Walcott Trumpets Success of New NYC School Program

Dennis Walcott, the New York City schools chancellor, writes in the NY Daily News that the current strategy of closing bad schools to save their students has been proven to succeed.

Over the last decade New York City has opened 535 new schools as part of a sweeping platform of education reforms that has seen the most dramatic improvement in student achievement in the city’s history. Test scores have risen and graduation rates have improved by an average of 20%. In some cases this represents a doubling of achievement compared to the failing schools that the new schools have replaced. Walcott also notes that the new schools are more popular with parents and this can be seen beyond mere survey results but in real terms by the overwhelming number of applicants the new schools are receiving.

These successful new schools are built upon the closing of schools which results and parental satisfaction proved to be failing their students. Not all however have been welcoming of the reforms:

This strategy has succeeded in spite of roadblocks set up at every turn by the teachers union. For two consecutive years, the United Federation of Teachers has filed lawsuits to try to prevent the replacement of failing schools. Fortunately, the courts last year allowed us to proceed — with a judge writing in his decision, “If the failing public schools are not closed, students may be subject to substandard educational environments which will obviously cause them to be considerably harmed.”

Walcott blames the unions for the failure to secure $58 million from the Obama administration to support struggling schools. The funding was conditional on the city reaching an agreement with the teachers union on the creation of a meaningful evaluation system, but this agreement couldn’t be reached. Walcott blames this failure on their insistence on condition which ‘would undercut real accountability and make it harder to remove ineffective teachers.’

Walcott insists that the process of change will continue:

Mayor Bloomberg and I refuse to abandon these students, and that’s why Thursday night, the Panel for Educational Policy will consider replacing some two dozen schools that need immediate, aggressive interventions to improve. As part of this process, each of these schools will be replaced with a new school next fall, and all current students will be guaranteed a spot for next year.

The best teachers stay, the least effective go and the students benefit.

One of the major success stories of the Bloomberg-era reforms has been Democracy Prep in Harlem. They are one of the only ‘straight A’ public school networks in the city and the only such school to guarantee a place to all resident 6th graders regardless of prior attainment. Harlem is also a district which before Democracy Prep was highly troubled.

Princess Lyles, Director of Family and Community Engagement for Democracy Prep Public Schools and a Harlem resident said, “It used to be that families in Harlem tried to get out of Harlem schools, what’s amazing about today is that we have thousands of families trying to get in to Harlem public schools.