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Philadelphia to Close Underperforming Schools; NYT Mourns

Citing rising costs, poor performance, and enrollment as low as 20 percent in some schools, Philadelphia has opted to close and consolidate 23 of its underperforming schools. Given the city’s $1.35 billion budget deficit and the fact that the district is operating 25 percent below capacity, this decision was a long time in coming.

Philadelphia is not alone. A Chicago commission announced that up to 80 schools may be closed or overhauled next year. Washington DC may close 15. Across the country, cities are looking to tighten their budgets: 1,069 traditional public schools were closed in 2010-11, considerably more than the 717 that were closed a decade earlier. The nation as a whole outspends nearly every other OECD country on K-12 education while achieving only average results.

Yet the New York Times is obsessed not with the desperate need for quality education for all at a reasonable cost, but with the ways that closing down under-enrolled or underperforming schools will hurt poor communities:

Critics say that while the spreadsheets or test scores might say one thing, even lower-performing, underused schools can serve as refuges in communities that have little else. […]

“These school closings have been happening in communities that were already destabilized by the dismantling of public housing, by gentrification and effects of the economic crisis,” said Pauline Lipman, professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Yes, the schools being closed down may disproportionately be found in poor neighborhoods. Yes, these schools are often important institutions in their communities. But what would the NYT have cities like Philadelphia do? Funnel scarce budget dollars to maintain empty or underused school buildings? Give money to schools that fail to educate their students year after year? It isn’t clear to us how subsidizing failure in the public education system helps poor communities.

Rather than doubling down on a broken system, we should be embracing new ideas that promise to make education both more affordable and more effective. Philadelphia, like many other cities, may be moving in that direction. Clearly not everyone is on board with these goals.

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