School closings in Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have caused turbulence, as expected. The closing of 50 schools in Chicago did little to solve the fiscal crisis and now has generated the threat of takeover by the State of Illinois.
It is rare that a school closing solves a fiscal crisis, addresses the problem of underutilization, or improves chronic underperformance of students. What is guaranteed to result from the closing of a school is further destabilization of mostly fragile communities, which usually are made up of children of color and families living in poverty. Worse, the displaced children are enrolled in other underperforming schools because no school meeting standards or the community wants an influx of poor, under- performing students.
There is no pot of gold at the end of a school closing. Fractured communities and displaced children are the residuals. In rural communities, the effects are more acute because schools are often the major engine for economic stability and a hub of social engagement. However, the cost of operating an underutilized and underperforming school is prohibitive. There must be alternatives to closing schools. Locking up and shuttering a school building has the effect of a “broken window.“ The deterioration of the physical asset and everything around it is accelerated.
Surely, children should not languish in an underperforming and underutilized school. Turning around and downsizing a school should be the first option — a strategy that requires professional, external support and expertise. Re-purposing a school is another alternative with unlimited possibilities. Relinquishing school status and converting the facility to an educational center — because all communities must have a place of learning to be viable— opens endless options. Examples include: early childhood center from cradle to 3rd grade; homework help center; test preparation center; cultural arts center; adult education center; reading and math clinic; food bank; technology center; electronic health clinic; recreation center… Children would come home from their new school to their community where supplementary education is as important as any in school experience and is availabe in the evening, as well.
A local community devoid of organized learning opportunities is a prelude to anarchy and must be avoided.