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Ask Dr. Lynch: Are School Closures Warranted?

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is a department chair and an associate professor of education at Langston University. He has researched topics related to educational policy, school leadership and education reform, particularly in the urban learning environment, and he is interested in developing collaborative enterprises that move the field of education forward. Visit his Web site for more information. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Adekemi B. asks:

I am the mother of two elementary-aged children who attend Chicago Public Schools. Not too long ago, I was told that my children’s school was being closed and that they would be bused to another one, beginning this fall. Given the hardship that it will place on parents and their children, why on earth would they take such drastic measures? Are school closures ever warranted?

ANSWER:

Adekemi, thank you for such a timely question. So who is right? The self-proclaimed objective board members and politicians who say that students will attend better-performing schools and that the money saved will go to other educational initiatives? Or the parents, teachers and students who say there shouldn’t be a price tag put on quality education? Consider your district’s individual circumstances. Also, at the risk of sounding like a cynic, each school board member and politician has an agenda—whether a virtuous or selfish one. There is no concrete way to declare a winner in these cases; there is no formula for determining right or wrong.

I think, though, when schools are viewed only for their monetary contributions (or lack thereof), there is an inherent problem. Schools are not short-term retailers that tally up profits at the end of each business day; the economic impact of students from strong public schools (with enough teachers and space) is often not felt for years, or even decades. Further, closing underperforming schools often punishes the students who struggle and need the safety and stability of a neighborhood school—not one to which they must take a 20-minute bus ride.

Then there is the emotional impact. Neighborhoods affected by school closings, and particularly the students impacted, face an inferiority complex. Why their schools? Why their neighborhoods? For families that already feel a sense of helplessness due to poverty and crime-ridden streets, the mental toll of being a target for a school closing weighs heavy. We often associate our public schools solely with the well-being of our children, but they really do belong to entire communities. A school closing brings communal grief—for the jobs lost, for the children displaced and for the loss of “what could have been” within the school walls. To flippantly toss these emotions aside and advise communities to simply “move on” just adds salt to the wound.

There are times when a school closing is an inevitability, but communities should first look for other solutions. Instead of shuttering underutilized public schools—icons of the community—districts should consider other neighborhood uses. Maybe a community center. Maybe adult education classes. Maybe a cooperation agreement with a local college that opens up the building for paid courses. Maybe even a health center, or location for other district office space. Closing public schools should not be a short-sighted decision. The decision should look beyond immediacy and 10-year plans, and focus on the only investment that really matters: quality, public education for all our nation’s children.

 

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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