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Failing schools: Should we cut our losses, or fight to reform them?

Recent education reforms have encouraged closing many long-troubled schools. Between 2010 and 2011, 2,000 schools were closed nation-wide. But some argue this may not be the right answer.

By Stephanie Simon and James B. KelleherReuters / November 11, 2012

Student Tiandre Turner makes his way to class at Whitney Young High School in Chicago, September 19. Parents, teachers, and administrators are arguing over the fate of Walter H. Dyett High School in Chicago, a failing school some want to close.

John Gress/Reuters

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Chicago

By just about any definition, Walter H. Dyett High School has failed.

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Just 10 percent can pass the state math exam; barely one in six is proficient in reading. The technology lab is so ancient, some of the computers still take 3-inch floppy disks. More teens drop out than graduate.

Yet when the Chicago Board of Education announced plans to shut the place down, it sparked a community uprising.

Students, parents and teachers have staged sit-ins outside the mayor's office; earlier this month, 10 were arrested for refusing to leave the fifth floor of City Hall. The protestors have held rallies. They've sued the school board. A group of students has filed a federal civil-rights complaint seeking to keep Dyett open.

Their quest to save a failed school may seem quixotic. But it is echoed in communities across the United States, as a rising anger at school closures takes hold.

The bipartisan education reform movement sweeping the nation - and promoted by President Barack Obama - calls for rating schools by their students' test scores and then taking drastic steps to overhaul the worst performers by firing the teachers, turning the schools over to private management or shutting them down altogether.

THE DOWNSIDE OF UPROOTING

Such policies have prompted waves of school closings in cities including ChicagoNew York and Washington, D.C. Across the nation, nearly 2,000 public schools were shuttered in 2010-11, federal data show. That's up 60 percent from 10 years earlier.

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