Thursday, July 1, 2010

NYT editorial got it wrong on small schools

The Times lauds the reported success of NY small schools as shown in a recent MDRC study. The benefits of small schools and smaller learning communities are well known and have been documented in study after study (including my own) for many years. But the editorial, puts its own spin on the research and credits that success to Bloomberg's school closing policies and top-down reform strategy.
The study validates the small school policies of the Bloomberg administration, which has shut down 20 large, failing high schools and replaced them with more than 200 small schools, about half of which were the focus of this study. 
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Times confuses authentic small schools with Bloomberg/Klein's chains of privately-managed charter schools which were imposed on protesting communities and implanted in neighborhood school facilities. Several recent studies has found those charters to be no better and often worse than the closed neighborhood schools they replaced.

Of course there is some overlap between charter schools and small schools, a point not taken into account in the recent study, paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (isn't everything these days?) hardly a disinterested party when it comes to proving the efficacy of its own investments. Most charters are small and they have benefited from the positives that small size brings, including stronger relationships be tween teachers and students and opt-in by parents and students. But those benefits, when gained Bloomberg-style, often come at the expense of the majority of neighborhood schools, students, parents and teachers. They have become part of the mayor's reconfigured two-tier school system.

The city's authentic small schools, teacher-led charters, and Smaller Learning Communities (SLC) where teachers have lots of autonomy and collective-bargaining rights, largely preceded Bloomberg's administration and have managed to survive the privatization assaults and still shine as models of socially-just, community-based alternatives. Many were created through a genuine reform process taken on by teachers themselves. These schools were largely abandoned by Gates and other mega-foundations on the grounds that their test scores weren't high enough, fast enough.

What's interesting about the MDRC study is that it doesn't focus on standardized test scores, but rather on graduation rates and course-passing rates. Bloomberg would never allow this kind of evaluation for neighborhood schools.

Small schools' success has come despite Bloomberg/Klein's policies, not because of them.

The Times got it wrong again.

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