By Steve Gunn
NEW YORK – New York City school officials have announced plans to close another 26 failing schools, bringing the total to 166 during the tenure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Teacher union officials are predictably screaming, claiming the city has failed to provide adequate support to struggling schools. The unions are undoubtedly upset about the loss of jobs for union teachers and the loss of union dues that those teachers will pay.
Many residents are also reportedly angry about losing longtime neighborhood schools. Their dismay has undoubtedly been encouraged and exploited by labor agitators.
But Eric Nadelstern, who has taught and been an administrator for many years in city’s school system, argues in an editorial published by the New York Daily News that the school closures have been one of the most effective policies of the Bloomberg administration.
He says schools that have been failing for many years develop cultures of failure that are difficult to overcome. He believes the city has been wise to shutter many of the worst schools and replace them with more smaller schools that are focused on success.
“Lest you think that school closure decisions are made frivolously, consider the following facts about two Bronx high schools that were closed,” Nadelstern wrote. “Evander Childs High School, closed in 2008, had an enrollment of 4,000 students, including more than 900 freshmen who were held over the year before we closed it. At South Bronx High School, closed in 2005, only 20 percent of the students made it to junior year.
“Look at the 26 schools in the new raft of those targeted for closure and you’ll find similarly indefensible results.
“Critics of the school-closing strategy portray it as an assault on beleaguered teachers, parents and kids who are struggling with inadequate funding and support. This is incorrect. Large, ineffective schools have resources, but lack the personnel, culture and practices needed to use them effectively.
“The closing of failing schools frees up money that can be better spent creating new models and healthier school cultures. A major study … released in 2012, demonstrated that with similar student populations, the small schools we started graduated significantly more students that those that were closed.
“Low-performing schools, like other failed organizations in the public and private sectors, never reinvent themselves. The rules, roles and relationships that grow over decades prevent those responsible for the failure in the first place from taking a hard, long look in the mirror.
“The schools that replace them don’t repeat the same mistakes because they aren’t invested in the old ways of doing things.”
Nadelstern hit the nail on the head. Many failing schools have been trying for years to turn themselves around, and most fall woefully short of their goals. Failure is ingrained in the culture and multiple efforts to overcome that mentality never seem to get the job done.
In the meantime, wave after wave of students are underserved while the school struggles to get its act together. How many students have lost the chance at a decent education at these schools? How many more would meet the same fate if the city left them open?
It’s far better to close the failure factories and get a fresh start, preferably with new administrators and at least a significant number of new teachers.
Failure is something we don’t want to replicate, particularly when children’s futures are at stake.