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