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Report: Again, very high-need students at schools up for closure

High schools up for closure this year actually serve fewer students with special needs than they used to, according to a new report by the city’s data watchdog group.

But because the nine high schools are much smaller than they once were, students with special needs still represent a far higher share of their total enrollment, according to the report released today by the city’s Independent Budget Office. All together, the high schools enrolled a third fewer new students last year than in 2006, the IBO found.

The report marks the fourth time that the IBO has compiled enrollment, spending, and performance data about schools that the city is trying to close. It also marked the fourth time that the office, which state law charges with scrutinizing Department of Education data, has concluded that schools up for closure have higher-than-average concentrations of high-need students.

The new report backs up critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school closure policies, who say that high concentrations of students with special needs, English language learners, and low-performing students have stacked the deck against high schools the city has closed.

The critics include State Education Commissioner John King, who last year warned the city that its enrollment policies had created unacceptably high concentrations of needy students in low-performing schools, and advocates who filed a federal civil rights complaints about the city’s school closures. This year, the schools up for closure once again enroll disproportionate numbers of black students and students from poor families.

But the report also includes data that complicate common arguments put forth by opponents of planned school closures. One argument is that the Department of Education undermined the schools by sending them more high-need students over time. But while the schools all enroll more high-need students than the city average, their share of those students has not increased substantially since 2006, according to the IBO.

And while some schools, such as Herbert Lehman High School, have seen their share of low-performing ninth-graders climb, most schools have enrolled low-scoring students at relatively flat rates. One school, Sheepshead Bay High School, actually saw its proportion of high-need students fall since 2006.

Another argument has been that the schools have not received adequate resources to succeed. But the schools up for closure all received more funding from the city last year than other schools, according to the IBO, and they also spent more per student on counseling and after-school programs.

Department officials seized on the financial data to justify the school closure proposals.

“The IBO report affirms what we already know to be true — that the schools proposed for phase out are not meeting the educational needs of our students,” said Erin Hughes, a department spokeswoman. “The outcomes for students at these schools are poor, despite these schools having more financial resources than other schools.”

Hughes also repeated a claim that department officials have made before: that many schools succeed despite having many high-need students. “Hundreds of other schools across the city are producing remarkably better outcomes with similar populations of students,” she said.

An analysis conducted last year by NY1 found that there are actually very few elementary and middle schools that “beat the odds” associated with their student demographics.

The budget office’s full presentation is below.

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