When schools are persistently failing despite efforts to help them, reformers argue that they should be shuttered. The strategy has great intuitive appeal, but does it do what it is supposed to? (“School Closures: When a School is More than Just a School,” National Education Policy Center, May 15).
A study that looked at Chicago, which five years ago closed roughly 50 schools housing 12,000 students, concluded that it didn’t work. Putting aside the loss of a sense of community that schools foster, the move failed to help students. Those who moved to schools with higher test scores posted lower achievement the first year and improved only slightly afterward.
Let’s take a closer look at the findings. High test scores alone do not mean a school is good. Such scores could be the result of turning classrooms into test preparation factories. If so, it’s doubtful the school offers an improvement. But there’s another factor given short shrift in the debate. Students don’t always transfer to better schools, as assumed. They may enroll in schools that are a better fit for one reason or another than those they left.
That’s why I support parental choice. Parents differ widely in what they seek for their children. The only common factor that I see is safety. If a school cannot provide that, it needs to be closed. I’m talking about repeated incidents. No matter how academically outstanding, any school can be the venue for an isolated act of violence. But when students are subjected to repeated incidents, letting those schools remain open constitutes child endangerment.
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