I read a New York Times article about the closing or merging of more chronically underperforming middle schools and high schools. The article mentions that these schools are part of a de Blasio program that aims to rehabilitate schools through additional resources, rather than closing or “giving up on them.” de Blasio wanted to give these schools three years to improve under his program. The three years is almost up and some schools in the program, despite the additional resources, are still underperforming to the point where parents, teachers, and education advocates should be up in arms. The Times notes (emphasis mine):
The schools to be closed are all low-performing, to be sure. In the 2015-16 school year, only 8 percent of the students at J.H.S. 145 passed the state reading tests, and only 3 percent passed the state’s math tests. Even so, it is not clear that they are necessarily the worst among the schools in the program. All of the six schools met at least one of the goals assigned by the city last year. Some are being closed for low enrollment as well.
What is the problem that a school given additional resources to combat the affects of poverty can’t even get grades to show that students are retaining anything? At this point, the middle schools mentioned, J.H.S. 145, should certainly not be considered a school, as learning of any sort doesn’t seem to be happening.
So what could be the problem?
My first thought was what kinds of resources does this school recieve? Perhaps this school, and schools like it, are not receiving enough of certain tyoes of resources or that they are not receiving the right set of resources.
The schools in this initiative receive extra educational instruction time, teachers received additional professional development training, and each school received more funding for ‘wraparound’ efforts that aim to take the effects poverty head on (mental health issues and lack of sufficient food). What is not clear is how resources are being used, which resources seem to be working, and which resources are not as effective.
At first glance, it would seem that any amount of any of the above resources should have some kind of positive impact, no matter how small. However, on closer inspection, something like additional professional development training for teachers could be ineffective, if the additional training is does not impart new knowledge on the teachers or is not tailored to the needs of any given teacher/group of teachers. It could be that principals and school districts are wasting time and money of programs that don’t work, though they aim to address a serious issue.
As of now, we do not know enough of the how the additional resources are being used.
What else could the issue(s) be?
This initiative rears away from the Joel Klein administration in many ways. Klein’s biggest initiative was to close down large, historically failing schools and open smaller schools, which turned out to not do any better than the schools they replaced. Between this finding and the fact that additional needed resources (though they may not be used effectively) aren’t changing the academic trajectory of New York City public schools, mayoral control of the citiy’s schools doesn’t seem to be working out in students’ favor.
With that said, I’ve been thinking more and more about school culture and how profound of a role it can play in a school’s success. All the resources and teachers provinding attention to fewer students can still turn out to be harmful when school culture and way of life is not moving along with those initiatives. What’s interesting is that we seem to be trying to jump in and help students at the junior high school level, but the Klein and de Blasio administrations have been ignoring the fact that these students come to junior high school with six years of school culture and attitude that developed over a child’s most impressionable stages. The school culture in elementary schools is a students first understanding of what it means to be a student. Students and teachers who walk into middle schools and high schools like J.H.S 195 in the Bronx bring with them baggage tossed on them during their prior school experience.
I’m suggesting we’re intervening too late. I applaud de Blasio’s effort to try to mend failing schools but efforts need to start while students are in pre-k. It’s clear that a junior high schools 3% pass rate goes beyond the work done in junior high school. The students come in far more academically damaged and negatively influenced than most would admit, despite that fact being clear as day. I need to go into more detail on the effects of school culture in a later post.