2005-08-05 / Community

Miller: Wrong Time, Wrong Place For Small Schools

New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who is running for Mayor, recently issued a report outlining the negative impact of Mayor Bloomberg’s attempts to create multiple small schools within existing large schools.

“The DOE has given the public half the story about how our schools and our students are faring,” said Speaker Miller. “What we found was the lack of planning by the Mayor and Chancellor in creating these new small schools, coupled with the speed and scope of putting them in place, has had some tremendous unintended consequences for our students.”

The report evaluates nine school facilities which host a total of 34 small schools. Both of the high schools in Rockaway have smaller schools housed in their buildings. At Beach Channel High School is the Channel View School For Research and Far Rockaway High School houses the Frederick Douglass II School. Through interviews and analysis of best practices for the small schools model, the report shows poor planning and implementation by the DOE have thwarted the success of the City’s small school reforms and compromised student safety in both the small and large schools in shared complexes. The findings show the following:

The DOE placed small schools in some of the city’s most dangerous school facilities already housing “Impact Schools;”

Six of the nine complexes evaluated had crime rates ranging from 5% to 105% higher than average crime rates of other facilities of similar size;

The practice of housing new small schools with large struggling schools replicated problems of the large traditional school, including conflict, anonymity, and tensions between large and small schools sharing facility space; and

Host facilities failed to meet seven of the eight components considered essential by experts and advocates for sharing space with small schools.

Placing new small schools within already struggling schools only exacerbates existing conditions and problems.

“The DOE refers to its small schools reform as successful. We don’t believe it can be considered a success until all students in these buildings reap the benefits of the reforms. We hope they acknowledge the shortcomings of their policy and do the right thing before creating 200 more schools with similar consequences,” said Speaker Miller.

Smaller schools much like smaller class sizes have been shown to improve the quality of education a child receives. But they must be implemented properly. The report contains a number of recommendations including the following revisions to existing DOE policy:

Place new small schools in underutilized existing schools , only when the schools in the building are similar in size and school culture - no new small schools should be placed in shared facilities with large struggling schools

There has to be greater transparency in assessing the small school reform movement , which an Independent Institute for Research and Accountability could provide.

Each school should have its own school safety agents and officers that work closely with principals and teachers. Doing this offers a personalized approach to discipline based on the small schools model;

Schools within the complex should have separate entrances to ensure that they retain the school culture and climates they are intended to have.

“We were concerned that school reforms were made too quickly, without sufficient consideration and without consultation with the people who could have provided important insight. The drive to quickly insert small high schools into our largest, sometimes unsafe, facilities has been a case in point. Our analysis shows that our kids in these high school complexes have been negatively affected. We now have a real picture of what’s going on at the school level - and its very different from what we hear about in the Mayor’s press releases,” said Council Member Robert Jackson.

This publication was produced through a partnership between Milano Graduate School, New School University students and the City Council. “This report provides incisive and practical advice for establishing and managing effective small schools within New York’s public school system,” said Professor Alex Schwartz, Chair of the Urban Policy Analysis and Management Program at Milano Graduate School. “It is an outstanding example of how our scholars can work jointly with government to produce valuable research and analysis for the public good.”

The Department of Education has committed to creating some 200 small schools by 2007. Since 2003, 105 small schools have been created in New York City as part of the Children First Initiative; 53 new secondary schools were created last year alone.

Research for this report included interviews with the DOE’s Office of New Schools, School Safety Division, and Facilities Office; New York Civil Liberties Union; New Visions for Public Schools; current and former teachers, principals and campus managers; and Advocates for Children and InsideSchools.org.

Phone interviews were conducted with education administrators and school safety officials in Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, in order to determine how the small school movement has been implemented in other cities. These cities were chosen because they are noted in the literature for having implemented small school reform and their size and demographics are most similar to New York City. Unlike New York City, none of these three cities utilized shared facilities for both large and small schools in their reform efforts.

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