Dear Commons Community,
In 1997,a teacher, Jonathan M. Levin, the son of the Time Warner chairman, Gerald Levin, was killed by one of his former high school students. Five years later, the New York City Education Department opened Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications in the same South Bronx building where he had taught, declaring it “a living tribute” to the English teacher’s “spirit, values, commitment and impassioned belief” that every child has a right to a quality education.
Ten years after it opened, the New York City Education Department has deemed Levin High School a failure, and is preparing to close it down. As the New York Times reports:
“Closing schools, and replacing them with new ones, has become a hallmark of education reform efforts around the country, promoted by the Obama administration and embraced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has shuttered 142 of them since taking office in 2002 and, in his final year, is moving to close 24 more. The central, free-market premise is that schools that fail to deliver should not be permitted to continue, and that their buildings could be better used to experiment with new ideas, often with new personnel.
The policy has been repeatedly criticized by teachers’ unions, and is now also under attack by several Democratic candidates for mayor, who in varying degrees have all pledged to slow or halt the process of closing schools. Civil-rights groups have filed complaints with the federal Education Department asserting that the policy has a disproportionate effect on black and Hispanic students.
The critics contend that school systems like New York’s are more interested in letting schools fail, to accelerate the process of creating new schools, than in helping struggling schools, and the students in them, succeed.
“We have a mayor who treats the act of closing a school as the accomplishment,” said Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate and, as one of five Democratic mayoral hopefuls, a supporter of a moratorium on closings. “What should be a last resort is now the go-to policy, and kids are suffering the consequences.”
There may be no better example for weighing these arguments than Levin High School, which, as it happens, is one of seven small schools operating inside the shell of William Howard Taft High School, Jonathan Levin’s school, which was closed for poor performance.”
Bill de Blasio has it right. The Department of Education takes pride in its accomplishment of closing schools and then creating new schools including charter schools. The Department of Education does not take responsibility for schools not meeting its “standards” and instead blames the principal, the teachers, the neighborhood, and everyone else except itself.
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