A Solution to the Failing Schools Dilemma

GothamSchools’ Philissa Cramer reported last week that schools up for closure in NYC serve a greater proportion of high needs students. As she notes, this evidence initially “backs up critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school closure policies.”

But the fly in the ointment for those critics is that “schools up for closure all received more funding from the city last year than other schools.” One of the major critiques of school closure is that failing schools have been left to fester without adequate funding.
I believe that there is an underlying problem with “failing” schools that all too often gets talked around and that this is where Richard Kahlenberg’s argument for socioeconomic integration in schools becomes especially significant.

Both sides of the school closure debate may be right: schools that are struggling are struggling first and foremost because they serve high concentrations of students who have great needs. And those students have great needs because they live in isolated communities of great poverty. But the answer to serving them better may not simply be to increase funding to their schools (though that certainly wouldn’t hurt).

The more sustainable answer is to provide all students access to schools where the learning environment is positive and inclusive, rather than ridden with isolation, toxicity, and aggression. And as Kahlenberg suggests, developing this kind of environment is best done when there is deliberate socioeconomic integration within the school or community.

In other words, we need to stop talking about whether or not to close “failing” schools, and instead begin talking about building new ones that will integrate students traditionally stranded in toxic islands of poverty with students cushioned in the foothills of networked resiliency.

Yes, there are schools such as KIPP that serve students in urban deserts that are able to provide a sound and rigorous education. But as Geoffrey Canada noted, these schools do so by “quarantine” — they more effectively buffer their lucky students from the barren winds that surround them.

Forget quarantine. Forget “contamination.” We need to intermix, diversify, and invigorate.

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