Another ed conference scheduled for this month, this time on small schools placed inside big high schools.
Nowhere has the approach of restructuring large comprehensive high schools been implemented as broadly as in New York City. Since 2000, 27 large comprehensive high schools have been closed and reopened as campuses of small schools.
In our third conversation series we will look at some of the consequences of this small schools approach: Do the students who attend the new schools have different characteristics, on average, than students in other schools in the city or in the schools they replaced? How do remaining comprehensive high schools change as nearby schools are closed? A research presentation will be followed by a discussion with principals, community partners, education scholars, teachers, parents, , students, organizers, and policymakers about this important topic.
Before the charter mania, there was the small schools mania, when Big Money Gates helped Joel Klein break up the large high schools into campuses of independent schools. Something on the way to charters, but they were only getting their feet wet in those days. Each school was affiliated with one or more “partners,” private entitites who gave money, supplies, and other kinds of support of various and who had a say in much of what was going on in the school. Classes were smaller, capped at 27.
They claimed to be trying to change the environment of “big” and give the kids a sense of belonging to something less overwhelming than a big HSS, but no one ever really explained why the DoE couldn’t just ask the high schools to partition themselves into houses or academies under the same general administration and remain a single school, with class sizes reduced in the same way.
That would have saved the competition for space. Large and communal areas in the building could be shared (so could personnel), and certain subjects and services could be offered across all the houses. What was it about those minis that were so darn attractive to Gates and the DoE. The only thing I can think of was that it was easier to bust the unions.
As it turned out, the small school movement failed. Gates admitted as much at a Forum for Education in November 2008, saying in some written remarks:
In the first four years of our work with new, small schools, most of the schools had achievement scores below district averages on reading and math assessments . . .
At our foundation, we believe that success ultimately means that at least 80 percent of low-income and minority students graduate from high school college ready. According to our data, the number of low income and minority students graduating college ready today is 22 percent, and that figure is increasing far too slowly. It’s unacceptable. We need to do better . . .
The disappointing results showed how hard it can be to convert large, low-performing high schools into smaller, more autonomous schools.
Without apologizing for the upheaval of a large public system, Gates and wife seem to have just changed hobbies. This new one has a lot to do with assessing teacher quality, micromanaging of teaching, data manipulation, and so-called standards:
So we’re going to sharpen our focus on effective teaching—in particular supporting new standards, curriculum, instructional tools, and data that help teachers—because these changes trigger the biggest gains, they are hardest to scale, and that is what’s holding us back.
I am curious who the “us” that’s getting held back is in the last sentence (he must mean the corporations) and intrigued about what these people consider a “gain” (he must mean tests scores, because they don’t concern themselves with much else.)
The discussion on the 22nd is being run by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, whose vision according to their website is to
[work] with school system central offices and community constituencies, to explore and refine the concept of “smart education systems,” networks of schools, community organizations and services that promote high-quality student learning and development inside and outside of schools.
More corporations and more jargon (particularly in that link to “smart education systems”}, but in any case, Jennifer Jennings (aka Eduwonkette) is one of the people running this event and she knows a whole lot about small schools first hand.
It could be an interesting discussion, or it could be more of the same, with experienced teachers knowing in their gut what has to be done in city classrooms and how much isn’t being done by Gates or anyone else to provide kids with the services they need. Corporations still prefer to play around with data rather than deal with poverty, families with no health or childcare, and a host of other social issues.
Time: 4:30-6:30 pm
Place: Professional Staff Congress, CUNY 61 Broadway, 16th floor (between Rector and Exchange) R, W or 1 to Rector Street, 4 or 5 to Wall Street RSVP to
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212.328.9280
Light refreshments, Spanish translation and childcare will be provided