Those of you unfamiliar with the state of secondary education in NYC should know what has been going on here. Over the past several years the NYC Department of Education, (under mayoral control) has determinedly and steadfastly worked to close all the large neighborhood high schools in the city and replace them with several smaller schools within each of those buildings. Led by former Chancellor Joel Klein and now present Mayor Bloomberg appointee, Cathie Black, the city has jumped on the Bill Gates bandwagon. Those buildings once had a Principal, perhaps two administrative Assistant Principals and several department chairpersons (also dubbed assistant principals) whose primary job was to train, mentor, and supervise teachers. Now these buildings are called campuses with anywhere from 3-8 schools between those walls. Each smaller school has a Principal and one or two Assistant Principals and no department chairs to train and mentor new teachers. The result has been more and more business management, more test prep, and less and less education.
Once upon a time, almost all of the 100 public high schools in New York City were named for famous people or, like Bayside High School, their particular neighborhood. Some were named after activities, but that was easy to grasp because students in schools like Music and Art or Automotive high schools were studying to become experts in their fields. Now each new school seems to be given a multisyllabic subject based name with variations on a theme.
As a result of this Gates inspired movement year now comes the annual announcement. Which schools are to be closed by the DOE? Which are to be saved? Which have been proclaimed by the all-powerful database to be the best? Then it dawned on me. Maybe, it's the names. Was there a correlation? The key to quality education must be in the schools’ names. After all, wasn't my alma mater, The Bronx High School of Science (6 words) one of the best high schools in the country from its inception in 1938? For years it had the longest name of any high school in the city. Of course it was better than Brooklyn Technical High School, (4 words) and Stuyvesant High School, (3 words) the other specialized high schools in New York for which students have to take an academic admission exam. Ah hah! That must be it. The Bloomberg/Klein/Black administration finally figured it out. Every school’s name must sound like The Bronx High School of Science to give it a better chance at success. I decided to go to the lists and see for myself. I went to the DOE school performance database, found the 23 schools the DOE announced would close and compared them with the top 23 schools on the list.
Here are the lists. On the left, are the 23 High Schools to be closed. On the right, ladies and gentlemen the new champions–the top 23 according to the NYC DOE.
23 NYC HIGH SCHOOLS TO BE CLOSED
TOP 23 NYC DOE HIGH SCHOOLS
August Martin High School
Beach Channel High School
Boys and Girls High School
Christopher Columbus High School
Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology
Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School
Grover Cleveland High School
High School of Graphic Communication Arts
Jamaica High School
Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers
John Adams High School
John Dewey High School
John F. Kennedy High School
Metropolitan Corporate Academy
Monroe Academy for Business/Law
Newtown High School
Norman Thomas High School
Paul Robeson High School
Mother Hale Academy
Richmond Hill High School
Sheepshead Bay High School
Washington Irving High School
W.H. Maxwell CTE High School
Theater Arts Production Company School
Brooklyn International High School at Water's Edge
Williamsburg Preparatory School
Marble Hill High School for International Studies
Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design
Manhattan Village Academy
High School for Violin and Dance
Manhattan Bridges High School
Bronx Aerospace High School
Bronx Health Sciences High School
El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice
Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports
The High School of Fashion Industries
Academy of Finance and Enterprise
The Metropolitan High School
Discovery High School
Pace High School
High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies
Bedford Academy High School
South Bronx Preparatory: A College Board School
Unity Center for Urban Technologies
Mott Hall Bronx High School
The High School for Enterprise, Business and Technology
High School for International Business and Finance
As I looked down the 2011 list I found a pattern. Of the failing schools, 19 of 23 are named after a person or place, 17 of 23 have names containing 4 or fewer words, and 4 of 23 have names containing 6 or more words. On the other hand, the vast majority of the DOE’s better performing schools had longer multisyllabic names. Only 10 of 23 are named after a person or place, 8 of 23 have names containing 4 or fewer words, and 9 of 23 have names containing 6 or more words. EUREKA. I was right.
I was intrigued. I continued to examine NYC high school names. Some new names tacked subject matter on to names of real people, such as The Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School. Ten words. What an e-mail address that makes. That one confused me. I though he was a governor of New York, not a techie. Then there is the peculiar case of Bronx Leadership Academies I and II. Is the latter school only for second tier leaders or middle management? What makes the High School for Innovative Advertising and Media so innovative? I looked at its website. Although situated deep in Canarsie Brooklyn, the site’s banner photo convinces the reader that it is right on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan. Now that is an innovative use of media.
The Rockaway Park High School For Environmental Sustainability (nineteen syllables) may have had the longest name. It couldn't fit in the spreadsheet column. After a while my eyes became so tired, I thought I began to see schools with titles like the Manhattan Duke Ellington Academy for Antidisestablishmentarianistic Song Writing and the Astoria School for Lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimhypotrimmatosilphioparao (Take a deep breath here.) melitokatakechymenokichlepikossyphophattoperisteralektryon (Another breath.) optekephalliokigklopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon Seafood Cooking. That, by the way is a real word. Those must be two very successful schools. Their admissions tests not only require the students to show their talents as song writers and chefs, but also the ability to say the names five times fast, without glancing at the test. Obviously the students at these schools must acquire a greater vocabulary and therefore achieve higher reading levels.
The longer the name, the better the school. Wow, these new school reformers must really be on to something. I began to dream about starting a new New York City high school. What would I call it? Hmmm, The Metropolitan Academy for the Study of Moronic Educational Practices? MASMEP! Then, startled by an image of the Duke humming a song about the Anglican Church while eating a fish fricassee, I woke up with Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” lying across my chest.