Even though he’s getting what he wants when it comes to more rigorous teacher evaluations, Mayor Bloomberg plans to press ahead with shutting down eight high schools in Queens and 25 more citywide, getting rid of half the teachers in them and reopening them under new names, with new instructors.
The mayor apparently believes this will improve the educational prospects for students at the schools. Many educators, students and parents see it differently, believing that it’s just the next step in his continuing crusade against teachers. Though we’ve supported mayoral control in the past, and do believe that outside-the-box thinking on education can be beneficial, the administration has lost us on this one, and we urge our readers to tell City Hall to forget about the closures.
The costs to the students, the general school community and the taxpayers are all just too high. What happens when a high school loses dozens of experienced teachers at a time? Chaos. The new teachers who would replace them are unseasoned, and whom could they look to as mentors if half the staff is gone?
There’s also the cost factor. When these teachers are taken out of a school, they’re not fired, since they’re tenured. Instead they’re put into the rotation for substitute assignments, a demoralizing move for people who have racked up years or even decades of experience. The mayor appears to be banking on these teachers getting so frustrated that they quit, but that’s no way to treat public servants, whatever an individual’s faults. Those who remain still get paid, costing an estimated $180 million, while the city would only receive $60 million in new aid. Add in the salaries of the teachers that replace them, and you’ve got a real waste of money at a time the city cannot afford it.
The factors that determine which schools will be closed are simply unfair to begin with. Standardized tests have their place, but in an immigrant haven like Queens, they’re simply not accurate arbiters of educational effectiveness. Many students come in not speaking English. How can their English skills then be graded on the same basis as native-born students? Queens also has great disparities in social factors like wealth and crime. Schools in some areas have many students who come from broken homes or have been in the criminal justice system, or both, and it’s also not fair to judge their teachers on the same basis as those in more stable communities.
Week after week the pages of this newspaper are filled with stories about the ongoing crisis in the school system, and far too often it’s City Hall that’s stoking the flames. Moves like these are not reformist but disruptive, and it’s time for a new approach.