Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Charlotte's closing may be a condemnation of school choice

Posted By on Wed, Dec 3, 2014 at 12:10 PM

click to enlarge RCSD Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • RCSD Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.
Charlotte High School, which just underwent a multimillion-dollar makeover as part of the district’s massive modernization project, should be revered at least as much as Charlotte’s famous lighthouse. And it was a generation or two ago, but not anymore.

Today, the school is arguably a better example of the death of neighborhood schools.

That was apparent at a sparsely attended public meeting held at the school last night. Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas met with parents and residents to discuss his recent recommendation to close the low-performing school in two years.

Most of the attendees' comments were interchangeable with comments made at similar meetings that the district has held over the years. There are concerns about low attendance, students hanging out in the neighborhood and getting into fights, and a general malaise toward the school.

And most of the students enrolled at Charlotte are not from the area, which is often characteristic of urban schools that fall on hard times. The students are bused in from all over the city, since Rochester’s high schools are student choice-driven rather than neighborhood schools.

The contrast between the two enrollment policies and the impact on neighborhoods were on stark display last night. Many schools that once were pillars of neighborhoods have been destabilized through myriad state and district policies promoting choice to drive higher academic achievement. 

But what happens when those policies don’t work? The costs to the community are obvious — not just in terms of student achievement, but in home values and neighborhood safety, as well.

Charlotte, for instance, has been on the the State Education Department’s list of lowest-performing schools for three years. The superintendent’s recent announcement ends months of speculation about the high school’s future.

Vargas says that he wants to expand the Leadership Academy for Young Men, the all-boys school for grades 7 to 12 that shares the building with Charlotte High School.

Most of the parents and residents who spoke at last night’s meeting, however, were not reassured by the idea. And why should they be? The chronic shuffling of students, desks, and programs in many urban districts has become the new normal.

“Close Charlotte [High School] and these kids aren’t going to go to another school,” said Jody Hough, a parent of a senior at the school. “They’re going to drop out.”

Hopefully, that won’t be the case. And to be fair, there are some district schools where choice is working extremely well. School of the Arts and School 58, for instance. It’s kind of the “do it right, and the parents and students will come” model.

But regardless of the upside to the school choice movement that has swept the nation and seems to be popular with the Obama administration’s education funding schemes, there are undeniable downsides to the approach. 

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