(Update: New York judge says she will most likely keep school open for at least another year)
New York City education officials want to close PS 25 in Brooklyn, a public school with a student population that is mostly minority and economically disadvantaged — even though the school does remarkably well academically.
Officials say the school is under-enrolled, but community members say there are other ways to address that problem that do not require closing a school and breaking up a successful learning environment.
(You can see here the effects in Chicago of the mass closing of schools five years.)
This is an open letter to New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza about the future of this school, written by Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and a public education advocate, who successfully led the battle to stop nine states from disclosing their personal student data to a student database project called inBloom. Haimson is also the founder and executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit that advocates for small class sizes.
On Thursday, Judge Katherine Levine of the Kings County Supreme Court said after hearing arguments in the case that unless she changes her mind in the next two weeks, she will keep the school open for at least another year and look closely at the case over the next few months.
Here is Haimson’s letter, on behalf of PS 25 families, to the chancellor, explaining what is at stake:
Dear Chancellor Carranza:
This afternoon, Thursday May 24, hearings will be held in the New York Supreme Court on a lawsuit to prevent the closure of PS 25 in Brooklyn. PS 25 is a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant with a very high-needs population: 94 percent of its students are black or Hispanic, 86 percent are economically disadvantaged, 31 percent of its students have special needs, and about 23 percent are homeless.
And yet according to the New York City Department of Education (DOE) performance dashboard, PS 25 is the fourth best out of 661 public elementary schools in NYC and the second best in Brooklyn; it also outperforms every charter school but one Success charter school in the Bronx. In fact, the DOE admits all these facts in its response to the lawsuit. If the school is closed, the entire building would be left to Success Academy Bed Stuy 3.
As the DOE’s own statistics reveal, PS 25 outperforms other schools with similar populations by an amazing 21 percentage points in ELA and Math, while its special needs students outperform similar students by an amazing 47 percentage points in English Language Arts. It also scores very high in all the other standards DOE uses to evaluate schools, including effective school leadership, trust, and collaborative teachers. Because of its stellar performance, the school was recently named a “Reward school” by the New York State Education Department.
Why is the school so successful? By all accounts, the teachers are excellent and the class sizes are very small: only 10-18 students per class, far below the city averages.
Understandably, the parents at PS 25 are passionately devoted to keeping the school open. When the announcement was first made about its closure, New York City Education Department officials called a meeting for the next day, and more than 70 percent of the members of the school community showed up to protest. More than 80 percent of parents sent letters and/or signed petitions, begging Chancellor Carmen Farina and our appointed school board, the Panel for Educational Policy, not to close the school. Yet when the vote was held on February 28, only the five borough president appointees voted to keep it open while all the eight mayoral appointees approved its closing.
However, the DOE had never informed anyone, including the Panel on Educational Policy, about PS 25’s exceptionally high rating as the fourth best elementary school in the city. Nor did they mention this in the Educational Impact Statement, the legal document that is supposed to describe the effect of a school’s closure.
Why does the DOE say the school should be closed? Because of its “persistently low enrollment.” PS 25 has only about 100 students, and yet there are at least five other schools in the city with smaller enrollments that are not being closed. Moreover, the fact there is available space in the building is one of the reasons that PS 25 has been able to keep its classes exceptionally small, unlike most of elementary schools in New York City which are overcrowded.
Certainly, Chancellor Carranza, the DOE has other options if you want to boost enrollment. You could place another pre-K or put a 3K in the school. You could even co-locate another existing school in the building, to learn from the best practices of PS 25. And if parents were told of the school’s exceptionally high quality, surely more of them would consider enrolling their children in the school; the lawsuit includes affidavits of pre-K parents attesting to this fact.
In addition, state law requires that the district’s Community Education Council (CEC), composed primarily of public school parents, vote to approve any alteration in school zoning lines before this can occur. In 2009, then-Chancellor Joel Klein announced he intended to close three zoned elementary schools, and to give their buildings over to three Success Academy charter schools. Less than two weeks after New York Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of parents to block this action, pointing out the lack of CEC approval, the chancellor announced that all three schools would remain open.
Like this prior case, the CEC has never voted to close PS 25. As the PS 25 memo of law points out:
“Entirely eliminating a zoned school and without replacing it with another zoned school, leaving the families in this neighborhood without any zoned school that their children have the right to attend, as occurred in this instance, is the most radical change in zoning lines that can be conceived.”
In the meantime, the Department of Education has offered PS 25 parents a list of 33 schools to which their children can apply to attend. Eighteen of these schools are on Staten Island, many miles away, 25 are overcrowded, and none of them have as small classes as PS 25 or as large a positive impact on learning. It is no wonder that only about a third of PS 25 parents have filled out any application at all.
Most of the research relates to the impact of closing low-performing schools, since this is almost never done in the case of high-performing schools. A recent study from Chicago found a negative impact on learning even from closing struggling schools, resulting from the severe disruption in the students’ lives. One of the few studies that analyzed the impact on students when a high-performing school is closed concluded:
“ … closure students who ended up in inferior or equivalent settings were prone to making fewer academic gains than their peers in other low-performing schools that remained open. … The finding also held for a number of racial-ethnic groups and was particularly salient for black and Hispanic closure students. The effect was most pronounced for black and Hispanic students in poverty.”
Of course, the vast majority of students at PS 25 are black or Hispanic and poor.
And this finding:
“ … if students are sent to schools which are similarly low-performing or even worse than their closed schools, closure generally will result in negative learning outcomes.”
Recently a book was published called “Selling School, the Marketing of Public Education,” written by Catherine DiMartino and Sarah Butler Jessen, focusing primarily on the extensive marketing and promotion efforts of charter schools, especially those operated by well-funded charter management organizations such as KIPP, Success and Democracy Prep.
In particular, Success Academy spends millions of dollars each year on advertising, videos, and mailings to promote its schools. And yet here is a superlative public school that, according to the Department of Education’s own estimate, not only surpasses the quality of every Success charter school but one, and yet the department has not only failed to promote the school but then wants to close it down.
Chancellor Carranza: On Tuesday in hearings before the New York City Council, you spoke eloquently about how the city should be celebrating our successful public schools, rather than allowing others to denigrate them. In particular, you noted that you had seen some great teaching in Bed-Stuy schools. If you are serious about this, you should rescind the decision to close this school and instead celebrate its accomplishments.
The negative impact on PS 25 families would be severe if this closure is allowed to go forward, especially for the large number of homeless students, because the school is a sanctuary of stability in their lives. As Mark Cannizaro, the president of the CSA, the New York City principals’ union, has said, “the students, families and educators of PS 25 deserve better.”
Instead of closing this exceptional school, we urge you to honor PS 25’s achievements, emulate and expand it — and enable more NYC schools and students to have the same chance to succeed.
Yours, Leonie Haimson on behalf of PS 25 families