IBO: Phase-Out Schools Enroll More Struggling Students

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With the city planning to phase out 26 more public schools this year because of low performance, a new report found the high schools on the list served a higher than average share of students with special needs. It also said they took more students with low test scores.

The report came from the Independent Budget Office, which found similar patterns before. The I.B.O.'s educational research director, Raymond Domanico, said the high schools seem to have developed a bad reputation before the city announced they were on the chopping block.

"There seems to be a clear spiraling down in the performance of these schools and that seems to be associated with fewer and fewer students choosing these schools," he said, a consequence of the expansion of new schools.

The I.B.O. found more than 50 percent of the freshmen who entered those struggling high schools in 2011 had 8th grade math and reading scores that were in the lowest third citywide. That percentage had grown since 2006. The high schools targeted for closure also had more special education students and English language learners than typical high schools.

The special education population was especially striking: students with special needs made up roughly a quarter of all students at the schools to be closed, compared to about 17 percent in all other high schools.

There were nine schools with high school grades among the 26 schools the city plans to phase out starting this year, including Sheepshead Bay and the Choir Academy of Harlem.

Two of the 26 schools would lose only their middle grades and two more would close completely.

The nine high schools also enrolled far more students who are over age for their grade - almost 41 percent compared to 28 percent in other schools.

The percentage of special needs students was 18.5 percent at the elementary and middle schools on the list, compared to 14.5 percent at other schools. These schools also enrolled more children in poverty.

Yet, the report found all 26 schools on the list received more funding than average. This was largely because of their harder-to serve populations. Domanico said the high schools were "spending a great deal of money" on professional development in the year before they were picked for closure.

Critics claimed the schools don't get enough resources, and that the city allowed them to fail. The report didn't draw any conclusions about whether the funds were sufficient.

The Department of Education maintained that money isn't an issue because other schools with similar populations do a better job of educating their students.

Department of Education spokeswoman Erin Hughes said the I.B.O. report "affirms what we already know to be true - that the schools proposed for phase out are not meeting the educational needs of our students. The outcomes for students at these schools are poor, despite these schools having more financial resources than other schools."

The school closure vote is set for March 11.