The New York Post notes today that New York City’s list of “struggling” and “persistently struggling” schools has nosedived from 145 down to 72. Party time, right? Chronically-failing schools are suddenly reinventing themselves and boosting student achievement! But hold the applause: this list was pared down because NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Chancellor Carmen Fariña, in what the Post calls a “farce,” appear to be invested not in the reality of educational improvement but in its optics.
Whatever it takes, I suppose, to stem parents’ clamor for seats in quality schools, including New York City’s robust sector of public charter schools jump-started by predecessors Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein.
Take, for example, Martin Van Buren High School on Hillside Avenue in Queens Village. (Old picture above.) Full disclosure: this isn’t a random selection. When I was a middle school student in Queens forty years ago at P.S. 172, my younger sisters and I were zoned to attend Van Buren, My parents happened to be well-informed about school quality because my Dad was a high school social studies teacher at John Bowne High School and my Mom was a social worker at Francis Lewis High School and Cardozo, all in Queens. Forty years ago my educator parents, proud UFT members, regarded Van Buren as a poor choice for us: overcrowded, unsafe, and, most importantly to them, academically inadequate.
My family wasn’t rich but we were comfortable enough for my parents to exercise the most common form of school choice and move us to a nearby Long Island town with a far better school district.
Four decades later, Martin Van Buren is still one of NYC’s “struggling” schools, currently on the city’s “renewal school” list because it ranks in the bottom 5% of schools across the state. This high school has two years to improve or go into receivership. According to the most recent DOE data, the four-year graduation rate for students is 54.8%; 13.5% of graduating seniors are deemed prepared for a four-year college. Families are voting with their feet. There are 500 fewer students enrolled now than three years ago
That’s no anomaly. Chalkbeat reported in May that the city’s Renewal schools serve 6,300 fewer students since the program started, “a sign that many families are still shunning the schools even as the city spends hundreds of millions to revamp them.” How many millions? Eight hundred thirty-nine million dollars, according to most recent figures. Leslie Brody at the Wall Street Journal reported last week that about 38,000 students go to NYC’s renewal schools, “down from 44,000 when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to save them two years ago.”
How long is long enough for a high school to fail its students? How long before Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña appreciate the toll that chronically-failing schools take on families, especially those without the resources to navigate NYC’s labyrinthine process of applying to unzoned schools? How long is long enough before students, even those without educators for parents, have access to seats in high-functioning schools?
Apparently more than forty years.