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IBO: Schools up for closure tonight enroll very needy students

For the third year in a row, the city’s data watchdog has concluded that the schools the city is trying to close serve especially needy students.

In 2010 and 2011, the Independent Budget Office put together longer reports about the city’s school closure proposals on the request of Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council’s education committee. But this year, the office, which has a special mandate to scrutinize the Department of Education’s facts and figures, compiled details about the demographics, performance, and funding of schools on the chopping block on its own. Then it released the statistics in an easy-to-read, stand-alone format.

Among the many people who are receiving the IBO’s 13-slide presentation by email today are the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, who are set to vote on the closure proposals tonight, according to spokesman Doug Turetsky.

“It’s an accessible format so people can see the stats and come to their own conclusions,” he said.

UPDATE: Department of Education officials disputed some of the data in the slides and said the budget office had not given them as much time to review the report before publication as an agreement between the two offices requires.

They urged the IBO not to release the report and then to retract it once it was published because data on at least one slide did not match information the city had provided. The budget office retracted one slide that showed change over time in the number of students with special needs at the schools.

But other slides showed that the schools up for closure enroll more than the average proportion of students who have disabilities, are overage, or are considered English language learners, confirming analyses published elsewhere.

That comparison is central to the argument made often by critics of closures that the schools were set up to fail because they enroll especially needy students. City officials counter, on the other hand, by noting that other schools serve similar student populations with better results.

The tables also confirm that many of the schools slated for closure have been enrolling increasingly high percentages of the city’s most struggling students over the last decade.

At At Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School and Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School, 47 percent of students had posted eighth-grade reading scores in the lowest third citywide in 2003. By last year, at least 61 percent of the schools’ students fell into that category.

DOE officials argued that the comparison over time obscures the fact that because average test scores have risen in the last 10 years, the lowest-scoring students now are on average higher-performing than the lowest-scoring students in 2003.

Key findings from the IBO’s presentation:

  • On virtually every measure of performance, from test scores to attendance to graduation rates, the schools on the closure list fell short of citywide averages.
  • All of the high schools enrolled more ninth-graders who were overage for their grade than the citywide average. At two schools, Grace Dodge and Legacy School for Integrated Studies, overage students made up more than half of the freshman class last year.
  • All of the high schools enrolled more ninth-graders with special needs than the citywide average. Two schools, Gompers and Legacy, had more than twice as many ninth-graders in special education than the citywide average.
  • The high schools on the closure list spent more per student than the citywide average last year, particularly on teachers and staff. They spent less than average on equipment and supplies.
  • A smaller proportion of the schools’ funding than average came through the city’s Fair Student Funding formula, which is designed to promote funding equity. They got more in federal funds and other funds from the city.

The budget office’s full, updated presentation is below.

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