Are NY City Policies to Blame for Poor School Rankings?

Last week, a credit scheme scandal broke out at the Jane Addams High School for Academics and Careers in the South Bronx. Teachers claimed that the Jane Addams’ administration engaged in giving students credits for multiple courses while only taking a single class.

But the Department of Education must be held partially accountable, write Elizabeth Stieglitz Tarras and Denise Gokey at the New York Times, as they were responsible for many of the administrative decisions made at the school.

The city has let the school’s principal, Sharron Smalls, take most of the flak for the scheme. Despite Jane Addams being something of a pet project for both Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel I. Klein, in their “uncompromising dream of a public school system dominated by small academies.”

By 2009, Jane Addams had gone from one of the Bronx’s most successful high schools to being pegged as one of New York City’s Persistently Lowest Achieving schools. At the end of the 2009-10 school year, the Education Department separated Jane Addams into four small learning academies; law and medicine, business and beauty, ninth graders, and undercredited upperclassmen, characterized by its career departments and student populations.

But while the measure was seen by the City as a last ditch effort to save the ailing school, it, in fact, had the opposite effect.

“The restructuring of Jane Addams blindly thrust the school into a situation wherein academic departments were dissolved and many staff members were let go. The remaining guidance counselors were assigned to academies while their caseloads increased.”

The school lost the ability to create its own student schedules, leaving them in the dark, unaware of how students received credit and for what classes. And with that, some students wound up with only four classes a day, while some others with two of the same classes. Undercredited students were removed from classes and placed into after-school programs held in computer labs; and few were being prepared to do college-level work.

Tarras and Gokey are both former teachers at the school, and they claim they were often made to leave our classes unattended to partake in weekly meetings with curriculum coaches:

“[We] suffered a lowering of morale as we were compelled to participate in what had become a charade to appease some invisible power.”

In the summer of 2011, the city decided to not implement one of four aggressive actions they promised. Deciding to postpone the decision, which left Jane Addams to persist in its current form.

In the end, Jane Addams is failing not because of some malevolent wish from the Education Department and not only because of inept school leadership, writes Tarras and Gokey.

“Jane Addams is the product of systemic issues in Education Department leadership and oversight, and department-instituted “reform” that continues to lack focus on neighborhood-school development.”