Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union


Vocational Education

A few years ago, Marco Martinez was attending William E. Grady High School in Brooklyn, running track, working as a waiter -- and wondering what to do next. He stopped wondering when he decided to spend a fifth year in high school, enrolling in a one-year program at Lafayette High School to train dental assistants, where he learned to take x-rays, question patients about their medical histories, make dental models.

Now, wearing navy blue scrubs covered by a yellow smock to ward off infection, he works as a dental assistant at Kings County Hospital. "I enjoy knowing what procedures need to be done and explaining them to the patients," he says.Martinez has found his vocation.

The Lafayette program does not meet the traditional model of vocational education. Classes are held in a hospital, not a high school. Students help provide care. And the program is selective; of 40 students who apply, only about 10 are admitted.

But vocational education in general -- which received renewed attention last month thanks to a new initiative announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- is trying to move on from its past. Educators no longer want it viewed, as one puts it, as "shop class for boys with cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves" –- a lesser diploma aimed at failing students.

It is not even called vocational education anymore; now the official term is career and technical education, or CTE for short. The curriculum focuses on newer careers, such as computers and “information technology.” Students must get hands-on experience and pass certification exams devised at least partly by the industries that will employ them.

Today’s career education faces a challenge that never confronted the old-fashioned vocational education programs of the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time that they help students learn a career, the schools must give students the academic background they need to pass the five Regents exams now required for graduation in New York State.

How is there enough time in the day for both? And how can schools set strict academic standards and still serve the very students most likely to be attracted to vocational programs in the first place?


The interest in career education springs from a reality sometimes ignored in the drive for higher standards: Academic high schools do not meet the needs of thousands of students who leave the school system unprepared for either work or higher education.

The numbers tell the story. Of the students who entered New York City public high schools in 1999, only 53.4 graduated four years later, and about one-fifth had dropped out, according to a Department of Education study (in pdf format). The remainder stayed in school hoping to graduate in five or six years instead of the usual four. The graduation rates for blacks and Hispanics (in pdf format) were even lower, with less than a third graduating on time.

This leaves many young people with literally nothing to do. About one in six of all New Yorkers aged 16 through 24 do not attend school and do not work, according to a recent report by the Community Service Society. Among the young people who are not in school, more than half the blacks and 40 percent of the Hispanics do not have jobs either.

Faced with such figures, many experts have looked to career education. The idea is to give students “an option after high school,” said Jean Claude Brizard, a former chemist and former principal of George Westinghouse, a career and technical high school, who is now in charge of city high schools. While many students continue their educations, Brizard said, “if they are in an approved CTE program many of them will come out of high school prepared to get a job if that’s what they want to do.”


Vocational education in New York City had its roots in the early 20th century as the city struggled to educate students with widely varying abilities, many of whom did not speak English. With almost half of all students leaving school by age 14, some educators called for more job training in the schools. Eventually, New York would be a pioneer in developing high schools organized around specific trades, such as aviation, auto mechanics and printing.

Students taking vocational courses would get a vocational or commercial diploma, without the Regents test requirement of the academic diploma.

But by the 1980s, the vocational schools had lost much of their appeal and prestige, saddled with outmoded equipment and teachers who lacked proper training. The education in these schools “was not great,” Brizard said. “If you have a student sitting in class for three periods a day, five days a week for two or three years and coming out not being prepared for a skill or jobs and not having good academic preparation, you’re doing a disservice to this particular student. So [vocational schools] became unpopular places.”

The school system began filling seats at the schools with any available students – whether or not they had any interest in the program – and the prestige of vocational education declined even further.

But even during this dismal era, said Frank Carucci, the United Federation of Teachers’ vice president for vocational and technical high schools, these schools “served as a safety net for kids who couldn’t cut it academically or who couldn’t go to college.”


Today, more than 130,000 public school students are enrolled in some kind of vocational program. The city has 18 career and technical education high schools that offer a Regents diploma and certification approved by such industries as computer technology, health care, auto mechanics and cosmetology. These programs must provide specially trained teachers, up-to-date equipment, and opportunities for hand-on professional experience.

More than 120 other schools provide career programs. Those approved by the state Department of Education award students some kind of certification upon graduation if the students successfully pass a career-oriented exam.

The city also offers one-year CTE programs for fifth-year students, like the Lafayette dental assistant program. These classes are open to students under 21 who have completed their course work or earned a graduate equivalency degree (GED) -- but not a Regents diploma.

These vocationally-oriented schools should not be confused with the theme-based small schools that the city has launched in the past few years, schools with themes that range from law to sports management to firefighting. The difference is that those small schools aim to pique students' interest in school, and perhaps whet their appetite for further course work in the area; most of them do not offer specific career training and certification.

But even many students in the certified career education programs do not seek jobs in the field after graduation. According to Brizard, about two thirds of career education graduates go on for further education, some in their original fields, some in other areas.

Educators see this as a positive development. Students coming out of vocational programs can get jobs with decent salaries, but those who go on after high school for two or more years of technical training in the same field can get jobs with salaries as high as $60,000 a year.

Even if a student goes into another field entirely, says Carucci, their vocational work still had value. “If kids are doing something they’re interested in, then attendance is going to get better, their attitude is going to get better, their academic outcomes are going to get better."


1. Dual Requirements

When New York State announced the five-Regents exams requirement for all students, some predicted that would spell the end of vocational education. Indeed, some students, fearing they will not be able to meet both sets of requirements, have passed up the vocational program or left school entirely. And some of the vocational schools have become more reluctant to accept students with poor reading and math scores (students they once would readily have accepted) because they worry that those students will be unable to pass the regents.

It is true that those students who can pass both vocational and academic requirements do better than either purely academic or purely vocational students, according to Jim Stone, director of the National Resource Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Minnesota.

For the less capable students, some advocates have suggested that students learn their basic academic skills through their vocational coursework. After all, said Carucci, figuring the pitch of a roof involves the same skills as figuring the slope of a line on a graph.

So far, it is hard to know how the students are coping with the additional pressures. The Department of Education has released statistics saying that 95 percent of students in New York City career and technical programs passed their Regents exams in 2002-03. The high rate –- only 59 percent of members of the class of 2004 overall in the city passed their math Regents -- prompted Eva Moskowitz, chair of the City Council education committee, to question the number.

2. Uneven Quality Of Schools

The quality and success of vocational programs vary widely. ABC’s Nightline recently profiled the culinary arts program at Long Island City High School where students learn to concoct such dishes as milk chocolate ganache. The program attracts almost 20 times as many students as it can accommodate and its graduates include Amar Santana, who at 22, became the youngest sous chef ever at highly regarded Aureole.

But other programs falter. At Automotive High School in Brooklyn, for example, slightly less than half the students graduate on time – or pass their math regents.

Three years ago, several groups launched an effort to reform Harry Van Arsdale High School in Brooklyn, which offered several career programs. The school began providing more support services to students, was divided into “small learning communities,” and began offering training in new fields, such as information technology. But, according to Inside Schools, despite some advances –- including the addition of a Duane Reade drug store to train students -- discipline remained a problem, with vandals damaging newly renovated science labs. Last year, the Department of Education announced that the school would be phased out entirely.

Clearly the best solution for this is to improve the programs – a move Brizard believes is well underway. Today’s certified career classes, he said, are "rigorous programs approved by the state."

3. No More Plumbers?

For today’s high school students, computer related fields are hot – about 22,660 students are enrolled in CTE computer courses, while less than 70 are preparing to be plumbers.

“A lot of the old trade skills are viewed as old fashioned and obsolete,” says Carucci. “But they’re things we all need to survive and we need to do to keep the city going.”

4. Discrimination

Vocational programs fall prey to many problems of the work world -- including, some advocates charge, discrimination. In 2001, the National Women’s’ Law Center found that girls attended programs in traditionally female occupations -- cosmetology, health care work, office assistant -- while boys tended to go to programs teaching traditionally male, and better paid occupations, such as mechanic and computer repair. They also said that vocational schools with a higher concentration of boys offered more rigorous academic classes.

The center has worked with the school system to address these problems. The effort, said Jocelyn Samuels of the center, “has resulted in concrete improvement… but does not seem to have transformed the process of enrollment.”


Policy makers in the city and state have presented a variety of proposals to improve career education.

In the city, the main initiative came in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent State of the City speech when he announced a new $14 million “Learning to Work” program aimed at young people who have already dropped out of school, or are about to. It will help them get a high school equivalency diploma or a standard diploma while learning a trade. While some praised the idea, others see it as a return to the old days of vocational ed – when job-training programs provided a second-class diploma to failing students.

New York State, meanwhile, is reportedly working on a so-called work readiness credential, a voluntary test that students could take to indicate to potential employers that they have the skills for entry-level jobs.

"This is something that business has wanted for a long time," one member of the state Board of Regents, Harry Phillips, told the New York Times. But others question why yet another test is needed. "If the diploma now provided after a student takes five Regents exams . . . is not enough for a student to be ready for the rigors of life, then one has to question the worth of that assessment," Steven Sanders, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, has said.

On the national level, the Bush administration has proposed that career training high schools become more academically rigorous and work more closely with both employers and colleges, However, in his budget released earlier this month, the president eliminated funding for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act that had provided $1.3 billion a year in funding for high school career and technical education programs.

Instead, much of the money would go to No Child Left Behind, the national program that requires more academic standards. And so the dispute over funding for the Perkins Act symbolizes the key issue in vocational education in 2005. Can career training survive – and even thrive – in an increasingly complicated and academically demanding world?

For More Information

Career and Technical Education Organizations

New York City Department of Education

Association for Career and Technical Education
The largest national education association dedicated to the advancement of career-training education. The site includes legislative updates and information on policy issues.

Inside Schools
For profiles of individual schools

National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium
The professional society of the state and territory agency heads responsible for career technical education.

U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education

United Federation of Teachers The web site for the New York City teachers' union includes information on vocational and career and technical education.

Vocational Information Center
Links to articles about and groups working on career education.

Articles on Career Education

Hammer Away (5/18/00)
The New Republic: High schools should train carpenters as well as computer technicians.

Is High School Career and Technical Education Obsolete? (November 2004)
Phi Delta Kappan

New York City Offers Firefighting 101 at New High School (1/12/05)
Education Week

Vocational School Aims for Mechanics Who Can Write (2/7/05)
New York Times

Vocational Students Lag in Achievement, Report Says (2/14/04)
Education Week


Who Graduates? Who Doesn't?: A Statistical Portrait of Public High School Graduation, Class of 2001 (in pdf format)
The Urban Institute

The Class of 2003 Four-Year Longitudinal Report and 2002-2003 Event Dropout Rates
New York City Department of Education (in pdf format)

Out of School, Out of Work... Out of Luck? New York City's Disconnected Youth
Community Service Society (in pdf format)



Real School Pests; School Funding

Whatever the schoolyard taunts about first-grade pests, New York City schools have a real pest problem. Nearly 80 percent of Inside Schools readers who responded to a recent poll about pest infestations said their schools had problems with mice or rats, while 76 percent said there were problems with cockroaches. While the poll is not scientific, it indicates that a pest problem exists and may be more of a norm than an exception in schools across the city.

