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What’s the rush to close D.C. schools?

Regarding the Dec. 2 Local Opinions commentary “Do school closings knock kids off course?” by Umut Özek and Michael Hansen:

The 2008 D.C. school closings did not benefit students. At best, the test scores of the students studied by Mr. Özek and Mr. Hansen went down, then reverted to their pre-closing levels. The learning gains and savings predicted by the backers of the closings never materialized, and total enrollment among the affected schools declined by about 3,000 students.

Parents of children in the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) justifiably fear that more closings will lead to a continued downward spiral. DCPS will become a rump system west of Rock Creek Park, while the rest of the city will be served by DCPS schools enrolling largely very poor and special education students and lottery-admission charter schools for students whose parents can get them in. This would no longer be a true public education system.

Most of the schools now on the chopping block have become under-enrolled because they sit close to an increasing number of competing charter schools. But there’s no plan for relating the two sectors. A master facilities plan and an operating-cost study covering both are in progress, as is a study on school boundaries and feeder patterns. What’s the rush to close so many schools before study and planning are done?

At Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s community meetings, the turnout of parents passionately opposed to closings has been impressive. To her credit, Ms. Henderson says she is rethinking the list. We cannot take for granted these fragile communities that believe in their neighborhood school.

Mary Levy, Washington

The writer is an independent budget and policy analyst who has worked as a consultant for the D.C. Council, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and D.C. charter school organizations.

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