Notes From Babel

On closing under-performing public schools

with 2 comments

This article laments the idea:

A study of the closing schools by the city’s independent budget office found that these schools have disproportionate numbers of the city’s neediest students. One begins to get the sense that students who are homeless, who don’t speak English, who receive special education, or who have other high needs, are bounced around from school to school.

. . . .

I oppose the closing of public schools (except for under-enrollment) for a simple reason. Public schools are not chain stores. They are not shoe stores that can be closed when they don’t turn a profit and be relocated elsewhere. They are a public service, a public good. It is the obligation of public officials to provide good public schools in every neighborhood, not to privatize them or to act as an umpire whose role is to judge them defective and shut them down. If those who are in charge can’t help struggling schools, shame on them. (Charter schools are a different matter, as they sign a contract and agree to meet certain goals or close.)

Every time a public school is closed, it should be considered a failure of the central administration. The leaders who close the most public schools are the biggest failures. They should be held accountable for their incompetence. Good leadership in education means taking responsibility for making things better, rather than sitting back and monitoring how schools perform. Good leaders should be recognized for the schools they improve. Bad leaders close schools because they are incapable of helping them.

I generally share the lament of shutting schools down. It suggests the thinking behind public schools is that they’re merely a politically-necessary nuisance and we ought to avail any political opportunity we can to shut them down and save those costs. I hope that’s not the thinking. The real problem, though, is the thinking that all students have a right to be treated like uniform receptacles of information rather than individuals with different interests, aptitudes, and skills. If a school is failing, I suspect the reason is because it’s not giving the kids the kind of training they’re suited for.

But this is a problem that is only addressed at the very top of our education policy-making, not with “bad leaders” of our schools.


Written by Tim Kowal

February 11, 2011 at 8:35 am

2 Responses

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  1. Tim, I’m not sure I agree here. I see some inconsistency and bias in this writers blog. First off she states that, “Only last June, the state education department acknowledged that its tests were too easy…” and then she laments that schools are “judged almost entirely by those dubious test scores”. So if these tests are too easy and your school is still getting D’s and F’s then that is fine?

    Then an obvious bias against charter schools. After saying she is against closing schools she makes sure to add, “(Charter schools are a different matter, as they sign a contract and agree to meet certain goals or close.)” Heaven forbid there actually be an agreement to meet goals at a regular public school.

    My stance on education is that almost all (that’s right, ALL) issues come down to parents. Schools are responsible to teach, but when you look at the under-performing schools you will find mass delinquency, zero respect for staff, no homework being done, etc etc etc. Changing the rules of a school will not change that. Take a look at this charter school in Harlem ( and you will see parents lined out the door to get their kids in, and active in their education.

    I think maybe running schools like chain stores would actually be an improvement. It’s not ideal by a stretch but we know what competition breeds. These huge huge school districts saw the beginning of the homogenization and lowering of student learning. I’m open to seeing a hundred small districts in NY then one big one.


    February 11, 2011 at 11:11 am

    • Mark,

      I agree with you. I probably left a “but” out of my post and unwittingly suggested a stronger endorsement of the article than I intended.

      I may be slightly more sympathetic to the sentiment against closing schools than you, however. While I agree with your assessment of the problem (parents), it’s one of those dissatisfying diagnoses that doesn’t lend to any real solutions. What do we do for children of lousy parents? Close their schools because they’re not excelling in a curriculum designed to ship them off to university? Isn’t the better idea to retool the curriculum to prepare them for viable careers in lieu of university?

      Tim Kowal

      February 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm

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