Of 198 parents, students and teachers responding to the poll, 47 percent reported that mice or rats could often be seen during the school day, 29 percent described "occasional" rodent problems, 4 percent reported rodent droppings in the kitchen and cafeteria, and 20 percent reported no significant rodent problems.

Thirty-six percent saw a persistent infestation of cockroaches, while 30 percent described occasional cockroach sightings, 11 percent reported droppings in the kitchen and cafeteria, and 24 percent found no significant cockroach problems. And some readers pointed to problems with other city pests -- pigeons, squirrels, water bugs -- in and around their schools.

A parent at the Brooklyn New School said her daughter's kindergarten teacher vacuums the floors daily to rid the classroom of mouse droppings. This parent reported seeing rodents, as well as roaches, scurrying through classrooms and halls.

A staff member at East Village Community School in Manhattan described mice as "permanent residents" in the school. "Every day, there are droppings on desks, tables, and shelving." A parent at La Guardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts said, "The mice scurry in broad daylight in a room full of kids. There are mouse droppings on the costumes and books, and the pages of the books have been nibbled by the mice."

While some readers cited construction in their school as the source of pest problems, others pointed to the food in classrooms, particularly in younger grades where kids often eat snacks and meals in their rooms. "There wouldn't be any roaches in the school at all if teachers and students would eat [only] in the lunchroom," wrote Ray Ciano, a member of the custodial staff at PS 314 in Brooklyn.

In fact, schools that seem to have the problem under control are scrupulous about cleanliness and take aggressive steps to block any holes that might allow pests to come into the building. "If you don't feed them, they don't come," said Dave Daley, custodian at New Explorations for Science Technology and Math (NEST+M), a K-12 school in Manhattan. At his school, even teachers must eat their lunch in the cafeteria, and eating in classrooms is forbidden. Daley encourages his staff to check the building's exterior doors for cracks, to patch all holes, and to put good saddles on classroom entrances. The floors are scrubbed regularly. Glue boards are placed on floors to catch mice. Even so, he says, it is a constant battle to keep the pests in check.

While some readers wrote in to praise topnotch custodians for keeping school buildings clean and pest-free, the majority of respondents seemed to think custodians, schools and the Department of Education must make more of an effort to address the problem of vermin in city schools.

One reader complained that pest problems resulted from "classroom floors that are not washed often enough." And a teacher at a Manhattan schools wrote, "There are many holes in our classroom and they have never been filled, nor have I ever seen an exterminator."

Poll finds voters back billions more for city schools

With State Supreme Judge Leland DeGrasse about to issue a court order -- the latest round in the long-running Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit to get more money for city public schools -- most voters in the state think New York City schools should get an additional $5.6 billion a year, according to a new poll by Quinnipac University. But voters also say that New York City should pay for at least some of the increase in spending.

A court-appointed panel (in pdf format) said in November that New York City schools need $5.6 billion a year more, but left open the question of who should pay for it. The special masters' report also said the schools need a total of $9.2 billion more in capital improvements. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has maintained that the state should pay for the entire increase, while that state maintains that the city should pick up 40 percent of the tab.

A new poll, based on a survey taken between December 3 and 6, 2004 of 1,186 registered voters, shows voters statewide support the recommendations of the court-appointed panel by a margin of 61 to 31 percent. Support for the funding is strongest in the city and weakest upstate, but, even there, 47 percent of respondents favored the increased funding with 43 percent opposed. By a margin of 76 to 8 percent, voters also said New York City should foot at least part of the bill. Even New York City voters, by a margin of 62 to 30 percent, say the city should share in the cost.

Governor George Pataki has proposed paying for the increase by installing slot machines at racetracks and off-track betting parlors. But voters, by a margin of 54 to 40 percent, said that was a "bad idea." More popular, according to the poll, was the notion of cutting state funding to rich school districts to help poor districts, which 50 percent supported. The poll found 22 percent favored a state tax increase, while only 10 percent favored local tax increases.

This topic page has been adapted from articles that originally appeared on Insideschools.org, an independent guide to New York City public schools sponsored by Advocates for Children.















How to Spend the Money for the Schools

While awaiting the judge's order in the school funding case, three views on what's next:

• The Governor Delays and Denies
by Steve Sanders

• How to Spend the Money for the Schools
by Eva Moskowitz

• Parents, Educators and Advocates Must Have Their Say
by Leonie Haimson

The children of New York City have been waiting too long for the school funds that are rightfully theirs, and when Justice Leland DeGrasse issues his forthcoming court order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, he needs to do it in such a way as to force the state government to stop its delaying tactics. Fines would be completely appropriate.

When the money finally makes its way to New York City schools, there is still the question of how to spend it.

Making Pre-K Universal For Real

I feel incredibly strongly that some money must go to early childhood education. We have something called universal pre-K, but that name is like something out of George Orwell's 1984. Our program is not universal in two ways. It is not universal because there are more than 50,000 four-year-olds and more than 75,000 three-year-olds who do not get to attend pre-K.

It is also not universal in the sense that it does not cover the instructional needs of the kids. Today, kids are expected to know in kindergarten what they were expected to know in first or second grade 25 years ago. You cannot have a mere two hours of pre-K, which is what they fund now, and expect children to be ready for kindergarten.

There is a complete consensus in the research community and among educators that to give children a good start in life, they must have early childhood education. If not an all-day program, which would be ideal for working parents, it must at least be a nine-to-one program.

More Qualified Teachers

The most important factor in a child's education -- and it is somewhat cliché to say -- is the quality of the teacher. If you have a poor curriculum and a great teacher, your kid will be fine.

There are two factors in getting more qualified teachers. One is the pay and the second is the working conditions. The pay is better than it was 10 years ago, but we still need to improve it.

Addressing working conditions is so simple. You cannot expect to retain teachers if you send them into a school where not only is the pay inadequate, but they have to scrounge around for the most basic supplies. When you get a job in the corporate world, you get a desk, a chair, a telephone, paper, pens. You do not have to buy your own. You do not have to scrounge around.

Fixing The Labor Contracts

We have to decide whether teachers are assembly line workers or professionals. In my view, they are professionals. They need to be paid as such and they need to contribute as such without complicated work rules. A good time to do this is when you come up with more money, so the additional funding from the state could create an opportunity here.

And sometimes the issue is money. For example, we cannot get qualified science teachers unless we pay them more than some other teachers. If you can be a nurse or a pharmacist for much more money, why would you go into teaching? A few do, but, in general, it is not going to happen. But the teachers contract prohibits differential pay.

Reducing Class Size; Upgrading Facilities

The final thing is class size reduction and facilities upgrades. As part of this, we have to stop thinking of arts, science and sports as luxuries that we can afford only if we are not in a fiscal crisis. All the private, independent and parochial schools recognize this. Art and sports engage kids. If kids are engaged they will do better in geometry and reading.

But we do not have the facilities for arts, sports and the like. For example, 55 percent of New York City public schools do not have an outdoor playground. The New York City school system has very few chorus risers. Many schools have an auditorium but no curtain. The curtain was purchased 40 years ago and has since disintegrated. It is hard to have a play with no curtain.

It would be great to have robotics labs. But that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about the bare minimum.

Eva Moskowitz chairs the City Council Education Committee.

Keep An Eye on the Money for Schools

While awaiting the judge's order in the school funding case, three views on what's next:

• The Governor Delays and Denies
by Steve Sanders

• How to Spend the Money for the Schools
by Eva Moskowitz

• Parents, Educators and Advocates Must Have Their Say
by Leonie Haimson

Last fall, despite an increase in $300 million in state aid for education and a substantial hike in the city's education budget, public schools all over the city saw their budgets drastically cut. Although some of these cuts were eventually restored, the Bloomberg administration never explained why it made the cuts in the first place. With such a history, it should not be surprising that many people are concerned how the city might spend any money it gets from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued that people can be assured that the money will be well spent because he is the mayor. The city's lawyers have said that requiring Bloomberg to do anything specific with this money would take away from that mayoral control.

Our concerns were further stirred by the plan that city officials have submitted on how it will use the Campaign for Fiscal Equity dollars. (See the administration's full plan in pdf format or a summary.)

The plan does not include an assessment of what the system needs, there are few measurable goals and objectives, and it lacks a list of annual benchmarks for improvement. It allocates only two percent of the settlement dollars to reducing class size, one of the core issues in the case, while spending more than $1 billion to further enlarge the bureaucracy, hiring thousands of additional administrators and "specialists" to be housed outside school buildings in leased office space. The city's lawyers have said the plan was arrived at after public participation -- a claim that would probably surprise parents and other community members, most of whom do not even know that it exists.

But the state's highest court found that our children are being denied their constitutional right to a sound, basic education. A process must be established to ensure that the additional funds the city receives be spent on programs to provide students with the education they need and deserve.

Since none of the attorneys in the case has proposed how to do this, a group of parents and advocates put together a proposal for accountability and submitted it to the court on January 10. (See the text of the letter and a list of signers and our complete accountability plan)

Our proposal would create a system of checks and balances to ensure that the city spend any additional funds efficiently and appropriately.

First, there need to be concrete benchmarks for improvement. In four years, the schools should, at minimum, reach adequacy in the areas where the court found New York City schools to be constitutionally deficient: class size, teacher quality, and "instrumentalities of learning" -- this last category includes school labs, libraries, textbooks and so on. In these areas, city schools would, at minimum, have to attain the levels that exist in the rest of the state.

The court should also require that the city's spending plan for the funds go through a review process that includes the public. Our proposal lays out a precise process that would involve meetings at individual schools, public hearings, recommendations by the public advocate and approval by the New York State Education Department.

Our proposal also calls for yearly audits by the state comptroller's office to determine whether the money is being spent in a way that meets the goals in the plan. This will help gain the confidence of parents in New York City but also reassure taxpayers throughout the state who fear that their money is going to go into a black hole.

Our proposal for accountability has attracted widespread support, reflecting the importance the public gives to the issues of accountability and public review. We want to ensure that billions of dollars are spent not on enlarging the bureaucracy at Tweed or on unproven educational fads, but to improve classroom conditions.

Leonie Haimson heads Class Size Matters.

Overcrowding Squeezes Learning; Also the Great Toilet Paper Debate

Six weeks after school opened, James Eterno still did not know who was enrolled in his social studies class at Jamaica High School in Queens. Guidance counselors were still adding and dropping students on his class register, shuffling them around in an attempt to keep all the school's classes at 34.

Eterno is just one of tens of thousands of teachers and students who struggle to do their jobs in the city's chronically overcrowded high schools. And, as Eterno's case shows, overcrowding doesn't just mean large classes. It means repeated disruptions and lost instructional time.

Each year, he says, the school overbooks his classes “like airlines overbook flights” -- counting on no shows to keep the numbers down. By the fifth day, pupils who have not yet appeared are dropped from class lists. “The kids aren’t all here on day one,” he said, adding that the "shell game" begins after day five, when no-shows begin showing up. The guidance office shuffles latecomers among classes as in a game of shells, trying to stay within the cap, set in the teachers contract, of 34 students each.

