Aaron Regunberg: RI Educators Can Learn a Lot From Philadelphia
Friday, March 15, 2013
As citizens of a state that has seen a number of school closings in the recent past, and that undoubtedly will be dealing with this issue again in the future, what is happening in Philadelphia is worth Rhode Islanders’ attention. When people talk about there being a sustained “attack on public education,” this is what they are talking about.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s rationale for closing so many school communities was the same one that is always repeated in these situations. The school department was facing a budget deficit that it could do nothing about, and the district has low-performing schools that may be under-capacity. So why not close a bunch of bad schools, move those students to higher-performing schools, save a bunch of money, and make life better for everyone along the way?
A Lack of Facts
Unfortunately, the logic of this argument is flawed on every level. Let’s go through it, step by step. First, let’s take the claim that the school department is facing a budget deficit it can do nothing about. It is true that the Republican governor of Pennsylvania has been doing everything in his power to starve public education of state aid. At the same time, however, it was just last spring that the School Reform Commission authorized a record expansion of more than 5,000 charter school seats at a five-year cost to the district of $139 million. In other words, the district’s budgetary problems stem in large part from the School Department’s own decisions to continually siphon resources out of the district.
Next, the assertion that this was about low-performing schools simply does not hold up. Some of the schools on the initial closings list had more than 90 percent of their students graduating. And many of the neighborhood public schools that are now slated to close were doing far better than the 84 charter schools that were exempt from this school closing plan, despite the sustained cuts they had endured over the past few years. As Helen Gym, Philadelphia parent and co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, explained: “Charters with school performance index figures that ranked them among the worst in the district received five-year renewals and expansions. In fact, of the 26 charters up for renewal last spring, the SRC voted to close just three, and two are appealing. Whatever your opinion may be of charters, there’s no question that the district has failed to explain its inconsistent approach of allowing charter expansion without regard to expense or academic quality while insisting on draconian and widespread sacrifice among district schools. This despite the fact that many of the district schools targeted for closure outperform some of the charters that the SRC renewed and expanded last spring.”
The third argument with no basis in reality is that this plan will help students from closed schools by moving them to higher-performing schools. Unfortunately, a recent study from Research for Action that showed that most of Philly’s best schools are already at capacity and are unlikely to take on more students, meaning that most students from the closing schools will end up in schools similar to the ones they attended before. The only difference, of course, will be that these students will be forced to travel significant distances outside of their neighborhoods, as the closings begin to create “education deserts” in some areas of the city that are in most need of a great neighborhood public school. Indeed, this has been the exact case in other cities that have engaged in mass school closings—in the last ten years, Chicago has closed nearly 100 public schools, yet a 2009 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that most students from closed schools simply transferred into other under-performing schools, with 80 percent of displaced elementary students ending up in schools that were below-average academically.
And finally we come to the myth that these school closings will save the district a significant amount of money. The Philadelphia School Reform Commission originally claimed that their plan would save $28 million, yet the SRC failed to disclose the transition costs related to school closings. Other cities have found that these costs can be astronomical, to the point of nullifying any savings produced by consolidating schools—when D.C. closed 23 public schools, the associated expenses ended up costing the district over $40. In fact, the Philadelphia SRC’s latest projection found that net savings from the closings would be significantly less than $3 million in the first year due to these transition costs.
Simply closing down schools might seem like an easy answer to the complicated issue of public education. But like many easy answers to complex problems, closing schools does not solve anything—instead, it serves only to destabilize students, families, and communities. So let us take a lesson from the chants repeated by parents, students, and community members during the school closing hearings in Philadelphia: “Fix our schools, don’t close them!’
- Aaron Regunberg: A Closer Look at Raimondomania
- Aaron Regunberg: A Rhode Island Teaching Fellow Speaks Out
- Aaron Regunberg: A Tale of Two Foxes
- Aaron Regunberg: AK-47s Don’t Kill People, Single Mothers Kill People, Apparently
- Aaron Regunberg: Corporate ‘Reform’ Alienating Teachers/Principals
- Aaron Regunberg: Don’t Close the Pawtucket Network RI Office
- Aaron Regunberg: Don’t Kill the Postal Service
- Aaron Regunberg: Education’s False Proxy Trap
- Aaron Regunberg: How Walmart Workers Could Save the U.S. Economy
- Aaron Regunberg: New Education Film is ‘Shamelessly Manipulative’
- Aaron Regunberg: Parent Trigger Laws are Not the Answer
- Aaron Regunberg: Pay-to-play a loser for RI students
- Aaron Regunberg: Providence Can Learn from Chicago Teachers Strike
- Aaron Regunberg: RI Needs a Modern Day Works Progress Administration
- Aaron Regunberg: RI-CAN Shows its True Colors
- Aaron Regunberg: Republicans Did Not Build That
- Aaron Regunberg: Rhode Island Teachers, Stand Up!
- Aaron Regunberg: Tax Cuts for Wealthy Don’t Spur Growth
- Aaron Regunberg: Teacher Intimidation is a Myth, Right?
- Aaron Regunberg: The GOP is a Flawed Product
- Aaron Regunberg: The Loss of an Incredible Soul
- Aaron Regunberg: The Real Story of Rosa Parks
- Aaron Regunberg: The Terrible Cost of High-Stakes Testing
- Aaron Regunberg: Walmart Organizing Could Represent New Economic Era
- Aaron Regunberg: Want Economic Development? Raise the Minimum Wage
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.