School closure wars continue to divide communities, generate little student benefit


by Félix Pérez

The formula is straightforward: shutter public schools to deal with budget shortfalls, transfer the affected students to other under-resourced public schools  ̶̶  putting them at greater risk of being labeled underperforming  ̶  and clear the way for politically connected companies to open charter schools that operate with little or no public accountability.

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Communities that have experienced or are going through the process get battered and bruised.  Examples include Chicago, where outraged community members were forcibly removed from a school board meeting, and Philadelphia, where 19 people were arrested at the city’s school system’s headquarters. In Newark, NJ, the latest front in the school closure wars, more than 3,000 residents have signed a petition in opposition to a proposal by the state-appointed superintendent to close or consolidate more than a dozen schools. A plan in Memphis, Tenn., to close as many as 13 schools this school year has ignited long-simmering frustrations about disinvestment in school programs and the growing presence of charter schools.

A universal complaint by parents, educators, community leaders and others is that black and low-income students are disproportionately hurt. In Chicago, 87% of affected students were black and 94% were low income. The affected students in Philadelphia were 81% black and 93% low income. And in New York City, 53% of the students were black, 93% were low income and 41% were Latino.

School district officials and mayors point to the budget savings generated by closing schools and selling the buildings. Research has shown, however, that sale prices are “frequently well below initial projections.” Empty schools, the study found, “can cast a pall over their neighborhoods and be costly to seal, maintain and insure.”

More than 405 of the sold, leased or reused properties have gone to charter schools, according to a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The exodus of students to charters can further reduce enrollment in district-run schools, exacerbating under-enrollment in district schools and making them candidates down the road for closure. Selling school buildings can also breed resentment among community residents, who “view local schools as community assets and have a sense of ownership and investment in them.”

school closings - the cycle - NOTLSchool closure proponents claim that students benefit academically by moving out of underperforming, under-enrolled schools. Yet in Chicago, at least, class sizes grew larger, adding strain to receiving schools. Other studies concluded that only that only a very small minority of students will be transferred into substantially better school environments.

“Shutting the doors and abandoning schools sends a very clear message: your community, your neighborhood and your children are simply not worth the investment,” wrote Arizona math teacher and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel in response to the Chicago closings.

“Our children deserve more. The whole purpose of public education in America is to level the playing field and provide opportunities to all children, regardless of their background. As educators, we ask ourselves: “What is best for our students?” We all know the right answer — it’s literally right in front of us. All children deserve high performing public schools in their own neighborhood, preferably ones that don’t require crossing what is effectively a war zone.”

Next week: Which charter companies benefit financially from school closures and who is behind the laws that provide charter school companies preferential status when purchasing empty school buildings? 

Reader Comments

  1. By and large, charters lack accountability, oversight, and transparency. That’s by design. Too many charters are not being properly overseen either financially or educationally. Change and improvement won’t happen until taxpayers and voters demand it. Please do that!

  2. My taxes should be for public schools only! Teachers need better training, better salaries, better resources and better retirement to survive in all cases. Every district’s school board should have a teacher on it from the academic department (not coaches – sorry. Not unusual for school board members to start their political career through the school board elections.

  3. Aren’t we glad that big banks and corporations got bailed out and receive huge tax breaks!! Job creators right?? Teachers, parents and schools are the key to our country’s future. Once we let corporations take over our kids they will view them simple as $$$$$.

  4. 1) back in the 80’s we started vouchers which were used to help private schools. Mistake ie. Cleveland Ohio
    2) Charter schools were for beginning a school, then the community would sustain it and it became a public school
    3) The only tax money that should go to private schools is NONE. Private school are for those that “choose” to go private vs the school that is public or tax supported ie tributary schools to yale, harvard, etc.
    4) the reason for the evil that is happening is found in this article right here:
    5) It is time to correct the evil that a congress and vp did in the past
    6) ALL educational programs are to be held in accountability and charter schools are to be only starter school which are still to be held in accountability. As for Private schools, they are not to be receiving the blessing of the tax, they are solely for the private individual to choose public or private.
    7) As far as teaching that it is ok for transgenders to teach it is ok and that the young can go into mixed bath rooms because of the fact the student says he is female or the parent believes so. Is like saying that in the bathroom, curiosity stops at the door, and ‘let me see’, ‘can I touch’, ‘I heard that if you do this’ will not happen. Kids now seek to get into the others rest room, dressing room, etc. That situation in New England where girls were compelled to kiss another girl, was criminal. EVERYONE deserves to have a good education and freedom to learn and grow. But to force a gender upon another gender is not right, nor is it right to ignore the emotional need of those that are this way. The civil rights act did not say you had to love people of other color (God said that. In fact He said to love ALL people which includes transgenders) but it said they should not be denied the opportunity to have an equal access to quality education. The civil rights act did not say the colors had to even like each other. But it did say that they could not be evilly defamed, talked publicly about, nor degraded by administration, teacher, or student. To have private religious schools teach other than that they should love everybody treating and protecting those within its walls all the same is also wrong. Yet, to force them to teach contrary to what can be proved in scripture is wrong and to force them to hire against what can be proven scripturally is also wrong. But then again, we are not a people and/or UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, no no we are ‘the united states corporation of america’ so my words will go only as far as I can spit. And I better be careful where I spit!!! It is know longer ‘GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE, OF THE PEOPLE..’, it’s ‘government by the business, for the dollar, of the corporation’

  5. I spite of the fact that our local school made A.Y.P four years straight,and our students achieved greatness in academic,social and community endeavors throughout the years 2000-2011, we were notified (rather rude & abruptly) on May 23 ,2011 that at the end of the summer school session of 2011,our school would cease to exist and approximately 200 students and 50 faculty members were scattered all over the island of St.Thomas. Most of us were sent to school that while much larger and newer than ours,had never made A.Y.P. The school where I was transferred to had never made A.Y.P before.Now magically,in the 3 years myself and two co-workers are there,this largest elementary school on our island has now achieved A.Y.P and several countless other awards that previously had been won by our now defunct grade school. We are living in times where saving money in territorial budgets is more important than saving reputable schools. We’re in a time where academic achievement means more than raising,creative,happy and socially well-adjusted students. In the name of Progress we’re creating Monsters.

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