Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reforming the reformers in N.Y.

The closing of FDAIII

Bloomberg/Klein continue their Big Apple school-closing madness.

Reading this morning's Times about the closing of four more city schools on top of the 91 already closed. The four include Frederick Douglass Academy III, a middle school within a larger school founded by education reform guru Lorraine Monroe back in 1991. The news had me looking up on my bookshelf for Monroe's inspirational 1997 book, Nothing's impossible.

Veterans of the small-schools movement will remember Monroe and her Monroe Doctrine on teaching and learning, as the highly-touted superstar principal, darling of the reformers and the big ed foundations in the early 90's. Monroe was one of the miracle makers, who claimed that she could, with the power of her personality, leadership skills, and doctrine, produce a "miracle" in Harlem. Douglass Academy was the forerunner of today's "no excuses" schools and Monroe paved the way for today's miracle makers who now run the charter-school chains with salaries that often compare with those of professional athletes and entertainers.

I myself was greatly impressed by Dr. Monroe and I took dozens of Chicago teachers to visit Douglass Academy during the 90s' heyday of the small-schools movement. I still admire her as someone who grew up in the community and dedicated her life to the education and betterment of Harlem's children. It's really the system of promoting superstar principals and gurus and miracle solutions that I'm pointing to here.

The cover intro to her book reads:
"In the fall of 1991, a magical seed was planted in the heart of New York's Harlem. It was the Frederick Douglass Academy, a public school that promised inner-city students a quality education comparable to that offered to an elite suburban school...Six years later, the academy and its students are thriving."
This morning's Times of course, tells a different story. The school never received the level of resources and support commonly found in rich, white suburban schools. Douglass has now received an F for progress on Klein's silly school grading system (it received a C grade overall) and it's not clear why they, or any of the other 3 schools, are being closed, rather than helped by the administration. It's not clear who's closing them either. The Times reports that the "latest closings must be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, which is controlled by the mayor, virtually assuring that they will be adopted." But who is on this panel? What qualifies them to make decisions about neighborhood school closings?

Dr. Monroe is long gone from the school and I'm sure she is doing well in her consulting business, The Lorraine Monroe Leadership Institute ("Using the Monroe principles to create great leaders and exemplary schools"). As for the kids at FDAIII--not so well. As expected, there's no mention in the Times piece about where they and the students at the 3 other closed schools will attend school next year. Will their new schools be any better? Will their new schools be prepared to receive hundreds of new students? And what will be the cost to the four school communities in terms of lost resources and services in these difficult times?


  1. According to the Times story, Bloomberg is closing the Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School because it has a 51% graduation rate. But that is about the average for all N.Y. schools. Will he close all of them? In fact, the average high school graduation rate in the nation’s 50 largest cities was 53 percent, compared with 71 percent in the suburbs. So we obviously need to close all urban schools and leave suburban schools open. But then, won't urban kids have to start attending suburban schools and bring down the graduation rate?

  2. FDA III wasn't Monroe's original school. It was a replicant. Shows you can't just "take it to scale."


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