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Eight years ago, I wrote a book about corporate reform and pointed out that the deliberate killing of large high schools had eliminated specialized and very successful programs for students, including advanced classes in math and science, and programs in the arts.
Today, the New York Times observed (too late to matter, too late to save Jamaica High Schoool in Queens or Christpher Columbus in the Bronx) that the Bloomberg-Klein decision to close large high schools and replace them with small schools has effectively destroyed successful music programs. The compensation is supposed to be that the graduation rate is higher in the small schools. But as I reported in my book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” the small schools enroll different students from the large schools they replaced. The neediest students are shuffled off elsewhere.
The Times reports today, in a long article,
“When Carmen Laboy taught music at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, beginning in 1985, there were three concert bands. The pep band blasted “Malagueña” and Sousa marches on the sidelines at basketball games, and floated down Morris Park Avenue during the Columbus Day parade. The jazz band entertained crowds at the Ninth Avenue Food Festival, and even warmed the room at a Citizens Budget Commission awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria.
“Today, Columbus no longer exists. In its former building, which now houses five small high schools, a music teacher struggles to fill a single fledgling concert band. Working out of Ms. Laboy’s old band room in the basement, Steven Oquendo recruits students for a sole period of band class from his school, Pelham Preparatory Academy, and the others on campus, with their different bell schedules and conflicting academic priorities.
“It does make it much more difficult to teach,” he said. “But we always find a way of making it happen.”
“Between 2002 and 2013, New York City closed 69 high schools, most of them large schools with thousands of students, and in their place opened new, smaller schools. Academically, these new schools inarguably serve students better. In 2009, the year before the city began closing Columbus, the school had a graduation rate of 37 percent. In 2017, the five small schools that occupy its former campus had a cumulative graduation rate of 81 percent.
“But one downside of the new, small schools is that it is much harder for them to offer specialized programs, whether advanced classes, sports teams, or art or music classes, than it was for the large schools that they replaced. In the case of music, a robust program requires a large student body, and the money that comes with it, to offer a sequence of classes that allows students to progress from level to level, ultimately playing in a large ensemble where they will learn a challenging repertoire and get a taste of what it would be like to play in college or professionally.
“In a large concert band, “you’re not the only trumpet player sitting there — there’s seven of you,” said Maria Schwab, a teacher at Public School 84 in Astoria, Queens, who is also a judge at festivals organized by the New York State School Music Association. “And you’re not the only clarinetist, but there’s a contingent of 10. In that large group, there’s a lot of repertoire open to you that would not be open to smaller bands.”
“The new schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, himself a mariachi musician, has said that he plans to focus on the arts, which can especially benefit low-income or socioeconomically disadvantaged students, according to the National Endowment of the Arts. A 2012 analysis of longitudinal studies found that eighth graders who had been involved in the arts had higher test scores in science and writing than their counterparts, while high school students who earned arts credits had higher overall G.P.A.s and were far more likely to graduate and attend college.
“The Bronx offers an illustration of how far Mr. Carranza has to go. There, 23 high schools were closed during the Bloomberg era, second only to Brooklyn. Of 59 small schools on 12 campuses that formerly housed large, comprehensive high schools, today only 18 have a full-time music teacher. In many of those, the only classes offered were music survey courses known as general music, or instruction in piano or guitar, or computer classes where students learn music production software. Only eight schools had concert bands, and of those, only five had both beginner and intermediate levels.”
The students with cognitive disabilities are not in the new small schools. The English language learners, the newcomers who speak no English, are gone.
Schools that once enrolled 4,000 students now house five schools, each with an enrollment of 500 or less. Do the math. When you disappear 1500 of 4,000 students, it does wonders for your graduation rate!
You can deduce this from the article, but it is never spelled out plainly. The small schools are not enrolling the same students as the so-called “failing high schools” of 4,000. The subhead of the article reads: “Downside of Replacing City’s Big Failing Schools.” I suggest that the big high schools were not “failing.” They were enrolling every student who arrived at their door, without regard to language or disability.
This is not success. This is a deliberate culling of students that involves collateral damage, not only the shuffling off of the neediest students, but the deliberate killing of the arts, advanced classes, sports, and the very concept of comprehensive high school, all to be able to boast about higher graduation rates for those who survived. A PR trick.