picture-3The 25 schools the city is trying to close are low-performing, but their students are among the city’s most challenging — and are only getting needier over time.

Those are the findings of a report released today by the Independent Budget Office, the city’s data watchdog.

City officials argue that these low-performing schools should be closed because other schools serve similar student populations with better results. But critics of the closures often counter that the schools were set up to fail after the city sent them comparatively larger numbers of under-prepared, special needs and English language learning students.

The report confirms that many of the schools slated for closure have been enrolling increasingly high percentages of the city’s most challenging students since 2005.

In 10 of the 14 high schools on the closure list, for example, ninth-graders who entered the school in 2009 arrived with lower scores than their predecessors in 2007. The percentage of students entering the schools overage has grown to more than double the citywide average.

For the second time, the IBO report compared the academic performance of the schools slated to close both to citywide averages and to other schools the city says are similar. It also takes a close look at the demographics of the students who attend schools on the closure list, and how those demographics have changed over time.

City officials responded to the report by citing two studies conducted by the research group MDRC and funded by the Gates Foundation that found that the city’s small schools boosted academic performance for low-income students of color.

“Our reform efforts are absolutely focused on our students that need the most help, and independent research shows new small schools that replace large failing schools serve more disadvantaged students on average and help these students graduate at higher rates,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Academic achievement at the schools was much lower than citywide averages. Their performance also  fell below the average performance of the 11 schools the city selected last year to undergo the “transformation” model of school improvement and the three high schools that were on the closure list last year but were granted a reprieve this year.
  • But the schools produced mixed results when compared with other schools that the city says serve similar students. Three schools out of the 14 high schools on the closure list had more students earning course credits than more than half of their peer schools. Just three had credit-accumulation rates that were in the lowest tenth of schools in their peer group. Two of the 14 posted attendance rates that were in the lowest 10 percent of their peer group schools.
  • The schools slated for closure saw an increase in their rates of students receiving special education services or living in temporary housing that was larger than the increase citywide.
  • A disproportionate share of students in closing schools are in the Bronx. Nearly 40 percent of students who attend schools slated for closure do so in the Bronx. That’s compared to just over 20 percent of all city students who attend school in that borough.
  • Of the schools replacing closing schools as they phase out, 23 are new or existing small schools. Eight are new or existing charter schools, and seven are new zoned elementary or middle schools. The city has not yet released the plans for three schools set to open in buildings where a school is closing.

Read the full IBO report here.

(This post has been updated to provide the DOE’s response to the report.)