Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Education (MSEd)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Mario Rios-Perez


education, failing schools, syracuse, urban, public, narratives

Subject Categories

Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education


Public school closings due to low academic performance have recently become popularized as a solution to perceived school failure. Using fictionalized concepts of decrepit buildings, unskilled teachers and unmotivated and obtuse students, the business management model favored by the federal government has moved from applied labels of failure with subsequent funding and assistance to full scale shuttering. The public schools that face perdition unquestionably share the same characteristics: they are urban schools with a high percentage of students who receive free/reduced lunch, have low standardized test scores, produce floundering graduation rates, and contain high populations of students of color, English Language Learners and Special Education students. These schools have been vilified as enemies in need of annihilation. These obstacles to success are typically exacerbated by the physical situation of the schools as they are often located in the lowest socioeconomic portions of urban areas. Urban public school districts are losing local control and remain voiceless as their adherence to state education mandates dictates crucial funding in order to operate. This thesis will analyze the culture and community of a public high school in the Northeast closed due to low academic performance using the narratives of teachers and students who worked at and attended the school.

This qualitative case study was conducted through the interviews of four former teachers and four former students to understand their individual experiences within a failing high school. Each response was recorded and coded for claims that opposed popular beliefs regarding low performing public schools. Based on the researcher’s hypothesis, stakeholders within the school viewed their experiences much differently than the published data that was used to close the school. Teacher and student relationships were held in high regard and the school itself was presented by the responders in a significantly more positive context than what was previously regarded as common knowledge based solely on standardized test scores and graduation percentages. The interviews also reveal deficiencies that exist within unlabeled academic institutions (high performing public schools, colleges and universities) that are typically ignored by the media and/or educational policymakers.


This is a story that has to be told. I would like to thank my advisor, Mario Rios-Perez, for assisting me with all facets of the work and giving me the reinforcement needed to continue. I would like to thank Syracuse University’s School of Education and the wonderful Cultural Foundations of Education staff and students, with a special thank you to Maryann Barker for pushing me forward when I needed it most. I would also like to thank the students and teachers who participated in this project. Without their time and dedication, this project would have remained an idea. Thank you to my wife Molly, and my four children: James, Mary Grace, George and the fourth, who will be born after this project’s completion, for inspiring me to do what needed to be done. Thank you to my parents for sending me to city schools. And lastly, thanks to the memory of Western High School, a place where dreams breathed. I will never forget all that you gave me.