Adams: In New York City, Being Stuck in a Failing School Is Suddenly Not a Good Enough Reason to Transfer

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office / Flickr)

A version of this essay originally appeared on the New York School Talk blog.

In October 2016, I reported that New York City had finally made it easier for students to transfer schools if the child “is not progressing or achieving academically or socially.”

In July 2020, I am sad to report, that permission has been halted.

As of last week, the Department of Education’s page on school transfers reads:

**Please note that all transfers are currently on hold with the exception of medical and safety transfers. We will update this page as soon as this changes.**

The impetus for such a pause is obvious.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza know what a mess they’ve made of remote learning throughout the COVID-19 crises.

They know that, as I wrote last month:

How much and what kind of remote learning a child received didn’t just vary system by system (i.e. public, charter, private) or school by school, but grade by grade, and even class by class within the same grade or school.

Some teachers logged on every day and attempted to lecture by Zoom, assign homework, grade it, offer feedback and even periodically reach out to students by phone or offer private online tutoring sessions. Others put up worksheets sans instruction, grading the assignments without comment. Some merely put up homework but didn’t quite get around to the grading-it part, while still others went radio silent, perhaps posting some YouTube video to be watched, or not even that much/little.

A week later, I published a roundup of parents reporting what their schools and teachers did right with remote learning.

Naturally, when parents compared what their child received with what other children received, some made the decision to transfer their child from a school that hadn’t met their needs to one that would, especially in light of the very unclear plans for schools reopening in the fall coming out of the DOE.

Naturally, this is the last thing de Blasio wants to happen.

He called parents who were thinking of transferring their child from a public school to a charter or private school, or those considering leaving the city altogether, “privileged.” Since that’s the very worst insult His Honor can conceive of, you know he was incensed.

Parents transferring from public to charter or private schools might suggest de Blasio’s public schools weren’t as perfect as he insists they are.

Worse, parents transferring from one public school to another might suggest they weren’t all equally perfect, like he also insists that they are.

How could the mayor prevent such a thing from happening?

By preventing any transfers between schools!

Currently, the only transfers still available are for “medical” or “safety” reasons.

But what if my child is not progressing academically because the teacher has opted out of teaching – with union support?

The DOE’s attitude has pretty much been: It’s not happening only to you. It’s happening to lots of other kids, too. Just think about what it would mean for educational equity in NYC if we allowed some children to learn (even on their own) while others were not learning? Do you see how it’s better for society as a whole if everyone is failed equally?

I reached out to my faithful (if, by now, thoroughly exasperated with me) correspondents at the DOE.

I asked what this means for elementary school families who move into a different school zone over the summer, or even in the fall. I asked what this means for families who want to transfer into — and out of — charter schools. What about schools that currently have spaces available and are eager to enroll new students in order to receive the state money that comes with them?

As of Monday, July 20, I have not received an answer.

Also, as of Monday, July 20, I can tell you that a half-dozen families I’m working with have moved into a different school zone, and they have received placement at their new elementary school. Middle and high school transfers are a little trickier, since fewer are zone-based, but various principals have given families indication that they should be able to find room for them.

Perhaps the principals and parent coordinators there haven’t yet been made aware of the new no-transfer edict. Or perhaps, they don’t care? They’re doing what’s best for their schools. The way parents are trying to do what’s best for their children.

The big issue here is that, once again, by limiting parental choices, the DOE has made it clear that rather than existing to serve the families that elected them and pay their salaries, it is families who exist to serve the agenda of the DOE. And that agenda is to keep the DOE from looking bad: You should take what you’re given, and be grateful for it, damn it. How many times do we have to keep telling you that?

How many times does the DOE have to keep repeating that all of its schools — and teachers — are equally terrific? After all, 97 percent are rated “effective” or “highly effective.” What do parents mean they noticed a difference during remote learning when they were actually given the chance to observe their child’s teachers in action? Who are these misguided parents going to believe, the DOE’s stellar efficiency ratings or their untrained, unprofessional, only-interested-in-their-own-child’s-welfare eyes?

By putting a moratorium on transfers, the DOE is literally trapping children in schools that are failing them. It is legally preventing them from seeking out a more appropriate environment for their educational needs.

As Carranza loves to ask, “How is that OK?”

Alina Adams is a New York Times best-selling romance and mystery writer, the author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten and Getting Into NYC High School, a blogger at New York School Talk and mother of three. She believes you can’t have true school choice until all parents know all their school choices — and how to get them. Visit her website, www.NYCSchoolSecrets.com.

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