Opinion
Education Opinion

Closing Failing Schools

By Walt Gardner — December 07, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Education marketeers argue that closing persistently underperforming schools is necessary in order to provide students with the education they are entitled to. The strategy has great intuitive appeal to taxpayers who are fed up with efforts to turn these schools around. But this approach promises far more than it can deliver for reasons that are poorly understood.

Chicago, home of the nation’s third largest school district, stands out as the best example. Even before No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, the Windy City had a long history of school closings. It’s particularly important to bear this fact in mind because 21 schools have recently been identified for closing or restructuring (“Plan to Close or Restructure 21 Schools Draws Quick Reaction, Most of It Negative,” The New York Times, Dec. 3).

A year after Education Secretary William Bennett charged in 1987 that the Chicago school system was the worst in the nation, the state Legislature mandated that the central administration cede responsibility to elected local school councils. These councils hired principals and were granted limited budget authority. The councils worked well in about one-third of schools, satisfactorily in a third and poorly in another third (“Can Our Schools Run on Duncan?” In These Times, Aug. 23, 2010). In 1995, however, the Legislature gave Chicago’s mayor direct responsibility for the schools. Mayor Richard Daley promptly moved power back to the central administration.

Daley first appointed superintendents who were called CEOs, in the belief that schools should be run like businesses. Then in 2001, he named Arne Duncan the CEO of Chicago schools. His appointment led to the implementation of Renaissance 2010, which resulted in the closing of poorly performing schools. For a detailed account, I recommend School Reform in Chicago (Harvard Education Press, 2004) edited by Alexander Russo.

But studies by SRI International and the Chicago Consortium on School Research concluded that Renaissance 2010 schools only occasionally outperformed demographically similar schools. Despite the evidence, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is determined to push forward with school closings in line with legislation signed in August by Gov. Pat Quinn. Already more than 400 persons have voiced their opposition to the closing of the schools, which are located on the South and West Sides of Chicago (“ ‘Teach -in’ preps parents, union members for fight to stop school closings,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 4).

The District of Columbia also shuttered many neighborhood schools because of poor performance during the regime of Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Parents were given three options: transfer to another traditional school, choose a charter school or receive a voucher to attend a private school. The trouble was that there weren’t always enough openings in schools in the best neighborhoods. Even if there were, not all parents had available transportation. As a result, students were shuffled from one school to another, creating resentment by parents (“Why School Choice Fails,” The New York Times, Dec. 4).

New York City has closed more than 90 schools since 2002 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was given control of the system. The buildings were turned into small themed schools and charters, which in many cases performed better than their predecessors. But it’s hard to know if their improvement was the result of the transfer of the most difficult students to large high schools elsewhere in the city. What is known is the anger of parents. When the Panel for Educational Policy voted in late January to close 10 high schools and open a new charter school on the Upper West Side, a crowd of nearly 2,000 screamed their disapproval (“Panel Votes to Close 10 City High Schools,” The New York Times, Feb. 1).

I expect to see more failing schools closed across the country as the educational marketplace movement accelerates. But don’t count on widespread parental support. The reactions to date indicate that parents would much prefer to see their neighborhood schools improved.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center & Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education U.S. Has Enough COVID-19 Vaccines for Both Kids' Shots and Boosters
Among the challenges states face is not ordering too many doses and letting them go to waste.
4 min read
A healthcare worker receives a second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot at Beaumont Health in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.
A healthcare worker receives a second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot at Beaumont Health in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.
Paul Sancya/AP Photo
Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)