Closing Schools

Over at the Hechinger blog, Sarah Garland has a thoughtful post investigating the incredible anger parents and community members often express about school closures–Even when the schools in question are demonstrably horrible paces for children. Garland does an excellent job laying out the issue and some of the historical reasons that these closures often draw particular opposition from leaders in the African American community.

Unfortunately, anger at school closures is an issue I’ve gotten to experience myself this year, as the PCSB has moved to cull some low-performing schools from our portfolio. It’s also one of the biggest pieces of evidence I see against free-marketeers who argue that parent choice alone is sufficient to ensure school quality. Point to any truly abysmal, even unsafe, school  slated for closure, and you can find parents fighting desperately to keep the school open. That shouldn’t surprise anyone–even the worst schools can work for some children, school closures are highly disruptive for children and families, and some families have been failed by public schools for so long that their expectations are dismally low–but it doesn’t mean those schools have any business staying in operation.

School closures are going to become increasingly important in the coming years. Under RTT, new SIG regs and the eventual reauthorization of ESEA, we’ll likely see more districts consider closure as an option for chronically low performers (and there are good arguments why they should).

Moreover, the intense fiscal pressure school districts are going to face in the coming years are going to force more of them, particularly in declining population areas, to “right size,” closing underenrolled schools and those that are too small cost-effectively educate kids–as we’ve already seen Michelle Rhee in D.C., Robert Bobb in Detroit, and John Covington in Kansas City begin to do. These changes are going to be incredibly wrenching, brutal, controversial–but in many cases necessary. Understanding the sources of parent and community anger is the first step in developing better ways to communicate and dispel that anger to work with parents to move their children from horrible schools to better ones.

Addendum: A Washington Post editorial today supports the PCSB’s efforts to close low performing schools.

–guestblogger Sara Mead

3 Replies to “Closing Schools”

  1. Good post.

    School closures should be handled as having certain one-time costs: closure teams that meet in person with each and every parent.

    I mean – imagine YOUR kid’s school suddenly got shut down. Don’t you deserve at least an hour of 1-on-1 time to talk about your kid, how he’s doing, where he’d otherwise go, etc?

    The parent outreach team would meet to:

    1. Review the data on how badly off THEIR kid is doing compared to other kids in the state; for kids who are doing well, acknowledge that but show how the classmates are doing. Make it personal and specific.

    2. Ask if they personally feel the school is nonetheless doing a good job with THEIR kid. here will be some “Strong Yes” and some “So-so” and some “no way – my kid is failing.”

    Capture this information and make transparent to all parents and stakeholders.

    3. Help each parent visit the school(s) kid will or could attend next year.

    This would reduce the anger.

    How much $ would this cost?

    I’m thinking a really top-notch person, full-timer (for example, a high-energy, good communication skills retired principal or teacher) could be had for $3,000 per week.

    This person could meet in-person with 20 parents per week (and do the massive amount of phone calls it would take for parents to show up; visit the others at home).

    Closing a school with 800 kids? You need to hire 4 outreach people, so 8 people x $3,000/week x 10 weeks = $120,000 in one-time costs. Plus someone to recruit and train these folks — maybe another $40,000.

  2. Sara:

    My issue is not with school closure. It is with districts seemingly lack of a post closure plan that makes any more sense. Often times school districts toy with the idea of closure, threaten it, discuss it to death, and then finally make a decision; however, they have not spent enough front-end time planning and communicating that plan to the parents of the students.

  3. School closure are never an easy topic since it is the children’s well being were talking about their. And, it is not just the mental aspect but their psychological, social, physical etc. No one likes moving but I guess the higher ups should also take care of the stress that it brings to the children and their parents. It’s never easy but it is their responsibility because of their decisions

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