A high school in an impoverished community is ordered closed. It is doing an awful job with its students, the school board says, and the dwindling number of kids who attend deserve a better education somewhere else. But that “somewhere else” becomes problematic. Two nearby school districts pass on the chance to take in the students. A third district finally agrees, but only in one of its poorest neighborhoods, in one of its worst-performing schools, which happens to have students who have long feuded with kids in the closed schools. Hardly a recipe for success.
When and where did this happen? This important story by my colleague Emma Brown tells the tale: Wilkinsburg High School in a poor suburb of Pittsburgh is being closed at the end of the school year, and the kids will move to the Pittsburgh School District. The story says:
“If you were to ask everyone honestly if this is the best academic solution for kids, they would tell you no,” said state Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny), whose district includes much of Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately, this could be taking place in any number of places around the country, as school reformers continue to use school closures as a reform “tool” — even though there is no real evidence that most of the students who are forced to move into other schools wind up doing much if any better academically.
For example, a Chicago study in 2009, which was followed up in 2012, found that of all the students in city public schools that were closed for academic failure from 2001 to 2006, only 6 percent were sent to schools with better test scores than the one they had previously attended. A 2014 Michigan State University study of more than 200 closings of low-performing schools in Michigan found that while the closings of “may generate some achievement gains for displaced students, part of these gains will likely be offset by spillover effects onto receiving schools.”
In her story, Brown quotes students who say they are desperate to learn. But her story underscores the inadequacy of school reform efforts in recent years, which have concentrated on teacher evaluations and standardized tests — and not establishing equitable school funding system and developing adequate support systems for students in need.
No Child Left Behind? Except for all those kids who are getting left.