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New York City Closed 29 High Schools. What Happened to the Students?

A new report shows Bloomberg’s controversial closures have had some positive effects, contrary to popular opinion.
A student checks his dictionary after classes let out at Wingate High School in Brooklyn, phased out in 2006.
A student checks his dictionary after classes let out at Wingate High School in Brooklyn, phased out in 2006.AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

At the turn of the 21st century, New York City found itself at the center of a crisis in education. With the highest concentration of “drop-out factories” in the country, graduation rates from its public high schools hovered at around 51 percent. The system badly needed intervention, and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg settled on a radical course of action: Close failing schools, start smaller new ones in their place, and open up enrollment across the district, so that students had more of a choice about where they attended.

The school closures were by far the most controversial measure, sparking protests, petitions, and lawsuits.  Critics felt that the city administration was placing blame on schools, rather than funding them sufficiently to meet the often high needs of students at “failing” institutions, or addressing other the structural differences in the resources available in the schools’ neighborhoods. Some speculated that students would be damaged by being forced transfer, or, if they were allowed to stay at closing schools over a phase-out period, they’d suffer from dwindling staff and resources.