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The hidden price of replacing schools 

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has been clear that he doesn't like phasing out low-performing schools in favor of new schools as a way to improve academic achievement. He doesn't like the approach, he says, because it doesn't work. And recent graduation data reinforces his opinion, he says.

Nine schools that began phasing out under former superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard have, in general, lower graduation rates than much of the rest of the district. The graduation rate for the 2009 cohort — meaning the 2009 freshman class — at School of Imaging and Information Tech is approximately 47 percent, for example. The rate at Bioscience and Health Careers is 40 percent, while John Marshall's graduation rate is approximately 28 percent.

The lowest graduation rate is at Thomas Jefferson with 20 percent. By comparison, most of the grad rates for the non-phase-out schools are near or above 50 percent, with School of the Arts and School Without Walls above 85 percent. The grad rate for Rochester's 2009 cohort, if you include August graduates, is approximately 48percent.

The phase-in, phase-out model has other impacts, too. Students get shuffled from one building to another, and often many of the same people teaching in the failing schools end up teaching in the new schools. The closing schools see their resources and amenities dry up.

A bigger concern is what happens to students' motivation when they are in a school that's being phased out. Motivation plummets, behavior problems increase, and attention to learning grows difficult. Students become disconnected and it shows up in low attendance and low graduation rates.

Parents don't like the approach, either. Frequently they have moved to an apartment or house because it's closer to a certain school, convenient to where they work, or maybe there's a specific school program that appeals to them. Then they learn that their family's daily routines are being upended. This is extremely stressful for many district families.

The model is one of the options the State Education Department gives school districts with failing or so-called priority schools to turn around low achievement. The failing schools are gradually closed over a four-year period and new schools are opened usually starting with a freshman class.

District spokesperson Chip Partner says Vargas believes that the district's graduation rate should begin to improve because the school closings are complete. The impact the phase in, phase out model had on the system should diminish, he says.


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