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City announces plans to shut four "failing" public schools

The city’s Department of Education announced plans today to close four public schools that the department believes are “failing” to educate students.

Citing the schools’ low graduation rates and poor scores on state standardized tests, the DOE said it would phase out two high schools and two middle schools next year. The schools are William Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn’s East New York, the Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School in East Harlem, the middle school grades at Frederick Douglass Academy III in the South Bronx, and KAPPA II middle school in East Harlem.

Officially, the four closures must be approved by the citywide school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, and be discussed in public hearings, in accordance with the city’s new school governance law. In the past, the department has told schools they would be closed without advanced warning, and teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said little had changed this year.

“There is a governance law in place and it is clear that the DOE is thumbing their nose at the law. They have the right to announce that they are going to consider closing a school, but by walking into schools and telling them that they are closing, they are making the new governance law irrelevant,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

In an email to reporters, DOE spokesman Will Havemann listed the department’s rationale for closing the schools, saying they had “failed to advance student learning.”

Two of the schools, Frederick Douglass Academy III and KAPPA II, are in school networks that sprang up in order to replicate already existent successful schools. Schools in the KAPPA network — there are seven of them — are modeled after the KIPP charter schools. Frederick Douglass Academy III, which according to the proposal would lose its middle school grades and keep its high school, is designed to replicate the original Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem.

For both middle schools, the DOE is emphasizing students’ performance on the state’s annual math and English standardized tests, which the department says is below average for the schools’ districts.

Frederick Douglass Academy III, which has a selective admissions policy, has seen its students’ proficiency on state English tests dip slightly in the past two years though its scores are generally very close to district averages. The school’s progress report grades have bounced from a B to a D to a C this year.

“We propose phasing out the middle school grades to allow the principal and school staff to focus on — and build on the success of — the high school,” Havemann wrote.

KAPPA II’s grades on yearly progress reports have slid from a B in 2007 to a D in 2009 and the percentage of its students that score proficient on state math and English tests is below average for District 5. The school is also seeing declining enrollment — it has 90 fewer students this year than it did last year.

The two high schools that the department wants to close have graduation rates close to or below 50 percent.

Havemann added that these are only the first four schools the DOE proposes to close and more are on the way. Last week, Mayor Bloomberg said he wanted the department to close all of the schools performing in the bottom 10 percent of the system.

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