The nagging paucity of guidance counselors makes the situation even worse. Each counselor handles about 500 students. New enrollees and transfer students get priority for appointments, while stragglers and summer school students wait their turn. It is not unusual, Eterno said, for students to sit for six weeks in classes they passed in summer school. By the time they are placed in the next level, they are hopelessly behind.

“The system shortchanges everyone,” said Eterno, who is a chapter leader for the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers. "Teachers want the budgeting priority to be lower class size and more guidance services."

Jamaica High School, operating at 116 percent capacity, is not even the most crowded school in Queens. Overall, high schools in Queens operated at 120 percent of capacity in the 2002-2003 school year, according to the Independent Budget Office. Queens Vocational High School operated at 183 percent of capacity, and Long Island City High School at 171 percent. In Brooklyn, Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School operated at 206 percent capacity overall.

To accommodate its 4,300-member student body in a building designed for 2,500, Long Island City High School has an extended schedule. First period begins at 7 a.m., and 13th period ends at 5:15 p.m. Teachers work overlapping shifts. Most seniors start taking instruction with the first bell and finish their day early, while lower-grade students attend later classes and go home late, sometimes after dark.

At Columbus High School in the Bronx, everyone gets shuffled. Peter Lamphere taught math for a week in music room, which had no desks, until he was moved to the auditorium stage. After another week, he was given a classroom.

“The administration has been working very hard to fix the problem,” Lamphere said. But the Department of Education “has given us 2,900 kids when they said in June that they would only be giving us 2,300. If they’d told us, we could have done construction over the summer, but someone was not doing the math.”

Last week, workers finished dismantling two computer labs and dividing them into classrooms, he said. As a result, students have less access to the computers.

Columbus, like Long Island City High School, has classes from dawn to dusk, with some students attending classes only in the morning, and others attending just in the afternoon. Three years ago, the city added five new small high schools to the building. One school has since been moved, but the four remaining high schools – with 900 students – bring the building’s total enrollment to 3,800. The building was designed to hold 2,400 students.

“The problem is that there isn’t enough space in the Bronx,” said Lamphere. “We are 6,000 seats short, and the last high school they built was John F. Kennedy High School in 1976.”

The city has an ambitious capital plan to build new schools and ease overcrowding. But the plan depends on getting more school aid from the state -- which does not seem likely any time soon.

School Bathroom Supplies

Is there or is there not enough toilet paper, paper towels, and soap in the city's school bathrooms?

“The evidence is parents and teachers are requesting toilet paper,” said Eva Moskowitz, chair of the City Council's education committee said at a hearing earlier this year, as she waved copies of requests from teachers for toilet paper, paper towels, and soap.

Cathleen Grim, deputy chancellor for finance and administration disagreed: "All the schools have stock [toilet paper, soap, and paper towels], that's not the problem." Rather, she said, "Principals will often instruct the custodian not to stock the bathroom with toilet paper." To prevent unruly students from wasting supplies, the items are sometimes placed in classrooms under teacher supervision.

Since July 1, 2004 the department has received no more than 10 complaints about inadequate bathroom supplies through the city’s 311 hotline. A department survey conducted in mid-October concluded that 90 percent of the more than 1,000 schools investigated had adequate supplies, said Martin Oestreicher, chief executive for school support services.

But City Council Member Oliver Koppell of Riverdale in the Bronx, said that that means 10 percent do not have adequate supplies. "It's unacceptable that any school does not have toilet paper, paper towels, or soap," he said.

Parents agree school bathrooms are not what they should be. Melvin Meer, parent of a five-year-old at PS 41 in Queens said many toilet paper dispensers are too high for kindergarteners to reach, and when the rolls are in reach the paper can’t be pulled down.

Parent Natalie Nicosia, said her two children who attend PS 130 in Manhattan, often report no soap in their school bathrooms. “My children no longer consistently wash their hands,” said Nicosia. Other parents mentioned missing door locks, broken toilet paper dispensers, and bathroom fixtures from 1925 that cause consistent flooding.

Inside Schools asked readers what the condition was of bathrooms at their children’s schools. Although the poll is not scientific, it consistently shows poor hygiene in New York City public school bathrooms. Of the 355 people who answered the poll, 59 percent say bathroom supplies are "always" missing, and 27 percent say "sometimes." The majority of responses, 35 percent, say soap is most often missing, followed by paper towels with 23 percent.

Parents agree there are mischievous children wasting toilet paper, paper towels, and soap, but demanded another solution other than to remove the supplies. At IS 61, in Corona Queens, assistant principal Vincent Suraci, offers a solution to stop bad bathroom behavior. During school hours, a school aide sits outside the bathrooms with a sign-in sheet. "In order to monitor vandalism, they [the students] have to sign in each time they use the facilities," said Suraci.

One parent suggested more custodians are necessary. "Some schools contain 40 or more restrooms," said Katherine Flanders-Mukherji, a Brooklyn parent. "If there is only one full-time custodian in the building and his duties extend to everything from mopping spills to fixing broken heating elements, flooding pipes, falling plaster and, yes, stocking and cleaning the bathrooms, is it any wonder that the restrooms become unusable so quickly?"

This topic page has been adapted from articles that originally appeared on Insideschools.org, an independent guide to New York City public schools sponsored by Advocates for Children.






















Funding The Schools

As soon as they enter kindergarten, New York City schoolchildren get a crash course in tight budgets. They carry home notes asking their parents to chip in to buy tissues and paper towels for classrooms and hear teachers say, "Be careful with that. I paid for it myself." In some schools, children remain inside at recess because the school cannot pay lunchtime aides to supervise their play.

By the time they are in high school, many youngsters attend classes at odd hours to enable school buildings to handle hundreds of extra students. They will share some classrooms with 40 other students, with textbooks, computers and lab equipment in short supply.

"As we traveled across the city," a team from Inside Schools reported earlier this year, "we were struck by the long-standing shortages of money and staff that schools face. Clerical help is in short supply. . . .Basics that suburban schools take for granted - like a functioning photocopy machine -- are often missing....Class size is typically far too large for teachers to give kids the attention they need."

Last week, a court-appointed panel took a step that supporters say could change all that. Three distinguished lawyers found that city schools require $5.6 billion a year more than the $12.6 billion they now receive annually for operating expenses. That is what is needed, the "special masters" said, to enable the city to provide its 1.1 million students with the "sound basic education" they are guaranteed in the state constitution.

"I'm ecstatic," said City Councilmember Robert Jackson, who launched the lawsuit that led to the decision.

But Jackson's jubilation may prove premature. The judge still has to review the report and issue his order. Governor George Pataki can make further legal appeals. The state and the city must hash out how the cost will be divided between then - and how to raise the money to cover it. The school system will have to decide how to spend the money. Only then will students, parents, and teachers reap the benefits of more than a decade of legal wrangling and find out whether money can solve the problems facing the nation's largest school system.


The New York case had its origins in the early 1990s when Jackson, then president of a community school board in Washington Heights and the father of three girls in public schools, became angry about the poor quality of city schools. He and the community school board's lawyer, Michael Rebell, then formed the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and launched the lawsuit challenging the state's funding of education in the city. Rebell has worked on the case ever since. Jackson went on to win election to the City Council in 2001.

In January 2001, State Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse found that the state's method of funding education illegally deprived New York City students of their right to a "sound basic education." The state appealed the ruling, but the state's highest court upheld the decision in June 2003.

The court gave the state government about a year to determine how much money the city schools would need and how to ensure the city got those resources. But the deadline came and went with no resolution as Governor George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver failed to reach agreement.

Faced with apparent gridlock, DeGrasse in August appointed the three legal experts -- former Judges E. Leo Milones and William C. Thompson (father of City Comptroller William Thompson) and John D. Feerick, onetime dean of Fordham law school - to help him determine how the state could comply with the court ruling.


In their report issued November 30, the panel came down squarely on the side of those who believe city schools need a lot more money. "While money is surely not all that matters," the judges wrote, "there is a direct, and strong, correlation between adequate funding and the ability of a local school district to fulfill its educational mandate. Nowhere is that truer than in New York City."

"It's a wonderful decision," said Rebell. "It confirms the extent of resources the children of New York City have been deprived of….The needs are astronomical."

But E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute told reporters the decision is based on "a myth. The myth is you dump more money on the schools, make no change in . . .the teachers' contract, and it's going to produce great results. That has never worked anywhere at any time."

More Money

The special masters called for city schools to receive an additional $5.6 billion a year in operating expenses - the exact figure that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity had calculated would be needed, a figure greater than either the city or the state government had calculated. The increase would be phased in over the next four years.

New York State already spends more per student than almost any other state in the nation (some calculations rank it number one). But school funding per student in New York City, with its high percentage of students from low-income families, has lagged behind other state districts, particularly wealthy suburban ones. In the 1999-2000 school year, for instance, New York City spent an average of $10,469 per student, compared with the $13,760 in the richer suburbs.

The panel also called for a five-year $9.2 billion capital funding plan for the schools. This money would go toward building schools to eliminate overcrowding and reduce class size, as well as maintaining existing schools and buying computers and other technology.

Earlier this year, the city had proposed a five-year, $13.1 billion program to improve schools facilities, with half of the money coming from the state. Albany never acted on that proposal.


The panel suggested that the state conduct studies every four years to determine the cost of a sound basic education. This would ensure that funding keeps up with inflation, changes in student population and other shifts.

Pataki had sought to keep an eye on the city by creating a new state office that would determine how the money is spent. Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed this, saying any new layer of bureaucracy would threaten mayoral control of the schools. The panel sided with the city. New York State, the lawyers said, already "has one of the best education accountability structures in the nation."

An aide to Pataki said this decision disappointed the governor. "We are particularly concerned that the recommendations appear to reject any type of real reform and fail to overhaul the current accountability system," Kevin Quinn told reporters.


The panel left the thorniest issue unresolved. It did not say how much of the additional cost should be borne by Albany and how much by the city. The panel apparently saw this as a way of not overstepping its bounds. "The State Legislature has the constitutional authority to make that state/city allocation," they said.

Joe Wayland, a lawyer with Simpson, Bartlett and Thatcher who served as lead counsel for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said the three lawyers' refusal to rule on the matter showed "how deferential" they were "to the political process."

But the state has some obligations. For one, the state -- not the city --- is the defendant in the lawsuit, so the state can be brought back into court if it violates any court ruling in the case.

The panel cautioned the legislature not to try to wriggle out of its obligations by "being arbitrary or unreasonable." If it is, the court could levy fines against the state. The report notes that, when the city of Yonkers flaunted a court order, the court fined it $1 million a day.

Some observers say the panel did not go far enough. "My fear is it's going to take increasingly stronger orders from the courts" for the state to meet the requirement of school funding, said Robert Berne, a senior vice president at New York University speaking at a conference on school finance last week.


Last month, as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the city and the state struggled to reach an out-of-court settlement, the city's share of funding presented the major sticking point. Leaving aside the small percentage of education expenses paid by the federal government, the state covered 55 percent of the city school's budget in 2001.

Pataki reportedly wants the city to assume 40 percent of any additional costs. "We have to turn to the city and say, 'pony up,'" State Senator Dean Skelos told the New York Times after the 2001 ruling. "The city has not maintained its responsibility to the schools."

But, the city says it should not pay more than it already does. In a written statement praising the report, Bloomberg noted that the city faces a $3 billion budget deficit next year. Any increase in education spending, he said, would require cuts in other areas that "would harm the very children this lawsuit is designed to help."

But budgets are tight in Albany, too. The Pataki administration estimates the state faces a deficit of $6 billion in its $103 billion budget for next year. "The city is in dramatically better shape than the state is," said State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who said he supports the court decision.

Hevesi predicted the city would have to bear about 30 percent of the cost -- then cautioned against taking that prediction too seriously.

"The state can't do it alone. A zero number for the city is not going to be the end point," said Berne of NYU, before calculating a reasonable split would be 80-20.

Complicating the issue is the way education is funded in New York City. Most school districts get their funding from a property tax that goes to the school system, and citizens vote on how much they want to spend. But city residents cannot do that. The mayor and City Council determine how much the Department of Education gets and must weigh spending for schools against spending for other city services.


As soon as the report was made public, critics began cautioning that the proposed settlement would mean higher taxes. "The predominant message is $5.6 billion is going to bankrupt the state. How are we ever going to pay for this?" Rebell said. Once the state decided to set uniform requirements -- such as the passing of Regent exams by all high school students -- it had no choice but to ensure that students get the tools to enable them to meet those requirements.

"This is an obligation just like every other obligation the state has," Eileen Larrabe, from the office of Assembly Speaker Silver, told the Sun. "We have to find a way to pay for it."

But others say the money simply does not exist. "There is no $14 billion there to spend," former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern wrote in his blog (citing a figure that represents the the total additional money for the first four years). "You cannot spend money you do not have, nor have any reasonable prospect of getting."

"The question is: Will the governor appeal or surrender?" E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute has said. "Surrender will demand an immediate, significant tax increase. There is simply no two ways about it."

Most would agree. Earlier this year, Pataki sought to bring in extra money for education through video gambling terminals. The courts and the legislature have been skeptical, however, and no one foresees electronic gambling bringing in $5.6 billion a year

In a recent report (in pdf format), the Citizens Budget Commission, a group that usually opposes tax hikes, called for a combination of measures to finance the increase in school funding. These include making schools more efficient by operating year round and freeing teachers of some administrative tasks. The group also recommends expanding gambling. Together, those two suggestions could bring in about $3.2 billion a year, it says.

But the rest would have to come from expanded and higher taxes. The commission recommends trying to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases, broadening the sales tax to includes some purchases, such as home improvements, that are now exempt. The commission also said that the state should raise the income tax.


The court panel did not attempt to revise the state funding formula for education -- a series of calculations so complicated and arcane that even Pataki once denounced it as a dinosaur.

Many experts believe that only redoing the way Albany figures how much money each district gets can solve the school funding problems across the state. The panel wrote that it supported "formula reform" but did not address it because its job was limited to the funding of New York City schools.

But some observers disagree. "The referees blew it by not agreeing to a formula that could be used in the absence of one by the legislature," said Berne.

By their reluctance, the referees virtually guaranteed that, unless the state government acts, lawsuits from other cities and poor rural districts will further challenge education funding in the state.


In the coming weeks, Judge DeGrasse will review the report and then issue a court order that most observers expect will adhere pretty closely to the panel's recommendations. The state will then have 90 days to figure out how to comply with that order. Meanwhile, participants in the case continue to negotiate.

Pataki could appeal the judge's ruling, further delaying any resolution of the case.


If and when all this is settled, where will the money go? In its presentation to the panel, the city set out four "major initiatives":

  • recruitment, retention, training and development of teachers and other staff
  • focus on early childhood education, including universal pre-kindergarten
  • overhauling middle schools and high school by breaking them into smaller schools
  • support for special education students and English language learners.


All are vague enough to spur conflicting proposals. Already, Bloomberg has cautioned the schools not to rush "willy nilly" with ideas for this program or that. The teachers union has made clear that it expects a piece of the new pie, and the City Council is drawing up its own plan on how to spend the money.


Over the last few years, some education advocates have seen billions from the lawsuit as a kind of holy grail that would bring smaller classes, clean, well-maintained buildings, well-equipped labs, and happier teachers to New York City.

Money matters, the lawsuit's proponents say. If not, why do people spend $20,000 a year to send their kids to private school?

Nationally, activists seeking more fairness in schools have moved from seeking to end racial segregation to challenging the funding of education, particularly in poor and minority districts.

The lawsuits spring partly from the writings of Jonathan Kozol. In his 1992 book "Savage Inequalities," Kozol found huge disparities between funding for schools in poor cities and those in wealthier areas. Such differences arose, he said, because school districts relied increasingly on property tax revenues to fund education. As a result, Kozol concluded, America's schools had become more separate and unequal than they were during the days of segregation.

"There's something fundamentally wrong with providing education to a child based on the town the child happened to come from," said former New Jersey Governor James Florio, who lost his re-election campaign after seeking to change education funding in his state.

Advocates of increased spending found their argument strengthened when various states instituted uniform requirements for students. How could students packed into large classes and working with outmoded textbooks and equipment stand the same chance of meeting those standards as their counterparts blessed with small classrooms, state of the art science labs, and lavish libraries?

About 25 states have faced lawsuits over how they fund education, according to a report by the National Council of State Legislatures. In most cases the courts ruled again the states.

But a large gap persists between spending in America's poor and affluent school districts. The Education Trust, a group that works to promote academic achievement, determined (in pdf format) that nationally, high poverty districts had $868 less per pupil to spend in 2001 than more affluent districts in the same state. Even though the gap in New York State has declined in recent years, it, along with Illinois, still had the highest differentials.

But critics argue that a shortage of money is not the main problem. "The real problems with Gotham's schools is the city's dysfunctional and unaccountable school system," Sol Stern wrote in an article about the court decision in City Journal last spring. "Simply providing that system with more money . . . won't improve things but will only entrench the problems more deeply."

Nationally, since 1960, school funding in the United States has tripled, but "student performance has hardly budged," said Martin West, an education researcher at Harvard University.

In some states, though, money apparently has helped. Because of a lawsuit, "Kentucky's education system had to be brought into the 20th century as most of the rest of the country was leaving it," said Norman Fruchter executive director of the Institute for Education and Social Policy at NYU. And, he said, it worked: "In every education indicator you can look at, Kentucky has made enormous progress."

Florio was more cautious about the results in New Jersey. "We've had some good experiences," he said. But, he added, "Not all the problems are in the schools. We should not be oblivious to the fact that the school setting also is important. . . .If we're trying to teach middle-class values, you have to be sure you have a middle class."

Clearly, even when the long-running legal battle over school funding ends, there is no guarantee that the problems of educating New York public school students will be solved.

Related Links

Education Groups

Alliance for Quality Education
A statewide coalition working to improve education

Campaign for Fiscal Equity
The group that filed the suit

Class Size Matters
Provides information on class size and advocates smaller classes

Reports and Articles on New York

The full report of the court-appointed panel (in pdf format)

Can New York Get an A School Finance Reform (report, in pdf format, by the Citizens Budget Commission)

Ensuring Children an Opportunity for a Sound Basic Education
The report of a state commission appointed by Governor George Pataki to issue recommendations on education reform, including finance

Go Figure: How a Bigger Education Budget Became Less Money for Schools
Independent Budget Office

New York’s Fiscal Equity Follies City Journal
A critical look at the school funding lawsuit

"The New York Adequacy Study: Determining the Cost of Providing All Children in New York an Adequate Education (in pdf format)

Articles and Reports on School Funding Nationally

Poor Schools Sue for Funding: Higher Standards Are Basis for Seeking 'Educational Adequacy'
Washington Post

Standards Push Helps Lawsuits
Catalyst Chicago

Why Adequacy Lawsuits Matter
Education Week

Adequacy Lawsuits: The Wrong Answer for Our Kids
Education Week

The Funding Gap 2004: Many States Still Short Changes Low-Income and Minority Students
The Education Trust (in pdf format)




Why City Students Don't Learn Science

When I first taught science at M.S. 302 in the South Bronx, my tiny classroom did not have sinks, running water or even enough space for experiments. The school did not provide many science supplies, so I had to purchase these myself. Several months into the year I finally received four microscopes, three of which worked and were shared by more than 30 students in each class.

My problems were not unique. A shortage of teachers and materials, as well as a general lack of support has shoved science for grades 6 through 8 onto the back burner. This month, the City Council Education Committee issued a report assailing the lack of good science education in New York City public schools. The Department of Education recently surveyed more than 200 middle schools and found that only 80 of them have science labs.

“We face a shortage of qualified science teachers, a system that trivializes science, and inadequate facilities. The result? Our kids don’t learn science,” education committee chair Eva Moskowitz wrote.

Experts say that science plays a vital part in a sound, basic education. “Good science education does not just fill your head with equations, and facts, and long words,” said John Rennie, the editor-in-chief of Scientific American magazine, earlier this year. “It teaches you how to think critically, how to solve problems by framing a hypothesis, how to argue logically, how to evaluate evidence objectively, how to question your own biases. . . . These are the skills that smart people use every day of their lives, in every aspect of their lives.”

There is no official citywide science curriculum for middle schools. Despite that, at the end of eighth grade, all city students take the State Intermediate Assessment in Science. It includes a two-hour written test and a one-hour lab exam that tests students on the use of equipment such as microscopes and triple beam balances. But many students may never even have used a microscope before. Not surprisingly, only around 50 percent of city students pass this exam.

With literacy and math instruction widely believed to be more important, science gets little support from the school administration, such as basic material and sample lesson plans.

But many observers believe the biggest problem in middle school science is the lack of qualified teachers. Science is classified as a “shortage area” in New York City, though no precise numbers are provided. At a City Council hearing, Elizabeth Arons of the Department of Education said that even if all 466 science teachers who graduated in 2004 from New York State college and universities were to teach in New York City, the system still would not have enough science teachers.

The teacher shortage is so severe that in some schools, such as I.S. 172 in Harlem, students had no science teacher for a full year and still received passing grades on their report cards. “If there wasn’t a science teacher for a particular class, they would have other teachers go in and cover the period, and the students would be automatically passed for the class, even though they were never taught the material,” explains Natasha Frederick, a former seventh grade science teacher at the school.

Retaining teachers is as difficult, if not more difficult, than attracting them in the first place. Frederick has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Colgate University. She was initially very excited to teach science, but ultimately left because of the lack of support from her administration. “Mentally, I just could not deal,” she says.

“Lost in Space: Science Education in New York City” released by the City Council Education Committee earlier this month, makes a number of recommendations to improve science education in the schools:

  • hiring “science coaches” to help teachers develop methods to teach science. These coaches would be similar to the math and literacy coaches that already exist in the school system.
  • increasing the spending on professional development for science education
  • instituting a uniform science curriculum.

But the report emphasizes the number one priority as attracting better teachers to the system. “A very good teacher can deal with a bad curriculum," Moskowitz says, " but a good curriculum won’t help a bad teacher."

People trained in the sciences generally have a number of higher-paying job options available to them. For this reason, the report suggests the city pay people with science degrees $15,000 more a year than other teachers, a policy that the teachers union would probably oppose.

Advocates of science education are hopeful that change is imminent. Councilmember Moskowitz clearly has made science education one of her top priorities. Last spring, Chancellor Joel Klein promised to focus on science education in the coming year. Since then, Klein has appointed a director of science, Dr. Julia Rankin, as well as several instructional specialists. Moskowitz intends to press him to do more. 













Making High Schools Smaller

For years, despite its prime location near Lincoln Center, Martin Luther King Jr. High School symbolized much of what ails New York City high schools. Under 50 percent of students graduated, and a lawsuit charged the school illegally turned away students because of their poor academic performance. The worst moment came in 2002 when a former King student slipped through school metal detectors and shot two students.

"I was scared at first by the name Martin Luther King," a freshman said at a recent information session for prospective students. "Don't get scared by that." The girl is not frightened because, even though she goes to school in the Martin Luther King building, she actually attends the High School of the Arts and Technology.

Today three separate schools -- and the final graduating class of the old Martin Luther King -- occupy the large building on Amsterdam Avenue. After the class of 2005 graduates, King will essentially cease to exist as a big public high school.

Other large high schools - Julia Richman on Manhattan's East Side, Erasmus Hall in Flatbush - have met similar fates. More will follow.

To replace these schools, the city opened 42 small schools in 2003 and about 55 this September. The new schools are designed for several hundred students; the old ones had thousands.

"Small schools are more likely to create the sense of connectedness among students and teachers, the sense of being known and valued, that motivates people to work hard. They encourage stronger bonds between students and teachers and generate a level of genuine and mutual obligation," wrote Thomas Toch, of the National Center on Education and the Economy. "Small schools, in other words, are likely to create the conditions that make learning possible."

Some research (see end of article) - along with $58 million for New York from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- supports the trend. But critics question whether small schools are just the latest educational gimmick.

"You really have to ask yourself whether these big districts would be doing this without the Gates money coming in," Jon Schroeder of Education Evolving, which promotes new forms of schooling, told Education Week earlier this year. "It remains to be seen how genuine this is...or whether it's funder driven and just sort of the 'in' thing to do."

Already failures, as well as successes, have emerged. And in the city's haste to embrace small schools, some charge that the city has neglected the large high schools that still educate most of New York's 300,000-plus public high school students. Can a program that, at best, might educate a quarter of those students rescue a system that fails thousands of youngsters every year?


New York City has many fine high schools - some of them with thousands of students. But overall New York's graduation rate barely tops 50 percent, and problems at some schools have been particularly acute.

At William H. Taft High School in the Bronx, for example, less than 20 percent of students pass their state-mandated math and English Regents tests, and less than two-thirds of students bother to show up on an average day. George Washington High School had been on the state's list of failing high schools for 12 years.

George Washington High School no longer exists. Instead it is an "educational campus" housing four separate schools. Taft is being phased out as well.

For much of the 20th century, New York relied on large comprehensive high schools that educated some students for a job and others for college. In the 1920s, this made sense, Toch wrote in the Washington Monthly last year: "Future lawyers, accountants and other professionals studied academics, while those headed into mills and assembly lines learned valuable practical skills. High schools essentially served as great sorting machines."

But as more jobs came to require advanced training or education, the one size fits all high school outlived its usefulness, critics say.

Some large schools remain successful. But others have become chaotic and sometimes dangerous places, where youngsters arrive as freshmen poorly prepared and never catch up, failing Regents tests and dropping out in large numbers. These schools cannot be saved with one or two new programs, or an energetic principal or some enthusiastic teachers. Instead, the reasoning goes, they must be re-created almost from scratch. Various funders, educators and city officials have come to believe that the best method to do that is to replace the big schools with small ones.

The problems are mirrored across the country. According to figures compiled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, about 30 percent of all U.S. high school students - and 45 percent of black and Hispanic students - drop out before graduating. Another third, a report by the foundation says, "will graduate but without the skills they need to do well in college or hold a family-wage job." In response many systems, including Los Angeles in Chicago, have also started to break up their big high schools.


"The magnitude of the problem requires bold action" New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has said.

About 25 years ago, educators such as Theodore Sizer and Deborah Meier began offering alternatives, proposing smaller schools. In 1985, Meier founded Central Park East for grades 7 through 12, limiting class size to 20 students and total enrollment to 450. Seven years later, Meier and the Coalition of Essential Schools won support from the then Board of Education to restructure Julia Richman, a troubled school on Manhattan's East Side that is now the Julian Richman Educational Complex with six schools. And in 1989, New Visions for Public Schools was formed and began helping launch innovative small schools throughout the city.

But the movement for smaller schools really accelerated in the last four years, due in part to the Gates Foundation, which since 2000, has given about $650 million to establish small schools throughout the country. The largest chunk has gone to New York City.


The changes underway are not just cosmetic. Although in some cases, the new schools share facilities such as labs, gymnasiums and cafeterias - and at Martin Luther King, all the schools share the sports teams - each has separate faculty, administrative personnel and curriculum.

The 100 or so new small schools in New York differ widely. Some require uniforms, others do not. Some are educationally traditional, others more free wheeling. Just within Evander Childs High School in the Bronx one can see the range. The building houses the Bronx Aerospace Academy, where students wear uniforms and line up to travel between classes. But Evander Childs also has the High School for Contemporary Arts, where students take classes in graphic arts and digitalized music production and work with a hip-hop dance troupe.

Some restructuring starts from scratch. The city shut down Julia Richman in the early 1990s so it could launch six new schools. Other schools find completely new locations. But more commonly, the schools start with a freshman class within the building, while the older school is phased out until its last class graduates.

The new schools, which are expected to have about 600 students, try to limit the size of each individual class to less than 25. Although small classes can exist in large schools, the average class size in large high schools in New York City is 34 students.

Each of the small schools must have at least one community partner, and most have a theme. Often the idea comes from a community group or collection of individuals who have an idea and apply to New Visions or a funder for support.

While many themes are fairly standard - technology, art, science - some raise eyebrows: Examples include the Academy for Careers in Sports in the Bronx, the FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety in Brooklyn or the High School of Hospitality Management in Manhattan. But the schools hasten to say they train students to meet general academic requirements and for college, not for specific careers. The theme is a way to engage and reach youngsters.

"My school is a college preparatory school in disguise," Margaret Salvante-McCann, principal of the new Manhattan Theater Lab School told the New York Times. "Theater is not the end, theater is the vehicle for their learning."

Most of the schools must adhere to the city high school curriculum. While proponents say this ensures that students will be able to pass the Regents tests required for a high school diploma, others see it as an impediment. Mark Rush, a teacher at the Bushwick Schools for Social Justice, said teachers had devised what he considers a great humanities program, but have not been able to implement it, because the city requires rigorous English and math instruction that consumes much of the day.

Students must apply to these schools, just as they must to all other high schools in the city. (New York no longer has neighborhood high schools to which students are automatically assigned.) The small schools then select their students by lottery, on the basis of test scores or grades, an audition or other criteria, depending on the school.


Adherents of small schools cite a litany of studies and anecdotal evidence in support of the movement.

"Smaller schools work," Nicholas Politis, principal of the High School for Law and Public Service at George Washington, told a recent meeting. He offered figures showing that about 90 percent of students at the new George Washington schools meet standards in various subjects and that, for the first graduating class, the graduation rate was 86 percent - as opposed to less than 50 percent when George Washington was one big school. And, Politis noted, the schools have essentially the same population - youngsters from the surrounding community - as they did before the breakup.

A number of studies buttress the arguments. For example, a 1994 Philadelphia study concluded that students in small high schools are more likely to pass subjects than their larger school counterparts. A 1998 New York study (in pdf format) found that schools with fewer than 600 students are particularly beneficial for poor students, boosting their attendance, test scores and graduation rates. Reviewing the literature, Michael Klonsky co-director the Small Schools Workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote, there is "a compelling body of research showing that . . . when students are part of smaller, more intimate learning communities, they are more successful." This, he continued, is particularly true for "inner-city kids, especially African-American and Latino students and youngsters from low-income families."

At least one study (in pdf format) calls some of this into question. Conducted for the U.S. Department of Education, it found that the smaller class size found at many small schools - rather than the overall size of the school - may be what accounts for the success of small schools.


In large schools, small-school proponents say, many kids are neglected, while in smaller ones they form bonds with teachers and administrators who make sure the students work and stay out of trouble. Also, small schools provide more academic focus than large schools with their sometimes bewildering laundry lists of classes.

But a small school alone provides no guarantee of success. Some have failed. Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn had low graduation rates and a reputation for violence in the 1990s. The city divided the one school into three, but the problems remained. Now the school has been reorganized once again. And a City Council report last year singled out Vanguard High School, housed at Julia Richman, for poor test scores and low graduation rates.

In her review of small schools, Clara Hemphill of Inside Schools found about one quarter "seem to have replicated many of the problems of the large schools they replaced: low levels of academic achievement, an overwhelmed teaching staff and an alienated student body."

A number of theories exist about what can account for success. Rush thinks Bushwick School for Social Justice has been successful for its students, who have seen their scores on standardized tests rise considerably. One factor, he said, is a class that all students must take where no more than 15 youngsters meet with an adult to discuss issues that do not normally arise in the classroom. This helps youngster make a connection with an adult, Rush said. "That adult is looking out for the kid as well and socially you see the kids becoming more and more confident in a group."

Catherine Man of Inside Schools said the principal is key. "If they have a vision and a plan, that's usually a really good sign," she said. Among her recommendations, Hemphill suggests the schools have a vision but not get carried away by its theme, and that it have a defined space.


Not surprisingly, the space issue poses particularly thorny problems in New York. (See related story, "Walton and Celia Cruz High Schools: Unhappy Neighbors" in the Community Gazette for Bedford Park, Norwood, Riverdale, etc.)

Many of the new schools find themselves in the same buildings side by side with the old school. There the small school's students and staff may encounter resentment from students in the old school, who see the new school as having more resources and smaller classes. And students and faculty at the old schools find it hard to see the institutions where they worked or studied slated for extinction. "I don't think it's ever a smooth transition," said Man.

David Mendez, a freshman at the West Bronx Academy for the Future at Theodore Roosevelt High School, likes going to a small school. "There's less of the bad things and more of the good," he said. But, he said, conflicts between students at the seven different schools - and particularly with students at the old Roosevelt -- pose a problem.

And it isn't only students and teachers in the schools facing elimination who feel threatened by the small schools movement. As the Department of Education carves up and reduces enrollment at some big schools, thousands of students have to attend school somewhere - usually at another large high school. And so, for example, as the Department of Education reconfigured Seward Park and Martin Luther King, it sent many students (the number is in dispute), to already crowded Washington Irving. Enrollment at William H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School in East New York soared by 30 percent as the city divided nearby Thomas Jefferson and Bushwick High Schools into new schools. In September, the New York Times reported that overcrowding was particularly severe at large high-performing high schools, such as Benjamin Cardozo in Queens and James Madison in Brooklyn.


Deputy Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina has said that, despite the push for small schools, big high schools will remain an essential part of education in New York. By one estimate, those schools will continue to serve perhaps three-quarters of the city's secondary students.

But many observers see the larger schools as being shortchanged in money, other resources and attention. Last week, members of a citywide parents council of high schools, created under the auspices of the Department of Education, wrote a letter to Klein complaining that the drive to create smaller high schools has overcrowded large high schools while the department has cut resources for the bigger schools.

The first days of school this year at many large city high school were chaotic, as students found that courses for which they had registered - largely advanced placement classes and electives - were not offered. Midwood High School in Brooklyn saw its budget cut by seven percent last year and four percent this year, according to the New York Times, forcing the elimination of classes and programs. Although Farina said funding and classes were restored after the city got its budget allocation from the state, some cuts reportedly remain.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters says she supports smaller schools because they provide more options for students. But the way the program is being implemented, she said, "seems to be harming other students" who are being forced into larger classes and losing elective classes. She fears that this could create a backlash.

"The movement is unsustainable unless you have a comprehensive plan to show where all these [small] schools are going to be put and a comprehensive plan to provide these benefits to all kids regardless of where they go to school," Haimson said.


Clearly small schools have the buzz these days. Earlier this month, an insert in the New York Post, produced in conjunction with New Visions and other organizations, touted small schools. The sell was anything but subtle: At small schools, the supplement promised "you will be safe…everybody will know your name…your work will be exciting and demanding."

But, while small schools seem to be riding high, proponents worry about their future as well. They fear, for example, that the city will decide small does not have to be quite that small. Anne Geiger, the principal of Art and Technology, told parents that, while she wanted to admit 100 students to this year's freshman class, she had to admit 150. Next fall, she hopes to keep it to 125.

"We'd like to be even smaller, but children have to go somewhere," she said. Principals of the schools in George Washington expressed similar concerns.

The movement has been fueled by grants, which are designed to help schools deal with start-up costs. What happens when the funders shift money to other schools or decide another program poses the solution to the problems plaguing urban education?

Looking back on the history of educational innovation, there is reason to question the staying power of trends. While comprehensive high schools have hung on for almost a century, other innovations - remember open classrooms? - largely vanished after a decade.

In New York, said Stephen Phillips, a professor at Brooklyn College, the fate of the program lies in the hands of the chancellor. Joseph Fernandez, chancellor from 1990 to 1993, supported small schools but the idea lost steam when Rudy Crew came in in 1995. Now small schools have the enthusiastic support of Joel Klein. Once he leaves -- whenever that may be — will small schools be an essential part of the educational fiber of the city? Or will some other, new idea have come along to replace it?

For more information

• Class Size Matters
• Coalition for Essential Schools
• Inside Schools
• New York City Department of Education School Directory
• New Yorkers for Smaller Class Size
• Small Schools Workshop

Groups Supporting Small Schools
• Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Transforming High School project
• New Visions for Public Schools New Century High Schools Initiative

• "Bronx Captures Lion's Share of Theme-Based High Schools" (Bronx Times Reporter)
• Divide and Conquer: How Breaking Up Big High Schools Can Be the Key to Successful Educational Reform (Washington Monthly)
• "High Schools Nationwide Paring Down" (Education Week)
• In N.Y.C., Fast-Paced Drive for Small Schools(Education Week)
• "Marginal Impact" (A review of books on the small schools movement) (Education Next)
• "Small Schools, Big Ideas" (Education Week)
• "Some Schools Grow and Suffer as System Favors the Small" (New York Times)
• "Too Many Schools Too Soon?" (Catalyst-Chicago)
• "Why Some Small Schools Succeed and Others Fail" (Inside Schools)

• "The Case for Small High Schools" (Educational Leadership)
• "School-level Correlates of Academic Achievement" (in pdf format) (National Center For Education Statistics)
• "Small Schools Get Thumbs Up From Parents" (Public Agenda)
• "Small schools: Great strides: A study of new small schools in Chicago" (in pdf format) (Bank Street College of Education)
• "Synthesis of Research / Small Schools: A Reform That Works" (Educational Leadership)

Student Drug Use; Also: Middle School Confusion

The tragic death of Lewis Dvorkin, a 15-year-old sophomore at the elite Bronx High School of Science who died of a heroin overdose at his Manhattan home in September, has raised concerns among many parents about teen drug use in the city. Parents are wondering how prevalent drugs are in city schools, what steps parents can take to insure the safety of their child, and how students, parents and schools might prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Dvorkin's family had been struggling for years to help him "redirect his life," according to a New York Sun interview with his mother, Carole Robinson, and 17 year-old brother Nathan.

It is no secret that city teens use drugs -- even “hard” drugs like heroin, cocaine and crack. "When I heard this story, it broke my heart, but it didn't shock me," says Betty Rothbart, prevention and intervention supervisor for the city schools and co-author of Healthy Teens, Body and Soul.

Some schools, she said, have a bigger problem than others. Students and parents say that a park near Bronx Science is a known hangout for drug dealers and users. Parents are cautioned to urge their children to stay away from the park, says Melanie Arwin, the parent of a sophomore at the school. But Arwin, who has two other teenagers who attended other city high schools, says, "I honestly don't think drug use is any worse at Bronx Science than at any other school."

While the Bronx Science student died of a heroin overdose, alcohol and marijuana are far and away the most common drugs used across the city, according to a 2004 city health department report entitled "Risky Business: Health Behaviors of New York City High School Students." The report, based on an anonymous questionnaire distributed to students at 77 schools, found that 35 percent of city high school students drink alcohol and 15 percent use marijuana, while five percent use ecstasy, four percent use cocaine, three percent use inhalants, two percent use methamphetamines, and two percent use heroin.

"Mostly it's booze, grass and occasional hallucinogens," agrees Umar Abdul-Wali, a counselor who specializes in drug issues at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn. Kids in middle class neighborhoods may be more likely to abuse cocaine, he said, while those in poorer neighborhoods might have more access to crack-cocaine.

Abdul-Wali works with kids one-on-one and in groups, and runs acting, singing, and writing groups. "We need to provide environments where students can be free emotionally and not be criticized, that are constructive and not judgmental," he said. "We have to provide positive alternatives, give them something to get excited about."

Keeping kids busy and involved at school is key, agrees Rothbart. "If you have a school with lots of great activities for kids to be involved in that's a protective factor," she said.

There are also things parents can do to address drug use before a problem arises. "Every parent should be educated themselves," said Abdul-Wali. "Parents should attend PTA meetings where these things are talked about." By chatting with other parents at these and other gatherings, parents can find out where youngsters are hanging out or what their curfews are.

Equally important, parents need to find time to talk with their own children about what's happening. If parents are in touch with what is going on in their child's life, they are more likely to recognize changes that might indicate substance abuse. According to Rothbart, these include declining grades, sudden changes in friends, secretive behavior.

Parents looking for drug-related information should check whether their child’s school has a drug specialist, but many of them don't. In Region 1 in the Bronx, for example, only 73 of the 128 schools do, according to an official in the region's Office of Youth Development.

If a school does not have a specialist, “parents should go to the principal and tell him 'we'd like to have more options,'" said Rothbart. The principal can contact the regional experts, informally known as "drug directors," bring in a community-based organization to lead programs or enlist the help of the health education teacher. Many health educators have had specific training in issues of drug abuse. If there is a school-based health clinic, it can be a resource for students and parents. Parents interested in having drug prevention or information workshops at their school may also contact their parent coordinator.

If parents find the school unhelpful, they may contact the drug specialists within their school region. There are also drug-prevention resources available outside of the school system, at organizations such as Phoenix House, Caron Foundation, Freedom Institute and Covenant House.

Parents who fear their children are using drugs should not be afraid to confront them, experts say. "As the worries escalate, then parents need to do whatever it takes to find out what's going on and get the help the kid needs," Rothbart said.

What about kids who know or suspect their friends are using, but are reluctant to confront them? "First off, tell them that you love them. Tell them that you want to see them OK," says Abdul-Wali. "Come from the heart. No one wants to be a rat, but it doesn't have to be punitive. Walk with them -– physically -- to a place where they can get help. Say 'Let's go talk to so and so.'" He says that too often, people voice concern but do not follow through and make sure a person gets help.

"I think kids have got to realize just how dangerous these situations are, and they have to come forward, even if they do that anonymously," Lewis Dvorkin’s mother Carole Robinson told the Sun. "And then adults have to help… not just be angry or just think, 'It's not my child. It doesn't matter. It's not my business.' I think we have to become my brother's keeper."

Inside Schools is taking a poll on your opinion about the extent of substance abuse by New York teenagers and whether you think schools are responsive to the problem.

Middle School Confusion

Parents vying to get their kids into some of the city's most selective middle schools have been thrown a few curve balls this fall.

In the course of a week, officials in District 2 on the Upper East Side first raised and then lowered the bar for admissions into its most selective middle schools.

On October 18, officials in District 2 reversed a policy they had announced earlier in the month that would have required students to score a 685 on both the state's 4th grade math and reading tests in order to be eligible for a spot in one of the district's selective middle schools. While the cutoff scores for programs like Lab School for Collaborative Studies and East Side Middle School were never set in stone, many parents had assumed that the cutoffs would remain at 660, as they have for the past five years.

The district apparently bowed to parent and principal concerns that the new cutoff seemed arbitrary. At a meeting on October 18, Superintendent Anna Marie Carrillo announced that there would be no cutoff score for submitting an application to any District 2 middle school this year, although she said that students who score below a 685 on both tests are unlikely to get into the most selective schools. Carrillo also announced that children can now apply to five schools instead of four, and extended the deadline for District 2 middle school applications to December 14.

There's plenty of frustration among parents trying to figure out how to apply to gifted and talented middle schools like Mark Twain and Bay Academy in Brooklyn's District 21. These schools have traditionally accepted students from across Brooklyn. But this year some officials have suggested that admissions will be limited to Region 7 –- which encompasses districts 20, 21 in Brooklyn and district 31 on Staten Island -- although nothing is certain yet. "Everything is in limbo," the parent coordinator at Mark Twain said. "I am telling everyone to call back in a couple of weeks."

This topic page has been adapted from articles that originally appeared on Insideschools.org, an independent guide to New York City public schools sponsored by Advocates for Children.


The Money Crunch in Higher Education

• Educating All New Yorkers at CUNY
• New York as College Town

Despite brick-and-mortar signs of renewal, there is a quiet crisis in higher education in New York City. It is what I call the permanent recession.

