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Bloomberg cites Obama's shared support for closing schools

Correction appended

With President Obama in New York City and on his way to visit Pathways in Technology Early College High school, Mayor Bloomberg today praised the president for backing one of the policies that has been most controversial during Bloomberg’s own tenure.

He also suggested an alternate reading of history, in which one of the most hyped new schools in the city’s recent past could actually be credited to federal policies.

“It’s also important to note that P-TECH would not even exist here were it not for the strong reform policy that the Obama Administration has supported, and that’s replacing failing schools with new ones,” Bloomberg said.

P-TECH operates inside the Paul Robeson Educational Complex, which currently also houses the final class of Paul Robeson High School. The Bloomberg administration began phasing that school out because of poor performance in 2011, the same year that P-TECH opened.

“This was once a large failing high school that had been failing its students,” Bloomberg said. “We began phasing it down and opened P-TECH, while also co-locating other career-oriented schools.”

Closing struggling schools and opening new ones in their place has been a hallmark of Bloomberg’s 12 years in City Hall, but the efforts are likely to slow or disappear entirely if Bill de Blasio, the leading contender to replace Bloomberg, wins next month’s mayoral election. De Blasio, who has called for a moratorium on school closures, joined Bloomberg and other officials at P-TECH today.

Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, were the architects of several federal policies that dangled large sums of grant money to districts and cash-strapped states in exchange for promising to make big changes to policies around teacher evaluation and accountability. The approach ran up against traditional positions held by the Democratic Party, which aligned itself to unions that have fought against such policies.

Obama and Duncan also nudged states and districts toward closing schools by offering School Improvement Grants to states that promised to overhaul their lowest-performing schools. P-TECH and Paul Robeson received SIG grants under the the Obama Administration’s “turnaround” model during the 2011-2012 school year.

Bloomberg was among dozens of public figures to pack the gymnasium at P-TECH, a two-year-old school that Obama name-checked in his State of the Union address earlier this year. Obama is visiting the school to drum up support for new models in career and technical education, including P-TECH’s, in which students attend for six years and graduate with an associate’s degree. With just two years of operation under its belt, whether the school will live up to its lofty promises remains to be seen, but other states and districts are already replicating it.

(Correction: A previous version incorrectly states that Paul Robeson High School and P-TECH did not receive federal School Improvement Grant funding.)

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