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Should some schools be closed?

December 20, 2009 am31 5:00 am

It’s the wrong question. It is a stupid question.

In New York City today we are not looking at 20 independent decisions to close 20 individual schools. We are facing The New York City Department of Education as it implements “School Closing” as policy.

It’s not just about Beach Channel or Columbus.
It’s about “School Closing” as policy

Not “starting to implement.” And not “starting to close.”

They started closing schools over a decade ago: Andrew Jackson and George Washington and James Monroe and Mabel Dean Bacon and Ben Franklin and William Bryant and I’m missing a bunch, I’m sure. Especially in the early and mid 90’s, the Board of Education closed quite a few schools. But there was not a systematic effort to close schools.

That changed in the late 90s. The pace picked up. In the Bronx they closed Morris and Taft and Roosevelt in short order. A bunch in Brooklyn as well. But more than that, Bill Gates and New Visions got involved. It wasn’t just more school closings, now closing was adopted as a policy. Black and Puerto Rican kids’ large high schools would be shut and replaced by mini-schools.

For the last decade, school closing has been Board of Ed (now called Department of Education) policy. Every year they’ve closed a few more. Why is 2009-10 different? Because of the number. Because they’ve gone after some that managed to escape the first time through. Because the geographic concentration is so intense. Because we almost thought they were done with high schools, but they’ve turned on the survivors with a fury.

The policy, their policy, their intentional destruction of schools, disruption of neighborhoods, attacks on teachers, and stealing from students, that is the same policy they have been following. “School Closing” as policy is a form of class war. No mistake there. No mismanagement there. Them against us.

Notice, I did not address individual schools. I almost want to say, it does not matter. I almost want to say, I don’t care that Global Enterprise didn’t meet the criteria. But that would be a mistake. We should fight the POLICY that works against all of us, but we should also fight them school by school.

Should some schools be closed? Stupid question. It is a diversion from what should be on our minds:  are we going to fight “School Closing as Policy”?

And that’s where the United Federation of Teachers, it’s not clear whether or not we’re coming up short. The big strategy is to help schools that want to fight. But that’s taking on 20 (or 18 maybe) individual decisions. Were these 18 individual mistakes? The question itself is insulting.

So we are clearly fighting school by school. But are we also challenging the policy as a whole?  The signals are mixed when we should be seeing much more clearly. There is an unreasonable fear that the media will crucify us if we are seen to be working in concert.

Damn that sort of spineless thinking!

  1. We are a union. We act in concert. Our strength comes from acting in concert.
  2. The media will crucify us for whatever we do. They will crucify us for being a union.

But it is not clear to me if that sort of thinking is dominant, or is leftover. Certainly we are challenging them on a broad front. It’s a beginning. When we trash the Progress Reports as a whole, that’s a policy fight. When we call them for opening a school and then closing it a few years later? That could be about one school, or that could be a policy fight. When we question the tests… that’s policy. When Mulgrew takes on NAEP – that’s policy, right in the face.

Little interlude. Some schools should be closed. I cheered when Eximius lost its middle school, and will cheer louder when the high school eventually goes. Bronx Aerospace? Should be shut. Discovery? I doubt it can be rescued.  But this is not a policy discussion – this is about a handful of individual disasters. Turns out, when the DoE launched its December assault, they caught a couple of schools that thought the same way – our schools are disasters, they should go. But let’s be clear: that’s dumb luck.

Back to the UFT. We are helping schools launch their individual fights over their individual schools. We are orgainizing solidarity between schools (starting to). That part is good. But are we fighting this whole thing, the policy, “School Closing” as normal business, are we fighting this across the board?

Evidence is, we are starting to. Our official statements have moved in the policy direction. As we organize solidarity, we raise the general questions. And as the DoE makes clear that this is war against students, parents, schools, teachers and neighborhoods, we are forced to respond more broadly. For now the evidence is that we are responding appropriately. Imperfectly, unevenly, but appropriately.

I still wish we wouldn’t say “only if all the supports have been tried… only then should a school be closed…” But that is a lousy way of trying to say that there are exceptions. And I still worry that we will drop the ball and let this be a score of individual struggles, and those individual struggles alone.

But for now we are on the right path. Multilayered. We’ve joined eighteen battles to save eighteen schools. And we are ready to join a war to protect all of our students, members, schools and neighborhoods.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. canwetalk permalink
    December 20, 2009 pm31 4:07 pm 4:07 pm

    This is not the time to wonder who should be closed or not. This is not the time to sit on the sideline because the members think it won’t happen to them. This is not the time to be passive participants. This is not the time for the members to be divided.

    Let’s mobilize and get behind each and every school that are scheduled for closing. We are the union! As a union, the voice and presence of the members can and will affect the powers that be who have perpetuated this reprehensible policy of closing schools.

  2. December 20, 2009 pm31 4:37 pm 4:37 pm

    We need to fight for each school individually.

    And we need to fight against the overall policy of closing schools.


  3. canwetalk permalink
    December 20, 2009 pm31 4:54 pm 4:54 pm


  4. Jack Israel permalink
    December 20, 2009 pm31 9:21 pm 9:21 pm

    Good stuff Jon. The closing of schools shouldn’t be a policy, helping them succeed should be a policy. What an absurd concept for those non-educators populating the caves down at Tweed to wrap their little egg-heads around. Closing schools in the fashion in which they do is analogous to a teacher informing a student in December that he is a failing student; offer no second chance or even any help at all and expecting that student to continue to function. I do agree that even though each school must fight an individual battle to stay open, ultimately it is the policy that must be changed, that is were the real fight should be! Putting teachers, students and administrations in situations where their futures are rendered perpetually unstable by the DoE is unconscionable, even diabolical. Although I am sure that Jack (GE) Welch would be proud.

    Peace Jack

  5. NYC Resident permalink
    December 21, 2009 am31 12:45 am 12:45 am

    How about formally appealing the school closings to Commissioner of Education David Steiner within thirty days of the PEP vote for closure?


  6. December 21, 2009 am31 7:53 am 7:53 am

    @Jack, thank you.
    @NYC Resident, good point. I’m sure there will be a formal appeal, if the PEP rubberstamps these closings. It is why we need to both attack the school closing policy, AND help each school make its own best case possible. I hope it doesn’t get to Albany, and yet I fear it will, and we should cover as many angles as possible.


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