taft high school

Time to decide

Politics & Policy

New York

Closing Schools: Myth and Mystery

A few weeks ago I sat in the library at Christopher Columbus High School and listened to a Department of Education official explain to our confused and upset parents that closing our school would actually benefit their children. The official argued that the school's closure would actually increase students' chances of graduating, rather than damage them. This seemed a counterintuitive idea to me, so I decided to dig into the data. The DOE keeps a wonderful public archive of graduation and dropout data in longitudinal reports. I looked at what happened to students at Bronx high schools Roosevelt and Taft during the years they phased out, and compared them to Columbus and John F. Kennedy along with city averages. Why did I focus on these schools? I began my career as an English as a Second Language for seven years at Kennedy. In 1999 I was invited to become a staff development specialist for the DOE's Office of Bilingual Education (later the Office of English Language Learners) and for two years I visited Roosevelt every Tuesday and Taft every Wednesday to support their bilingual and ESL teachers. Then in 2002 I moved to Columbus, where I've worked as teacher and UFT Teacher Center staff. Looking at these four schools provided me a glimpse into the sad unraveling of the places I spent my career. First, I took a look at the 7-year longitudinal studies — those showing the ultimate outcomes for students who entered Taft and Roosevelt in the last four years the schools admitted students. In both cases, graduation declined for the first couple of years by a small amount, with the final two cohorts doing significantly worse. Roosevelt graduated only 17.6 percent of the students who entered in 2002, and Taft graduated just 29.5 percent of them. These outcomes did not compare favorably with either the citywide average for those years, or schools currently on the chopping block, Columbus and Kennedy. Conversely, I took a look at dropout rates for the same cohorts. Here we see rates in the closing schools rising to the point where, in the final cohort, over 80 percent of the final cohort at Roosevelt dropped out, and over 70 percent of the final cohort at Taft.