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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.

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To advocates, such restructuring is vital to the urgent work of improving public education. "You need bold moves and radical change," said Eric Lerum, a vice president at StudentsFirst, a national education advocacy group.

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But several studies, including a paper published in March in the Journal of Urban Economics, have found that displacing students through school closures can hurt them academically in the short term. The new research, conducted by the RAND Corp think tank, also found the closures didn't boost student achievement in the long term, even among those who transferred into schools considered far better.

Backed by teachers unions, which stand to lose members with each school that goes under, activists in Atlanta and Newark, N.J. in PhiladelphiaDetroit and Oakland, Calif., have stormed school board meetings and organized student walkouts to protest closures. Chicago activist Jitu Brown even organized a small but feisty march on Washington this fall with parents and students from cities as far-flung as WichitaKansas, and Eupora,Mississippi.

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