Small Schools Under Big Fire

By Catherine Gewertz — March 21, 2006 1 min read

A New York City advisory group is urging the school district’s leaders to delay their plan to open dozens more small schools, because of questions about their quality and enrollment policies.

The Citywide Council on High Schools, composed of 10 elected parents and one student, adopted a resolution March 8 urging Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein to “substantially delay” small-school openings until problems can be resolved.

The panel says that existing high schools are getting overcrowded as they accept students displaced by small-school restructurings. It also contends that instruction and leadership in many of the new schools are subpar. The district also is breaking the law by turning away from the new schools too many special education students and those learning English, the panel charges. It is asking federal, state, and local authorities to investigate that alleged practice.

New York has opened 180 small schools since September 2003 as part of its effort to improve secondary schooling. District leaders hope to open another 100 during the next few years.

In a statement last week, they defended their initiative as a bid to provide more high-quality options in underserved neighborhoods. They said the new schools already show better attendance and better promotion rates from 9th to 10th grade than the citywide average.

English-language learners make up about the same portion of the 9th grade—about 10 percent—both citywide and at the new small schools, district officials said. Nearly 12 percent of the 9th graders citywide are special education students, compared with 8 percent in the small schools, according to city figures.

That gap is because special education services must be developed over the three-year time span when new small schools are opened, the district’s statement said. Over time, it added, every school will have a fully developed program.

New York isn’t the only place seeing tension over small schools. The Chicago Teachers Union wants that city to stop downsizing its schools in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that found sharp increases in violence in schools that have had to accept many displaced students. District Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan has vowed to push on with his program.

A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 2006 edition of Education Week