Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Closing of Metropolitan Corporate Academy

Good comment from Leonie:
Must read- series about the shockingly awful conditions at one Brooklyn HS that the DOE wants to close; placed in a former Civil War infirmary, without a library, textbooks, even water fountains.

Unfortunately, the administration’s recklessness, broken promises, and lack of accountability as regards this school is typical of its approach when it comes to education reform.

This is just the kind of series that the NY Times should be running, but seems to have no interest in pursuing. Why? Who knows. Perhaps they are too busy writing about Gifted and talented programs.

When are the billionaires going to put funding into filming a documentary about a closing school like this one, that despite all the roadblocks put in its path, deserves to stay open?

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Dana Chivvis

Dana Chivvis Contributor

Part 1 of a four-part series about a small academy at the center of a national battle over the direction of public education in America

NEW YORK (June 22) -- The pink building that houses the Metropolitan Corporate Academy is a maze of caged stairwells and blue hallways, like many of the other 1,600 public schools in New York City. But MCA is different from most of those other schools. This high school in Brooklyn has no library, no gym, no cafeteria, no auditorium, no sports teams and no water fountains for its 385 students.

The administration takes money from its beleaguered budget to buy plastic cups so the kids have something to drink from during the day. Classmates share the few textbooks they have while at school but have to leave them in the classrooms at night. School lunches are sent in from a nearby school that has a kitchen. MCA does not have one.

Stephon Adams may understand why the city wants to close his school. What he and others don't understand is why it was never given a chance to succeed.

The Metropolitan Corporate Academy, a public school in Brooklyn,  is one of 19 public schools in New York City that is slated for  closure.
Dana Chivvis, AOL
Brooklyn's Metropolitan Corporate Academy lacks even basic facilities like a library, gym and cafeteria. It is one of 19 public schools slated for closure in New York City.
The conditions at MCA have "caused a lot of students to give up," said Adams, a 17-year-old junior. "Most of them have dropped out of high school because they feel people don't care. How am I gonna make it when I don't understand what I'm doing and what is my purpose here anymore?"

Adams has flourished at MCA, despite its meager resources. The small setting allows him to have plenty of one-on-one time with his teachers and open communication with the staff. He has been a member of the school's highly successful debate team since ninth grade. This year he and co-captain Devonte Escoffery, 18, won the inaugural New York City championship.

But success stories like theirs are not enough to keep the school open, according to the city's Department of Education. Chancellor Joel Klein announced in December that the school would be closed, along with 18 others marked by the city as "failing."

The announcement that 19 schools would be phased out led to public outrage across New York. At numerous rallies and hearings this winter, students, parents and teachers responded angrily to the plan.

They weren't failing the system, they said; the system was failing them.

"The real reason that these schools are struggling is not because the students can't be successful, and it's not because the teachers and the principals can't do their jobs," said 35-year-old Alex Jones, an 11th-grade social studies and history teacher and coach of the school's debate team.

"The systematic truth for all 19 of the schools that are struggling is that they have been underserved by the Department of Education, and they've gotten less support than they need to get these kids what they want, yet they're held to the same standard as schools citywide."

Battle Fought Across the Country

MCA is on the front lines of a battle raging in the United States over which direction public school education should take.

On one side are those who favor teacher accountability, test-based evaluations and charter schools -- like Chancellor Klein, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Obama administration. On the other side are those who think their approach ignores the realities of public school education on the ground -- people like MCA parents, New York City teachers and some education experts who say closing schools merely shifts the problem somewhere else.

The Education Department uses an inflexible system to determine school success. It is based on multiple factors, including graduation rates, external quality reviews and yearly progress reports. Schools aren't compared to all other schools in the system but to a grouping of similar schools the Education Department calls a "cohort."

MCA received a D on its 2008-09 progress report and C's the two years before that. Last year, the school's four-year graduation rate was 47.1 percent. The six-year rate was not much higher at 63.8 percent -- the same as the city's average four-year rate.

"If these schools are graduating less than one out of two students, then these schools aren't serving students," said Danny Kanner, a spokesman for the Education Department. "What you're seeing in this school is an inability to move kids forward."

The Education Department says it will replace failing schools with better ones that will offer much more to the city's students. Since 2002, the city has closed 91 schools and opened 417 new ones, including 82 charters.

"Sending a new school there will create the type of culture and environment for the students to succeed," Kanner said. "When we know we can do better, we have to."

Principal Lennel George has been told that as MCA phases out, a school for 17- to 21-year-old males who are behind or have dropped out of high school will begin phasing into the small building, which already houses another school in addition to MCA. The Education Department did not respond to requests for information about what school would be phased in, citing pending litigation.

One of the major problems that MCA's administration has to deal with is how to get kids to come to school in the first place, let alone how to keep them there. Attendance rates at the school hover around 70 percent, while the city's average in 2009-10 was 85.4 percent.

"If you want them to be in school all day, you have to make a reason for them to be there, so you have to provide some comfort, you have to provide a quality of life for them to want to be there," said Debbie Nagel, an assistant principal at MCA. "I mean, they're fiending for basketball; these children only want a basketball. We don't even have a hoop."

Why No New Facilities?

When the school was founded in 1992, it was assigned its current location, an abandoned Board of Education building that was used during the Civil War as an infirmary. Nagel, who helped start the school, said she was told several times that they would be moved into a better building. When George became principal, he said he was promised the same thing.

"They came with specific addresses," Nagel said. She looked at different sets of blueprints and was even promised a parking spot. "And here's your office and here's this classroom, and this is gonna be a cafeteria, the library. So we've always hoped to move on."

But the move never happened. The buildings were expropriated for something else, a new school, according to George. MCA remained in the cramped, rundown building with no basketball court and no fields to play on.

"The kids should have a gym, they should be able to eat in a space that's, you know, a cafeteria, a real cafeteria. A library we don't have; these are things that I think would have made a difference," George said. "Just having those facilities would have made a difference."

MCA's student population is 96 percent black and Hispanic. It has Title I status, which provides extra funds to schools with the poorest student populations, with 61 percent of the students coming from low-income families. Special needs students make up 17.4 percent of the school.

"It's not a easy population," George said. "It's a population that's struggling."

School budgets are calculated based on the number of students at each school, or approximately $16,678 per student, according to a report by the city's Independent Budget Office. With only 385 students, MCA's budget is smaller than most, and already its budget for next year has been slashed by 4 percent. But at the same time, MCA students need more help than most, Jones said. "If students are struggling and schools are struggling, why are they not getting more support than the schools that are succeeding?"

Instead, as the 2009-10 school year comes to a close, MCA faces a possible end altogether, with the futures of its teachers and its debate team, which has provided opportunities to so many kids, hanging in the balance.

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