An open letter to the NYC Department of Ed.

2 Dec

“Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”

– Fletcher, The Outlaw Josey Wales

Photo credit: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images North America

Photo credit: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images North America

Dear Chancellor Walcott, Mayor Bloomberg, and the underlings who might actually read this:

I work at one of the twenty-four high schools that you’re trying to close. Here are a few reasons why it would be a mistake to follow through.

Your process is a sham. So the closing lists are data-based, are they? How is it, then, that our school is on the list with a three-year history of D, D, C, whereas Murry Bergtraum HS, with its three consecutive D’s, is not? Deputy Chancellor Sternberg claims that the twenty-four schools were identified based on their lack of “. . . capacity to improve dramatically and to improve quickly. . .” How can your list include schools on the upswing, as well as schools that consistently outperform (three consecutive C’s) Bergtraum and others that are somehow under your radar?

If you were honest, you’d admit that your process is based largely on cronyism (Which principals have been loyal to us, and which ones do we want to punish?) and real estate. The intentional decline of community schools makes it easier to squeeze Bloomberg-schools and charters into whichever buildings they want. In two years my 93-year-old school has been “phased down” to make room for two new schools. The newest is a middle school with only a sixth grade and designs on growing by one grade per year. With the building already at capacity, where will this growing school’s classrooms come from? Our school, of course. The writing is on the wall.

We’re already doing better. After breaking our backs all of last year trying to dig ourselves out of a two-D hole, we found out six weeks ago that our efforts were paying off. Our C was the shot in the arm we needed. I can’t describe the pride and camaraderie my colleagues and I felt. Not that a C is the ultimate goal, but given our challenging demographics (percentage of IEP students [re: special ed.] is much higher than the citywide average) and huge budget cuts (almost all extracurriculars and student support programs were lost), it felt like summiting K2. And how does the DOE respond to our less-with-more rally? Death row.

You’d be creating a void with no plan to fill it. I teach at a career and technical high school. Many of our students do not see themselves as college material and choose instead to pursue lucrative, commendable careers in electrical, vision care technology, and so forth. And yet our kids are measured against the same metrics used at so-called peer schools that describe themselves as purely college-prep. Why? If we are differentiating the content and stated purpose of our schools, it is unfair to compare data with zero calibration for those differences.

If you close our school, where will future cohorts of comparable students go? To illustrate: we just launched a culinary arts program, and we are the only place that offers such a program for students in our tier of grades and state test scores. When you look at our true peer schools, we do pretty well. More to the point, this constant closing and opening of schools doesn’t work. Shuffling and redistributing faculty severs professional relationships—the kind of relationships built on trust on familiarity, the kind of relationships that inspire collaboration, instructional alignment and, dare I say, happy teachers.

In short, your decision-making ignores the needs of children. What my kids need is consistency, and teachers who are supported rather than demoralized, and a board of education that looks at context as well as performance.


Mr. L

4 Responses to “An open letter to the NYC Department of Ed.”

  1. Allison December 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    Good points! I’m wondering though, is your school really measured with the same metrics as Stuyvesant and Bronx Lab? I think the school ratings (A, B, C, etc) are determined based on something like a “sister set” of schools where they compare you with schools that have a similar demographic as your own.

    In no way do I think your school should be closed or that the system the DOE uses is fair, I just am wondering if schools are really all measured using the same metric.

    • Mr. L December 2, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

      Excellent point, Allison. I was thinking here about pass/fail standards on state exams and other performance indicators that are meta-analyzed. If I were in my English class, I’d be told that I need to make that thinking explicit. I’ve changed the wording to reflect the more local problem of our “sister set,” which isn’t really a set of peer schools when you consider certain factors. Thanks so much for helping me clarify the point!

  2. M. Washington December 4, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    As a retiree teacher with lots of experience, I couldn’t have said it better.


  1. Remainders: Teachers rally and counter-rally over evaluations | GothamSchools - December 3, 2012

    […] A city teacher whose school could phase out argues why it should not. (A Teacher Grows in Brooklyn) […]

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