Dennis Walcott and "Failing Schools"

The New York Daily News ran an op-ed today by New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. In it, Walcott lambastes the lawsuit being brought against the city by the UFT and the NAACP. He paints it as "the NAACP vs. schoolkids," and suggests that while the UFT and NAACP are only fighting for the adults in the system, Walcott is doing the real work to raise student achievement.

The main issue in this case is the NYC DOE's policy of closing district schools deemed to be failing and expanding charter schools, some of which are being co-located in buildings with district schools. Walcott points out that space is at a premium in New York and there is no way the department could afford enough buildings for each and every school. In doing so, however, he denies the perspective of students, parents, and teachers whose lives will be affected by these school closures and co-locations.

In his op-ed, Walcott's primary concern seems to be the "students who day after day are sitting in schools that are failing to educate them." He writes that the NAACP is arguing in favor of "consigning students to failing schools," and implies that they're working against equality. Furthermore, Walcott insists that Mayor Bloomberg has "indisputably" improved student achievement and touts increased graduation rates and college admittance.

What Walcott fails to note is that schools "fail" for many reasons, not the least of which is the horribly inappropriate standard of success that the DOE often applies to them. He does not acknowledge that his definition of "indisputably" is not widely shared. He does not acknowledge the dilemmas that come with many charter schools' practices of recruiting students who are easiest to educate and counseling out those who are most difficult. And he avoids discussing recent findings that city graduates are increasingly unprepared for college.

Walcott's piece reads like it is aimed at those either on his side already or largely ignorant of the intricacies involved in the debate over public education in the city and nationwide. He ends his piece by saying, "I will leave the debate over the NAACP's motives to others because I can't possibly come up with an explanation that justifies its participation in this embarrassing lawsuit." While his perspective should not be ignored, his unwillingness to appreciate the other side's merely adds to the myriad of obstacles already hindering our ability to have a constructive conversation about these issues and actually move forward. I'm disappointed.


  1. The reality is that it is Walcott standing for the adults - charter school operators and ed deform ideologues pushing their competitive model of what they think schools should look like while the UFT and NAACP suit is standing up for children denied equaility in their own school buildings.

  2. Walcott argues that since district schools colocate with each other, having charters and traditional public schools colocate isn't out of line. Who's disadvantaged by the latter scenario? On the face, the argument seems reasonable.


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