In looking at the last decade, the Higher Education Price Index - the cost of buying the services and goods that colleges purchase - has gone up 34 percent. But in the same period, New York State's support for the operating expenses of public institutions of higher education increased only 21 percent. The result: Quality has been impaired. There are fewer fulltime faculty, deteriorating facilities, out-of-date technology, increased class size. With fewer course sections, it takes students more time to graduate.

In New York a large number of private institutions compete for students with public colleges and universities. These private schools are also feeling the pressure, despite average annual tuition that is now over $20,000.

In a recent 50-state "report card" on higher education by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education , New York received an F for affordability of its colleges and universities. Even with New York's sizeable Tuition Assistance Program, the percentage of family income needed to pay for college here remains quite high. In addition, New York got only a C+ on the report card for "participation." Substantial gaps remain in the representation of individuals from diverse racial and ethnic groups and from low income groups in attending and completing college.

The governor is the chief policymaker for higher education, both public and private. In the past, former Governor Nelson Rockefeller was at the forefront of support for both public and private colleges in the state, with a particular focus on the expansion of the State University of New York. At the time -- after World War II, and especially in the 1960s-- most people believed that higher education was a public benefit, that all New Yorkers would be served by an increase in its capacity as well as an easing of access to higher education.

This view seems to have been replaced by a personal benefit model, perhaps fed in part by the increased earning power that higher education provides individuals. The personal benefit model promotes increased tuition and therefore increased debt as students and their families pay an ever increasing percentage of the costs of college attendance.

Governor George Pataki's leadership has been particularly problematic, though school officials rarely say this on the record. The inordinately delayed state budget process makes it much more difficult for both public and private colleges to plan their academic years in an orderly way. Approval of the capital plans for needed facilities improvements as well as aid to community colleges still remain unresolved.

The most responsive policymakers for higher education these days may well be the members of New York City Council, particularly in their support of the City University of New York and its students.

The fall semester has arrived with more than the usual bustle and excitement. Though last year was an unusually tough one, especially at City University because of state budget cuts and a particularly large tuition increase, this academic year promises to be better.

But don't be fooled. Yes, state and city aid to CUNY each rose by over nine percent, but buried in state support was a $65 per student reduction in funding - and there is concern about funding restrictions later this year. Yes, City University has started a push for hiring new fulltime faculty, but the numbers of fulltime faculty remain down dramatically from three decades ago. And while higher education has been documented as a growth industry that could be an engine of New York's economic future, threats of yet more public disinvestment appear down the road. The recession in higher education in New York is like a chronic cough; there may be an occasional respite, but, given current conditions, it is sure to persist.

Frederick S. Lane is professor of public affairs at Baruch College of The City University of New York, where he teaches a graduate course in The Administration of the Urban University. The opinions expressed here are his own.

New York As College Town

• Educating All New Yorkers at CUNY
• The Permanent Recession in Higher Education

Before New York University was even built, it enraged its neighbors. For its new building on Washington Square, the university in 1833 purchased marble cut by convicts at Sing Sing prison. New York workers, seeing their jobs threatened by the use of prison labor, marched on the contractor, smashing doors, windows and marble mantles.

Almost two centuries later, "town-gown" confrontations continue - in West Harlem, which fears Columbia University's ambitious expansion plans; in the Bronx where Fordham and its neighbors fought for years over the university's plans to build a 480-foot radio antenna; and, as always, in Greenwich Village, where conflicts are as large as residents protesting against construction that they see threatening the very character of the neighborhood and as petty as neighborhood dog owners threatening to block NYU's graduation from Washington Square unless the university endorsed their demand for better dog runs in the park.

The question of what role academic institutions should play in their communities and in the city as a whole has become more pronounced at a time when New York's universities are thriving and looking to expand. What in fact have they done for the culture and economy of New York? What should they be doing?


This is a good time in many ways for professional schools, colleges, universities, and research institutions in New York City:

  • Enrollment at the City University of New York is at its highest - 217,588 - since 1975 and the university says more students at elite city high schools are applying to CUNY.
  • Columbia, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary, plans to build a new 18-acre campus north of its main location on Morningside Heights, adding science and arts facilities.
  • Earlier this month, Cooper Union unveiled plans for a new $105 million building for its engineering school, part of a master plan for the school's Astor Place campus.
  • In a recent survey by the Princeton Review, a company that rates schools and provides college-admissions services, high school students selected NYU as the private college that they would most like to attend. Perhaps as proof, the Greenwich Village campus recently welcomed the Olsen twins as freshmen, though the celebrity teen actresses shunned the dorms in favor of a $7.3 million condo.
  • St. Johns University, once a commuter school, has had such success attracting out-of-town students that it has a severe overcrowding problem in its dormitories.


"It's a remarkable and exciting time," said Neil Scott Kleiman, the director of the Center for an Urban Future who studies the role of universities in the New York economy. He attributes much of the surge in higher education in New York to three men: CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Columbia president Lee Bollinger and NYU president John Sexton. "All three of them are visible, aggressive and entrepreneurial," Kleiman said. The other colleges in the city, he added, are doing well "by benefit of New York doing well."

The expansion and success represent a major change in the last 30 years. In the 1970s, New York University seemed on the verge of collapse, barely staying alive by cutting staff, selling its Bronx campus, closing its engineering school and later selling off Mueller Macaroni company, which it owned. Columbia was still reeling from the effects of the student building occupations of 1968, which ended only after the police came in, resulting in hundreds of arrests and injuries. The City University saw its budget slashed in the wake of the fiscal crisis, ended free tuition and began sharply cutting back on the number of full-time faculty.

All that seems long ago and far away -- at least at first glance.


New York has more colleges and universities than any other city in the country -- 85, by one count, with a total of more than 400,000 full and part time students. More than 100,000 people work for institutions of higher education in New York.

True, colleges and universities do not play as prominent a role in New York as they do in other, smaller cities, notably Boston and a corridor in California from San Francisco to San Jose. New York is seen as a center of finance, culture and media - not academia. "No one thinks of New York as a university town," said Robert McCaughey, a professor at Barnard College and author of "Stand Columbia, a History of Columbia University in the City of New York, 1754 to 2004"

But having so many institutions of higher learning in the city has benefited New York in many ways. In the most concrete terms, universities give jobs to New Yorkers, buy goods and services, train workers, bring out-of-towners into the city who then spend their money here, and make it easier here than in most places for local residents of varying skills and interests to get an education.

NYC College Kids (And Teachers) Who Made Good

--John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, and Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. secretary of the treasury, were among the earliest graduates of what is now Columbia University.

--Samuel F. B. Morse, best known as the inventor of the telegraph, was a noted painter who taught fine arts at New York University in its early days.

--Seth Low, the president of Columbia University from 1890 to 1901, left that post when he was elected mayor of New York on a reform platform.

--Bernard Baruch, who went on to advise President Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, graduated from City College in 1889. Almost 60 years later, Colin Powell, who is the current secretary of state, graduated from City College.

--Lionel Trilling, who taught at Columbia University for decades starting in 1932, was generally regarded as a great literary critic and one of the leading New York intellectuals of his day.

--I.I. Rabi, a long-time professor at Columbia University, won the Nobel Prize for his research into the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei and was noted for his work for peace during the Cold War.

--William Schuman, the first person ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, was president of the Julliard School from 1945 to 1961, and then president of Lincoln Center.

--Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a graduate of Columbia Law School who later taught at the school, is a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

--Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, film directors both known for their movies set in New York, both studied film at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

--Billy Collins, a distinguished professor of literature at Lehman College, served as poet laureate of the United States.

--Pedro Sanchez, the director of tropical agriculture at Columbia University's Earth Institute, won a 2003 "genius award" from the MacArthur foundation. Sanchez is known for his work helping farmers in Africa produce more crops.

--Michael Cunningham, head of the MFA Writing Program at Brooklyn College, wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Hours, which was also made into a film that received nine Oscar nominations.

--Anna Deavere Smith, whose one-woman play Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights portrayed racial conflict in New York, now teaches at NYU.

Less measurable are the significant contribution the schools have made to New York as a center for ideas, innovation and culture. As Thomas Bender points out in his history of intellectual life in the city, "New York Intellect," universities assumed a central role in the intellectual and social life of New York starting about a century ago. This was at the same time (not coincidentally) when the three large campuses of Columbia University, City University and New York University were all built, within a decade of one another, "all on prominent heights, distinguished...from the street pattern,...thus giving higher education an uncommon visibility and emphasizing its special importance in the life of the city." (The NYU campus was the one in the Bronx, now the 55-acre home of Bronx Community College)

The many schools here draw people (both students and teachers) of talent and potential, transforming them as they help transform the city -- many remaining in New York to conduct research, publish books, create plays and paintings and poetry, run businesses, provide attentive audiences for high art and cultural experiments, and think up new approaches to urban problems: "It was in New York," Bender writes, "that advanced culture and learning first confronted modern urban conditions." (Academic involvement in urban life and culture, Bender believes, has recently been in retreat, to the detriment of both academia and the metropolis; see box near end of story)

The relationship between the university and the community is not free of tensions. Columbia's improved relations with its neighbors threaten to unravel over its expansion plans. Other schools in the city, including NYU, Cooper Union and Fordham, have attracted opposition to their new facilities. Critics say research institutions could do more to lure new, high-technology businesses to the city.

For their part universities, while thriving in New York, encounter obstacles as well. They struggle to find space, encounter complaints from faculty about the high cost of living and can see their plans derailed in the rough world of local politics.


What New York City offers universities above all is itself. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 1997 that, after years during which academics shunned New York, more leading scholars chose to come here.

Some see the city, the nation's media capital (and headquarters of the publishing industry), as a good place to reach a wider audience. Others like the cosmopolitan world-view. "New York is extremely welcoming to people who are on the misfit level of experience," Avital Ronell, a German literature professor at NYU who used to teach at Berkeley, told the Chronicle. "In New York, you're never made to feel like a freak."

Urban life appeals to students as well. Of the five top schools on Princeton Reviews list of those with a "great college town," three are in New York City.

But for some students it may pose a problem. In the past two years, NYU has been racked by five student suicides. Staff and students have wondered whether there is a common thread. A report issued by the school last year questioned whether New York City could be a contributing factor. "New York City is an important educational and cultural resource, but it can also be a distraction," the paper reportedly said. "These same factors can contribute to students' feeling overwhelmed and less able to make connections with one another."

The city presents college with more concrete difficulties as well. A major problem is how expensive the city is, especially for starting faculty, who at City University may make $40,000 a year. Faculty also worry about the quality of the public school system, a concern that prompted Columbia to open its own school for faculty children.

And like everyone else in New York, universities do not have enough space. In its efforts to expand, Columbia often notes that it has far less space per student than any of its Ivy League counterparts. "If college and university rankings were based on creativity per square foot, Columbia would surpass everyone," university president Lee Bollinger said in a 2002 speech.

