Lately, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of debate on where, exactly, cuts need to come from in public schools. It’s now just unthinkable that we would even bother expanding the budgets of public schools, which is a shame, but it’s the attitude that we’ve found ourselves in.
Of course, I don’t think there should be any cuts to public schools at all. Some scholars, like Erik Hanushek, don’t believe that increasing spending (or cutting it) has much of an impact on student achievement at all, and that teacher quality is the real driver of student growth. As someone who grew up in a relatively poor school district, though, I find that argument tough to swallow. I think resources do matter. Kids are put at disadvantages when they don’t have equal access to technology, new textbooks, the most current test prep, or the best teachers, because their school district doesn’t see the need for an increase in the salaries paid to teachers so that we might attract high-quality candidates to the teaching profession.
All of the above is to say that I think talk of cutting money from public school budgets is misguided. Of all of the horrible ways to reduce the resources available to kids at public schools, though, the one that irritates me possibly the most is the idea that we should be closing public schools that don’t meet some arbitrary standard.
There is no better way to show disadvantaged kids that we don’t care about their neighborhoods, their backgrounds, or their sense of community than closing their schools. That is the quickest way to show these kids (and, yes, we’re talking mostly about kids of color here) that their policymakers don’t believe in the ability of their communities to produce positive outcomes.
Yes, it’s true that kids from less wealthy communities struggle much more than kids from wealthier communities, but what, exactly, would closing a school accomplish? Forcing a district to spend even more many building a new school? Mandating that kids who were already behind be placed into new schools with unfamiliar peers and teachers? Driving teachers out of the profession because they perceive their jobs as less stable? These are all real, foreseeable consequences of school closures that many people conveniently forget to mention when they tout school closures as the ultimate weapon of the state against “failing public schools.”
What people in favor of school closures imagine is probably something like this: a “problem school” gets closed, and finally the culture of negativity and deficiency that had been drilled into these kids gets halted, and their new (whiter) schools teach them what success looks like. To me, this is a narrative that screams racial prejudice. Schools with more minority students do have lower average test scores, but it’s not because the culture of those communities doesn’t foster success– rather, I firmly believe that any perceived deficiencies of black and brown schools are because of the systemic disadvantages still faced by nonwhite students. To think that school closures would solve anything, you would have to believe that the communities of kids of color are the real problem, which is a deeply marginalizing and stigmatizing belief. I don’t think any cuts need to be made to school budgets at all, but if you are looking for places to save money, school closures should not be on your radar.