Should We Close Schools for Low Performance?
Over at Rick Hess's EdWeek blog, guest blogger Deven Carlson (Poli Sci, Oklahoma U) considers the question of whether or not schools that show low performance. In the process, he illuminates some of the deeply flawed premises under which reformsters operate.
He opens by noting that school closure has been a popular policy approach since the days of No Child Left Behind.
The logic of closing low-performing schools is clear: Shutting down bad schools will remove students from these contexts and facilitate their transition to a better school. Improved academic outcomes will follow. In addition, the resources that had been devoted to the closed schools can be reallocated to those that remain open, which may contribute to their improvement.
The path of that logic is clear. But clarity doesn't equal correctness. I can take nice clear pictures of a KKK rally; they're still wrongheaded dopes.
Skipping past, for a moment, the fact that we are currently using unreliable methods and bad data to identify bad schools, moving students to "a better school" is neither easy nor simple, nor does it necessarily follow that the student will do better in a new school. Carlson is also skipping over the issue of capacity-- if we close a 500-student school, where are the 500 new seats? What Carlson is not noting here is that eliminating low-performing schools has not been nearly as popular as replacing them-- but that usually means replacing the students as well.
What Carlson does clearly get is that while this conversation is easy for policy-makers to have in the abstract, it's a whole other thing to implement it on "specific districts and schools, affecting actual teachers, students, families, and neighborhoods." In fact, when the rubber meets the road, very few schools have actually been closed down under the modern era of school reform, and when the issue is raised, local pushback is strong. Well, yes. This is why reformsters need disasters to thrive-- you can't convince people to give up their schools unless something "great" like a hurricane comes and flattens them.
Carlson suggests there is some support for closures, citing some research (including his own) that suggests students from bad schools do better when their school is closed and they are relocated-- though he skips over the finding of one of those studies, which also says that students at the receiving school do worse (which makes me wonder how much the study depends on averages, but I'm not going to pay $36 to see). Carlson's own "research" is some data crunching for the Fordham Foundation showing that closing schools in Ohio and sending those students to charters makes CURMUDGUCATION: Should We Close Schools for Low Performance?: