Monday, November 03, 2014

When to Shut Down Failing Schools

It's hard to overstate the importance of the NY Times editorial page taking de Blasio to task, first on charter schools, and now on school closures:

During his mayoral campaign, Bill de Blasio did not give high priority to the crucial issue of how and when the city should intervene to abolish or remake failing schools.

Indeed, he went to some lengths to distance himself from the successful strategy of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who improved graduation rates and college acceptances in poor neighborhoods by shutting down schools that were essentially dropout factories and starting afresh with smaller schools, new teachers and new leadership. Mr. de Blasio favored a vague plan to give more "support" to failing schools and close them down as a last resort.

On Monday, Mr. de Blasio is scheduled to give his first major education address as mayor. He should use the occasion to flesh out his policies on failing schools and, while he's at it, address two questions:

One, why is the city months late in submitting state-mandated plans explaining how it would remake scores of troubled schools all over the city? And two, why he has failed to produce a credible plan to deal with Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, a particularly troubled failing school that has been under state scrutiny for several years?

The recent history of Boys and Girls is a particularly depressing example of a citywide problem…

…The school's principal resigned last month. City officials, he said, had no real turnaround plan and were "making it up as they go along."

The state apparently shares his doubts. It has so far refused to approve the administration's revival strategy for Boys and Girls, despite several revisions, in part because the plan does not require sufficient screening of the current school staff and the removal of teachers and administrators who could be obstacles to a successful turnaround.

The inability to efficiently weed out mediocre teachers and administrators could undermine the broader school improvement plans for the system as a whole, which the city has yet to submit to the state.

When to Shut Down Failing Schools administration still seems to believe that it can avoid shutdowns and that even Boys and Girls can be improved without draconian measures. Maybe so, but the bar for judging reforms needs to be very high. If Mr. de Blasio fails to deliver, the Board of Regents should use its authority to shutter those schools that are clearly beyond saving in their present form.

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