of the Best Parent Advocates to Transition Team

The New York Daily News reports that New York City Mayor-Elect Bill DeBlasio has appointed Ms. Zakiyah Ansari to his 60 member transition team.  Ms. Ansari will be weighing in on matters as important as the choice of New York’s next school chancellor.

As a parent of eight children, all of whom have graduated from or are currently attending New York City public schools, and as advocacy director for the New York Alliance for Education Justice, Ms. Ansari has been among the most effective critics of the closure of pubic schools in New York City and the co-location of charter schools into buildings that also house traditional public schools.

She has led statewide protests in Albany for fair school funding under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court case remedy and she has been a persistent and outspoken critic of the policies imposed by Mayor Bloomberg, his appointed school board, and his appointed chancellors, Joel Klein, Cathie Black, and Dennis Walcott.

Also appointed to DeBlasio’s transition team is Kim Sweet, executive director of New York’s Advocates for Children. Sweet and her organization have repeatedly filed lawsuits against Bloomberg’s policies affecting children with special needs.

I have personally known Zakiyah Ansari for over five years and I am heartened that a skilled organizer who can represent the needs of the parents and children she knows so well will be influencing policy with New York’s mayor-elect.  What happens in New York, as we know from the Bloomberg years, impacts the entire nation.

Billy Easton, a long-time and very effective community organizer and executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, comments on the Mayor-elect’s appointments:  “There’s no question the transition team represents a dramatic change.  But that’s what DeBlasio ran on.  There’s a thirst for change.”

NYC Rejects Charterization, Closure and Co-Location as School Reform Strategy

Bill DeBlasio’s victory in the New York City mayor’s race signifies a shift in that school district’s policies on public education.  While Mayor Bloomberg has been a leader and spokesperson of the national movement for “corporatized school reform”—rapid expansion of charter schools—extensive closures of traditional schools, especially comprehensive high schools—co-location of charter and public schools in the same buildings— DeBlasio has instead spoken firmly for improving traditional public school across the city.

According to the New York Times, “Mr. DeBlasio would significantly overhaul one of the Bloomberg administration’s principal legacies: the A-through-F grading system for schools.”  The New York Daily News reported that “De Blasio wants to focus on fixing traditional public schools and has proposed charging rent to charter schools located within those schools.”

On his campaign website, DeBlasio has identified a long list of public education priorities that include:

  • Increasing taxes for those earning $500,000 or more to pay for universal pre-Kindergarten and for enriched after-school programs for all middle school students.
  • Adding 100 full-service, wrap-around Community Schools such as the less than twenty now being modeled by the Children’s Aid Society.  These are the schools that house medical, dental, and mental health clinics, parent education and support programs, Head Starts, and extensive after-school programs and transform the public schools into family and community centers.
  • Seeking money owed New York City by the state under he Campaign for Fiscal Equity school funding remedy, to pay for reducing class size which has increased significantly in the past couple of years.
  • Supporting struggling schools with resources and technical assistance instead of rushing to close them.
  • Charging rent to charter schools according to their capacity to pay, especially the schools of the charter chains whose CEOs are paid annually in six figures.
  • Involving the community when charters and traditional charters are being co-located.
  • Providing state-mandated arts education taught by certified arts instructors for all children in the New York City Schools.

While the newly elected mayor does not oppose mayoral control of the public schools, he has said he would create new avenues to expand input from parents through the Community Education Councils and the Citywide Education Councils for particular issues such as high schools, special education, and English Language Learners.

What incoming Mayor DeBlasio has promised is a new direction for the public schools in New York City.  For the sake of the children of New York and as a harbinger of broader rejection of “portfolio school reform” and privatization, it will be important to monitor the new mayor’s capacity to implement the changes he has promised.