Education Opinion

Closing Schools Remains Controversial

By Walt Gardner — May 11, 2015 1 min read
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When a failing school does not improve despite repeated efforts over the years to turn it around, closure still provokes fierce resistance (“Shutting Bad Schools, Helping Students,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 28). The resentment persists even though displaced students typically get a better education at their new school. A new Fordham Institute study of 200 closed district and charter schools, for example, found that three years after closure, affected students gained on average the equivalent of 49 extra days of learning in reading and 34 extra days of learning in math.

If the data are what they seem, then why are so many parents vehemently opposed to shuttering underperforming schools? I think the answer is that academic performance is not always the No. 1 concern of parents. They also place great emphasis on holistic, social, logistic, and administrative factors. Moreover, there’s something else called consumer inertia at work (“Obamacare’s Inertia Problem,” The New Yorker, Dec. 8, 2014). It has been documented whenever people are given a choice. Sometimes the time and energy it takes to make an informed switch are just too much of a hassle.

I realize that when a neighborhood school is closed, parents don’t possess the same freedom to choose another school that consumers have in choosing, say, a different Internet provider. But I believe the principle still prevails. Further, parents feel disrespected when their opinions are given short shrift by school officials. That’s why it’s so important to bring parents into the process early in the game. It’s their children who are involved, and they have the right to be given a seat at the table.

Recognizing the opposition to closures, New York City is poised to merge failing schools with high performing schools (“Up to a dozen NYC schools to be merged in plan to boost test scores,” New York Daily News, May 3). So far, the plan has parental support. Whether it will last is another story.

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.