Introducing The Big Fix: What Will it Take to Transform Three New York City High Schools?

Monday, October 18, 2010

More than 30 schools across the city are about to embark on an experiment to rapidly boost student performance. In a plan endorsed by President Barack Obama, the city will use millions of federal dollars to either resuscitate the schools, or shut them down and open new ones.

This year, we'll be following three of these schools:

A Brooklyn high school sees almost half its freshmen drop out before their senior year and struggles with safety, but staff who hope that new leadership will revive the school.

Another in SoHo that draws students from all over the city and has a graduation rate of just 50 percent, but both teachers and students optimistic that a longer school day and more training for teachers can forge a better future.

A high school in the Bronx, with staff fighting to keep the school open despite threats from Mayor Bloomberg, who urged parents not to send their children there. Those students who showed up this year anyway “will get a terrible education that…they’ll probably never recover from,” Bloomberg told reporters.
Together, these three high schools serve over 3,000 of the city’s neediest students. They are part of a group of schools targeted by both the mayor, who calls them "failing," and President Obama, who calls the worst among them "dropout factories." Both men describe the schools' resuscitation as crucial to solving poverty and improving the economy. But how should the schools get fixed? And what role should Obama's team in Washington, D.C., play?
In this project, a collaboration of GothamSchools and WNYC, we will follow three efforts to change three struggling schools. The different approaches reflect both en vogue school reforms and the tricky politics that determine -- and sometimes distort -- how they are implemented. While two schools are receiving multi-million dollar grants from the Obama administration, another's budget has been slashed by over $1 million as the Teachers Union and the mayor fight over whether it should exist at all.
The Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School in SoHo is placing its bets on a 10-hour school day, four days a week, that includes more time for teachers to plan their lessons and an extra period of class-time for students.  Brooklyn’s William E. Grady High Career and Technical Education High School is planning a similar extended day experiment, but first, its new principal says she wants to instill a new, stronger school culture.

Chelsea and Grady are two of the city’s 11 “transformation” schools, which will receive millions of dollars over the next three years for experiments in scheduling and teacher professional development. There are 23 other schools that will be chosen for similar or more radical interventions with the federal funds, such as a total phase-out or a “turnaround” strategy where half their teachers are replaced.
Almost half of the transformation schools, including both Chelsea and Grady, are career and technical education schools. At these schools, students must fulfill the same academic requirements as students at any other city high school. But they can also earn specialized certificates along with their diplomas that allow them to go directly into jobs like construction or information technology.
Meanwhile, Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx -- the school whose survival the mayor challenges -- is fighting to remain open as a smaller school with a focus on high-needs students. The city will also receive millions of dollars to fix Columbus, but Bloomberg wants to use that money to shut the school down and open a new one. As the school fights to stay open, it is focusing on helping the students who are there now.

This story was produced as part of a partnership between WNYC and GothamSchools.


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Comments [3]


What scares me -- and should frighten all of us taxpayers with children in public schools -- when I hear about federal dollars going toward "professional development" purchased from outside vendors or additional monies going to master teachers to mentor new teachers is that none of this money is going into the actual educational experience of the students. What about new books? How about funding field trips? The arts? How about making sure that there are sufficient numbers of teachers and counselors in the schools to meet the needs of populations that are often truant or performing below grade level?

Again, parents were told at the first PA meeting of this school year that schools would be charged $400/hour for every hour after 6:00 PM that they remained open. For many dedicated, talented high school students trying to survive some pretty tough schools, participating in band or athletics or other extra-curricular activities is the way out of abject misery.

For students who are attending "good" schools, their needs are being sacrificed, too -- all to make political hay by attempting to raise scores in the lowest performing schools.

Please look at what has happened, for example, to Forest Hills schools over the past ten years. Those elementary schools, middle schools, and the high school, whose students used to score as well or better than some of the top performing suburban schools are now, after ten years of "reform," dropping like stones. The local high school operates in three shifts from crack of dawn until well into the evening to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of students.

When my child entered kindergarten, his elementary school had a 94% passing rate with a very large percentage in level 4. Now, ten years later, the school is around 50%. What has happened there?!

There's a story here for sure, but it's about breaking the backs of public schools, not about building them up.

Oct. 19 2010 08:04 PM
PAY Parents to Teach their own kids FULL TIME ? from Less than 20 K per year

A recent report on NPR stated that it costs $20,000 per child per year
to educate kids in many of the nation's failing school systems.(*)
(*Re: Facebook's Founder's 100 M donation to the Newark school system).

This suggests a way to :
(1) improve childhood education
(2) improve the living standards of poor households.
(3) reduce unemployment by creating meaningful and stable jobs.
(4) increase the time parents can spend with their kids.
(5) give children strong incentives to study, and parents strong
incentives to become heavily involved in ensuring that
their children learn.


The job would consist of :

(1) teaching children from an approved curriculum.
(2) going to classes in the evenings designed for parent-educators.
(3) Frequent (monthly) testing to make sure students were at least up to
existing public school standards.

BOTH students and parents would be paid MORE (a "good student bonus")
if the students did better than public school averages.

Parents whose kids did not perform sufficiently well for several months
would be given intensive retraining, and if this did not correct the
problem, they would be "fired" as their child's teacher.
(Another parent or suitable household member - for example a grandparent -
could take the job, or the child could return to the public system).

Parent-teachers would be given a fixed salary per child trained
(with a maximum of 2). They would then teach their family's kids.
If the students excelled, the parent-teacher would get a 20 % bonus
at year-end. The child would also get a $1000 personal reward for

This clearly links being a good student with financial security and
improved earnings.

It also will help family income and reduce unemployment. It will
provide the security needed for families to be stable and thrive in
these difficult times.

(The amount should be based on the average cost of educating
a NON-special needs student - and comparisons would also be made
with the non-special needs students in the child's school district
to keep assessment fair).

Perhaps the best way to make sure children are well educated is
to directly and explicitly pay one of their parents
(or some other qualified family member) to be their teacher.

Oct. 18 2010 08:03 PM
jack from Queens

I have three steps ideas for "true reform!":

1. Privatize everything.

2. Devise inane standards of student progress and success.

3. Portray teachers as the only ones to be held accountable for whether or not these kids measure up to these inane standards.

4. (Bonus step!) Hire Michelle Rhee.

Oct. 18 2010 02:16 PM

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