2007-12-14 / Editorial/Opinion

Using Statistics To Fool Public School Parents

OPINIONS

School Chancellor Joel Klein is in the middle of a frenzy of school closings. Most of the schools targeted for closing received D's or F's on the recent school report cards, ratings accepted by most educators as flawed at best, and disingenuous at worst. Klein maintains that those schools must be closed because they were "experiencing abject failure year after year." That statement is true. The schools that were closed did not house students who were learning much or graduating very often. Far Rockaway High School, for example, was graduating less than 40 percent of its students in the typical four-year period. You have to look further, however, to see the affects of closing those schools and substituting in their place several of the mayor's vaunted "small schools." In a recent editorial piece in the New York Post, Klein wrote, "Back in 2003, we shut down a school that had a very similar story. Bushwick High School had a graduation rate of just 23 percent. We replaced it with four new small schools, which now make up what we call the Bushwick Campus. Last year, the new schools had a combined graduation rate of 60 percent - almost three times what it once was." Those statistics are true, as far as they go. What parents are not told when they read the Post piece is that the great majority of those students who graduated did so with a local diploma, which requires only a score of 50 on the Regent's exams rather than the traditional 65 needed to get a citywide diploma. In addition, in order to make the small schools look better and to "prove" that the mayor and chancellor are the saviors of the public schools, those schools were given a boon. They would get no special education or bilingual students for four years. Those students traditionally pull down both graduation rates and standardized exam scores. When the chancellor compared the graduation rates at Bushwick High School from the old to the new, he was comparing two groups so disparate as to make the comparison nonsensical. Klein is going to close Far Rockaway High School. He will get rid of all of the teachers, who will be seen as failures. If past experience holds, he will keep the principal. He will put at least two new schools in the building to join the two small schools, Frederick Douglass Academy and KAPPA VI, that are already there. Students will go to one of those small schools. Special education students and English language learners will be farmed out to other schools, probably to Beach Channel High School, which was recently placed on the city's "Impact List" and has its own problems. What will it mean? Some former FRHS students and their parents might be happier. BCHS students and their parents might be a little unhappier. There might well be more turmoil at BCHS brought on by the toxic mix of students who don't get along even at long range. Statistically, however, you can bet the farm that the chancellor will proclaim the move a success. In reality, it will make no educational difference to those who count - the students and their parents.

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