On City Hall Steps, Harsh Words for Bloomberg

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During a week in which the Bloomberg administration has embraced an independent, landmark study that linked its hallmark policy of small schools to increased student success, a group of parents and elected officials took to the steps of City Hall on Friday to denounce the administration’s education agenda, particularly its decisions to close or phase out city schools and its policies to address low college preparedness rates for minority students.

The gathering coincided with the release of a new report by the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, a persistent critic of the mayor. The report, which was provided with technical support from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, called the Bloomberg administration’s school closing policy a “shell game.” "School closure has substituted for real, comprehensive strategy to improve struggling schools serving the city’s highest-needs students,” the report said.

Citing data collected from Department of Education progress reports, the coalition countered the Gates Foundation-financed MRDC study that was released earlier this week, arguing that many schools opened by the Bloomberg administration since 2002 have a lower percentage of self-contained special education classes. The report implies that fewer self-contained special education classes -- which the coalition assumes would include the lowest-performing students -- may affect the schools' performance.

The report also says that two new schools in the Bronx that maintained the same percentage of self-contained special education classes, Gateway School for Environmental Research and Technology and School for Community Research and Learning, are being phased out.

City officials pointed to data that say the new schools actually serve a larger number of students with disabilities. They also said that in schools with the highest-needs demographics, there was virtually no difference in the percentage of self-contained special education classes found in schools that earned A’s or B’s on school progress reports and those that earned D’s or F’s.

"It’s a goal of our schools -- not to mention a requirement of federal disability law -- to strive to educate students in less restrictive settings, alongside their peers," said Matthew Mittenthal, an Education Department spokesman.

Much of the focus at the City Hall demonstration revolved around college preparedness for black and Hispanic students. Between 40 and 50 protesters stood on the building’s front steps holding red fliers that read, “Mayor 13%: Black and Latino students prepared for college,” and chanting and clapping to express their frustration with the administration.

Several elected officials spoke at the event, including city council members Robert Jackson, Ydanis Rodriguez, Mathieu Eugene and Jumaane D. Williams, city Councilwoman Letitia James, New York State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery.

“Quality education is not happening in New York City for the working class, especially for the black and Latino communities,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

Ms. James took direct aim at the administration’s policy of closing schools it deems failing.

“Phasing out schools represents failure,” she said. “Phasing out schools should be a last resort.”

Mr. Mittenthal said the city intends to stay its course.

“We refuse to go back on a strategy that has dramatically changed thousands of lives for the better and given families better options in neighborhoods that had long been neglected,” he said.