Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Notes on Sam Freedman's Column Feb. 14, 2007

I am thankful that Sam Freedman has at last turned his critical eye back to NYC for the first time in many months, and I think that his column made some very good points.

On the other hand, I agree w/ Norm that there might have been more of a discussion of the inherent value of large high schools in being better able to provide more choice in curriculum and activities, and also at least potentially to serve a more diverse population.

Valerie Lee found that many of the small schools or learning academies in Chicago had become increasingly segregated in terms of the students’ race, ethnic background, and academic interests and achievement, and that had negative implications. I don’t know if that’s exactly happened here in NYC, but w/ the open exclusion of ELL and special students for at least the first two years of the small schools it is quite possible that it has.

Moreover, though small schools usually offer smaller classes, there is a tradeoff in terms of the system as a whole between school size and class size – given limited space and the level of overcrowding that exists in most high schools, because each new small school eats up classroom space w/ more administrative and cluster rooms. That is, unless these new schools had found space outside existing school buildings, which has rarely happened and has never been a priority of DOE’s.

In fact, Tweed now seems to be shutting large schools simply to find homes for all the small schools they want to establish – even in some cases, like schools like Tilden where there is good evidence that they were improving and were doing a valuable job w/ certain populations.

I think we probably can all agree that in a system as large as NYC’s there should be room for both small schools and large, but that the students at the large high schools should not be made to suffer at the expense of the small schools, as is the case now, and that both sets of schools should be as inclusive and serve as diverse a population as possible.

There is also the question as to whether the closing and restructuring of the large schools is contributing to the increase in the discharge rates, as no one is looking out for the students whose schools are being phased out.

Finally, there needs to be a plan to improve our large schools, rather than just shut them down – including reducing class size, and yet this administration has no intention of doing this.

Leonie Haimson

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