The New York City Department of Education is busily fortifying the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, a combined middle school and high school in the Bronx where one teenager (Matthew McCree, 15) was stabbed to death and another (Ariane LaBoy, 16) was critically wounded earlier this week. Police took 18-year-old Abel Cedeno into custody, confiscating what they described as a knife with a three-inch blade. A day later, school-safety officials were installing at least three walk-through metal detectors at the school, plus related security equipment.
Details remain murky, especially regarding motive, but the stabbings come in the wake of reports of increased school violence—possibly linked to the de Blasio administration’s decision to reduce classroom suspensions as a “racial-justice” measure. Among those making that connection early this year was United Federation of Teachers president and de Blasio ally Mike Mulgrew. The DOE insists that there has been no increase in classroom violence, a claim disputed by a school-reform group. The department regularly hears criticism about the accuracy of its reporting on everything from testing to truancy.
Indeed, the DOE proudly cloaks itself in obscurity at a fundamental level—the names that it gives its schools. Meant to suggest high levels of student potential, they often camouflage astonishing dysfunction and substandard performance. The School for Wildlife Conversation is meant to turn out future forest rangers or other outdoor-related professionals—but only 5 percent of its pupils do math at grade level and a scant 13 percent are reading proficient, according to state tests. And while it graduated 77 percent of its students in 2016, a mere 11 percent were capable of college-level work, according to StudentsFirstNY.
Or consider the Life Sciences Secondary School. “Life Sciences” sounds demanding, and the school graduates 82 percent of its students. But StudentsFirst found that only 26 percent are capable of college-level work without extensive remediation—a disconnect that speaks directly to DOE delinquency. The group last year compared high school graduation rates with City University remediation statistics and discovered that only 34 of New York’s 428 high schools properly prepared at least 75 percent of their students for college—and that only one-half did the job for at least 25 percent.
As a rule, the more grandiose the name of the school, the more likely there will be a wide gap between graduation and proficiency rates. The High School for Environmental Sustainability graduated 53.8 percent of its students on time in 2016—but only 2.2 percent were prepared for the college work that a career in environmental sustainability presumably would require. The Gateway School for Environmental Research and Technology (36.5 percent graduation rate versus 1.9 percent college-preparedness rate) would seem to be in the same leaky boat, as well as the Academy for Environmental Careers (65.3 percent versus 5.3 percent); the Queens High School for Information, Research and Technology (55.4 percent versus 7.2 percent); and the Grady Career and Technical Education High School (62 percent versus 9.1 percent). System-wide, the DOE claims a graduation rate in the mid-60 percent range (which doesn’t take into account a 30-plus percent dropout rate), while compiling a StudentsFirst college-readiness mark of no more than 30 percent among those who do get diplomas.
City Hall continuously lobbies Albany for full, permanent control of the schools, but it has shown no appetite for addressing the abysmal disconnect between graduation and competence, preferring to concentrate on the other end of the pipeline. Mayor de Blasio is pushing hard to expand pre-kindergarten services to three-year-olds as a means to improve future performance, but more than 50 years of experience with Head Start and similar early-education programs shows that they produce virtually no lasting benefits. Politically, however, no one doubts that free daycare—essentially what de Blasio is proposing—will generate lots of support on Election Day. De Blasio gets votes, the teachers remain undisturbed, and city toddlers get an early introduction to Gotham’s public-education failure factory.
When the youngsters get to high school, they’ll find that their buildings are well-fitted with security technology—like the metal detectors and other devices now being installed at the School for Wildlife Conservation. If the DOE can’t teach kids to function in a modern economy, the least it can do is try to keep them alive. Think of it as twenty-first century school reform, New York style.
Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office