Universities also feel the effects of tight government budgets. Like most states, New York has cut back on its funding for education in recent years, a move that has had a great impact on the City University. After being adjusted for inflation, state and city funding for CUNY has dropped by 40 percent since 1990, according to Barbara Bowen of the faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress. "The lack of funding for City University is impeding the progress of students in City University," Agnes M. Abraham, a Medgar Evers students and chairperson of the CUNY student senate said at a recent City Council hearing. [See related story on funding for higher education]


Whatever its financial woes, no college has as great an effect on New York as its public university, City University. Some critics question whether new standards and higher tuition at CUNY have detracted from the university's mission to educate all New Yorkers [see related story]. But 45 percent of all college students in the city attend one of the schools in the City University system, according to the university. The overwhelming majority of them are New Yorkers - all city high school graduates are guaranteed admission to at least one school (though not all schools) within the City University system - and most of them remain in the city after finishing their education.

The schools in City University also offer very specialized job training - particularly for city agencies, according to a recent report (in pdf format). For example, John Jay College provides the police with courses on how to meet the requirements of the federal Patriot Act, and the public school system and the teachers union have looked to the university to help teachers learn what they need to know to teach the new public school curriculum.

City University of New York does a number of other tasks for the city as well. It was, for example, key to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's launch of the city's 311 non-emergency hotline. And it has allowed the Department of Education to set up high schools on its campuses and lets high school students take college classes.

"Many city agencies are accustomed to turning to CUNY," said Kleiman. "CUNY is really open to doing it. That's not a role any of the private institutions have signed up for."


But the private universities do other things. Columbia's plans for expansion in Manhattanville provide a good example of how universities can affect the city as a whole and the neighborhood in particular.

The Purpose Of Higher Education

In 1753, a year before the creation of King's College, the oldest of New York's educational institutions (since renamed Columbia University), William Livingston wrote in a local newspaper why such a college was important:

"The true use of education is to qualify men for the different employments of life to which it may please God to call them. It is to improve their hearts and understandings; to infuse a public spirit and love of their country; to inspire them with the principles of honor and probity, with a fervent zeal for liberty, and a diffusive benevolence for mankind; and, in a word, to make them the more extensively serviceable to the Commonwealth....[U]nless the education we propose be calculated to render our youth better members of society and useful to the public in proportion to its expense, we had better be without it."

The 1968 riots, which were sparked by Columbia's plans to build a university gym in nearby public Morningside Park, highlighted years of tensions between the university and its neighbors. Since then, Columbia has, by virtually all accounts, tried to repair its relations with its neighbors. And many believe it has succeeded." Columbia now is a more important part of New York than it's been at other points in its history," McCaughey said.

The university's plan to build a new campus in West Harlem -- in an area roughly bounded by Broadway, 12th Avenue, 125th and 133rd street - may put the new relationship to a test.

Columbia says it needs the space to provide new laboratories and performance spaces as well as classrooms. "The need for more space exists in virtually every academic discipline," it says on its web site.

Construction will put $4 billion into the city economy, and, when the campus is complete it will generate a billion in new city revenues. But said Jeremiah Stoldt, director of campus plan for facilities management, "it's not just about jobs and research and revenue generated, it's also a source of intellectual capital for the city."

And the community will come out ahead too, Columbia says. When the project is complete - decades from now - it will provide 9,200 new jobs, according to an estimate prepared for the university. An additional 5,500 jobs will be produced by businesses serving the facility and the people who work on it. Some 1,224 jobs exist in the area now. Stoldt said the university will try to hire area residents for construction and permanent jobs, an effort he said is foreshadowed by Columbia's having moved its employment office to 125th Street and Broadway.

And the university foresees an inviting environment, complete with green spaces, cafes, retail businesses and other amenities. While the existing main campus on Morningside Heights feels, in many ways, cut off from its surroundings, the new campus will "emphasize the idea of embracing the community," Stoldt said. The east- west streets will be preserved to provide community access to a planned waterfront park and the ground floors of many buildings will include retail services that Stoldt says are now in short supply in the area.

"Right now, Manhattanville is contributing little to the economy of West Harlem," Ester Fuchs, a Columbia and Barnard professor and adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been quoted as saying. "The plan will replace blighted abandoned industrial sites with productive uses. It will regenerate the area....No urban site is perfectly empty but this comes close."

Some residents and business owners emphatically disagree. As in the debate over development of the Far West Side, one person's blight is another one's home.

Columbia's opponents say that the plan would eliminate about 140 apartments -- most affordable -- and jobs for neighborhood residents. According to Marita Dunn of the Manhattanville Area Consortium of Businesses, more than 95 percent of the people employed in the area -- which feature moving and storage companies and car repair shops as well as a bus depot - are minorities. "There is no way in the world a biotechnology lab is going to be able to absorb all those workers," she said.

Beyond that, they worry about Columbia changing a piece of West Harlem already threatened by gentrification. "Our fear is that a dramatic displacement will occur," said Tom DiMott, a member of the steering community of the Coalition to Preserve the Community. "We want to be able to have a C-Town, a 99-cent store, an area where people who do not have a Columbia education can get a decent job."

If residents consented to the plan "we would be giving away a community and its future," said Dunn. "This community would have no voice in what happens."

To try to address some fears, the university appointed a community advisory committee. According to one member, Professor Joseph Wilson of Brooklyn College, its final report calls for a diverse workforce in construction and for jobs to go to community residents. It also says the project should be "not only environmentally sound but at the leading edge" and for Columbia to insure no residents are displaced by providing affordable housing. Wilson believes Columbia could "go a long way to assuage community concerns by accepting the proposal. Stoldt said the university is still reviewing the recommendations.

Meanwhile, business owners and residents worry that Columbia will try to use eminent domain -- the process by which the government condemns a property for the public good -- to get rights to any property it cannot buy. "We certainly understand the concern," Stoldt said. "We aim to negotiate with owners in a way that we think could satisfy our mutual needs."

"The talk of eminent domain is sending shock waves through the community," said Wilson. "The more talk there is of eminent domain, the more opposition there is in the community."


In recent years NYU has sought to rival Columbia in terms of academic quality. To help achieve this, the school has now embarked on a multmimillion campaign to hire new professors and provide them with better facilities -- part of a drive to enhance its undergraduate and graduate liberal arts programs, the New York Time reports


As NYU has sought to compete with Columbia for students, faculty and prestige, it has also, less happily for the university, become its competitor in community conflict. As it has transformed itself, NYU has also transformed much of Washington Square and blocks to the east of the university. With more students from out of town -- two thirds of last year's approximately 4,200 freshmen were from outside New York state -- it has had to build dormitories and other facilities for them, angering some of its neighbors.

Academia Needs New York

In his 1987 book, "New York Intellect," Thomas Bender worries about what he calls the "academicization of intellectual and artistic life," with writers, artists and intellectuals who in the past would have been deeply immersed in the city now instead employed by universities, and focusing increasingly on insular campus concerns, thus weakening their work "in subtle and insidious ways." He quotes Lionel Abel:

"The sad fact is that New York City...is today almost as bankrupt intellectually as are the provincial cities of this country, for ideas no longer hit the center of city life, but go directly to the campuses, where they are academicized."

Bender then concludes: "If cities need universities, so the academy, if it is to avoid the fate of the dinosaur, desperately needs the intellectual, artistic, and political provocations of a vibrant metropolitan culture."

"NYU's aggressive transformation into a residential campus. . .has thus far meant unloading some ornamentally starved structure onto the streetscape of downtown New York," Lenora Todaro wrote in the Village Voice in 1999. "NYU has deep pockets, a wandering eye and a shocking lack of aesthetic ingenuity when it comes to building new structures."

Several years ago, the university clashed with some of its neighbors, preservationists and fans of Edgar Allan Poe when NYU’s plans for a new law school building threatened the home where some maintained Poe wrote “The Raven.” Dispute flared over what Poe wrote in the house and whether he even lived there. Tour leader Marilyn Stults reportedly called it “one of the few places where the author had any pleasure.” The university countered that Poe’s connection to the house was tenuous at best. "It’s pretty clear Poe didn’t write or edit ‘the Raven’ at the house," NYU spokesman John Beckman told The Villager. "He may have read it there," Beckman joked.

Eventually NYU and preservations seeking to save the Poe house and a row of other historic houses agreed that the buildings would be torn down but their façades would be rebuilt and incorporated into the law school. At the time, the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore called the solution “preferable to the only realistic alternative, which was the loss of [the] buildings.”

But it provides scant comfort. Today, wrote Robert Cross in the Chicago Tribune, the poet’s old home is “so different from the original that Poe's ghost would never find it.”

NYU also faced opposition to the Kimmel Center, a new student center on Washington Square South, that critics said would obstruct the view of Lower Manhattan through the Washington Square Arch and cast shadows over the park. Again, the university basically got its way.

A few blocks away, Cooper Union’s plans for three new buildings have sparked some community opposition. Critics charge the new development, including a residence and a commercial building, threatens their neighborhood, objecting to the size of the new structure and worrying about increased traffic in the Astor Place area.

In the Bronx, Fordham University and some of its neighbors fought for years over the university’s plans to build a transmitter for its radio station near the New York Botanical Garden, which borders the campus. In 1994, the city halted construction of the 480-foot tower at 260 feet, but supporters of the garden said the tower loomed over the garden, damaging the view and the mood. Fordham officials countered that, without the tower, its acclaimed WFUV station would go off the air.

Years of acrimony finally came to a peaceful end last year when Montefiore Hospital offered space on its roof for Fordham to place the antenna. Last heard, all parties appeared satisfied – a rare outcome in town-gown disputes.


Universities can affect the economy of the city far beyond their neighborhoods by spurring the creation of new jobs in industries such as high technology or biotechnology. Many believe that New York universities could do more in this area.

New York City universities fared poorly in a 2000 survey of research expenditures by the Partnership for New York City, a group of business leaders. The city came in a distant second to Boston in total expenditures. And when expenditures were examined on a per capita basis, New York came in last of the five areas considered: Raleigh-Durham (which ranked number one), Boston, San Jose and Austin.

In a discussion last spring, Andrew Alper of the New York City Economic Development Corporation cited New York's assets in life sciences, including fundamental science programs and schools that train many of the country's doctors. "Great strengths," he said. "Very bad ratio of strengths to realized commercial activity."

Columbia has reportedly generated about 65 start-up businesses in the last 15 years -- and SUNY Downstate has launched a biotech park near its Brooklyn medical center. But said Ron Cohen, chair of the New York Biotechnology Association, at the last spring's panel, other New York college and universities have not followed suit.

The panelists offered a number of theories as to why. Some cited the high cost of doing business in the city. One blamed the shortage of top engineering schools in the city. Eve Cramer, vice president for biotechnology and scientific affairs at SUNY Downstate, criticized attitudes. "The culture is not that you should do your research and then commercialize it," she said. "For us to have our research institutions really start to spin off companies, the whole culture in these institutions has to change."

Of course, some would argue that the existing culture protects science, letting researchers focus on what is scientifically valuable whatever its cash potential.

Others say that city officials must take their share of the blame -- that they underestimate the impact and importance to the city's economy of the many, varied centers of learning and research in its midst. For starters, Kleiman said, the mayor could invite the leaders of New York's colleges and university to lunch.

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