Mass School Closures Loom – Especially In Communities of Color

Yesterday the California Department of Education released its list of “persistently lowest-achieving” schools – schools whose test scores have been low for several years and, unless improved, will be closed. The Tier I list makes it clear where these schools are concentrated – in California’s low-income communities and communities of color.

Let’s take two counties. First, my home county of Orange. You’ll note that Tustin Unified, where I spent all 13 years of my K-12 education, has no schools listed. The only schools listed in all of Orange County are three in Santa Ana Unified – Century High, Valley High, and Willard Intermediate. 80% of Santa Ana residents are Latino and the median family income is $41,000 (statewide the median family income is $76,000).

Here in Monterey County, where I currently live, ten schools are listed. 8 of them are in the Salinas Valley, another two in Seaside. The Salinas Valley is 70-80% Latino and has median incomes in the $35,000 range. But you won’t see Carmel or Pacific Grove schools listed here. In fact, Carmel schools rate among the best-performing in the entire state.

Santa Ana and the Salinas Valley are the type of communities whose schools are going to be closed under No Child Left Behind rules. Just as the entire teaching staff at a high school in Rhode Island’s poorest community was fired last month. And when this happens in California’s low-income communities of color, President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan will applaud it the way he applauded the firings in Rhode Island.

The impact on these communities could be devastating. In Chicago after one of Arne Duncan’s mass firings of teachers, described as “hitting the reset button,” the results were an increase in student crime and no discernible improvement in student achievement. As schools closed and experienced teachers were fired, one of the only stable institutions in a community that generally lacked such places was destroyed, and the community suffered.

Over the weekend at Open Left, Paul Rosenberg made a very good analogy regarding Arne Duncan’s slash-and-burn tactics. Applying the logic of Duncan’s reforms to crime, Rosenberg asked why not fire the entire Oakland Police Department? Unemployment is high in California; perhaps we should fire the entire Employment Development Department. We were just in a drought; perhaps we should fire all the state hydrologists and water district managers.

That doesn’t happen because those workers aren’t the target of a deliberate effort to destroy their careers, as Attorney at Arms has so brilliantly explained. But it does demonstrate the ridiculousness of the concept of closing a school because it isn’t performing well.

With the publication of the list of schools that could be closed in California in a few years, we can start to see just what kind of damage those ridiculous ideological dogmas are about to produce – and we can see exactly who will be hurt by it. It’s not going to be California’s prosperous population, and it’s not going to be the white suburbs. Yet again, the poor and communities of color are going to be the targets of right-wing policy.

We have time to stop this. But it requires repealing the “reforms” made in the service of right-wing doctrine. Let’s hope Sacramento is up to the task.

15 thoughts on “Mass School Closures Loom – Especially In Communities of Color”

  1. of what is going on in those schools? Test scores are useless for this purpose -the question is, is it a good staff overwhelmed by the task or is it a poor staff just going through the motions? (There’s no question in my mind that the task is large and challenging regardless of who staffs it.)

    I have seen evidence of really great teachers at “underperforming” schools. Sometimes the teachers are committed to that school, sometimes they are looking for a new/better position.

    I don’t think any school should be closed unless someone is walking in there and making the determination that there is nothing good going on worth salvaging.

    You’re media: why not send someone to interview the principal of one of the targeted Salinas schools and find out? 🙂

  2. ’cause that’s the idea – to close the bad schools and then open new ones, right?

  3. It seems significant changes in categorical funding for schools could be approved by a majority vote of the legislature as part of the budget if either the California Democracy Act initiative (Lakoff) and/or the Majority Budget initiative (CFT and partners) makes it to the November ballot and passes.

    We must give the legislature this authority then mount a campaign to both increase total school dollars and increase allocation to the general fund.

  4. I never hear about that suggestion. It’s always the teachers.

    But teachers rarely make decisions about how resources are allocated, or what they’re supposed to teach. Those are made at higher levels. The teachers usually have to make due with what they’re given and do the best they can to hit the targets that are set somewhere else. Teachers don’t pick the textbooks, or decide what subjects will be offered.

    I think it’s time we stopped blaming the teachers and aim higher. I think it’s time we started going to school board meetings. To the county board of education meetings. Even to state board of education meetings. And really look at the policies being set there.

    For starters, I wonder if we have duplication of management and cost that we could streamline and send to classrooms.

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