why in places like Chicago and Philadelphia the solution to economic problems in schools (even if artificially created) is to close schools.

Imagine if you will a detailed step by step guide on how to go about closing schools, field tested.

Imagine an organization which trains the leadership of many school districts, even although those it trains often do not meet the state requirements for being superintendents but somehow manage to get waivers.

In case you are having trouble grasping this, let me be clear.

The Broad Foundations (with the name pronounced as road with a B in front) is one of the biggest players in the "reform" movement in education.  Among their initiatives is the training of people to be superintendents and in other high positions in school systems.  While some of their trainees do have traditional backgrounds in education (John Deasy in Los Angeles, William Hite Jr. in Philadelphia, both of whom were previously my superintendents in Prince George's County MD), many come from other fields with no formal academic training in education (For example Jean Claude Brizard who failed in both Rochester NY and Chicago).

And now we know (h/t to Diane Ravitch), there is this handy guide, called School Closure Guide, subtitled "Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges."

Please keep reading.

This guide was put together in 2009, and it credits 10 large school districts with providing input:  Boston Public Schools, Charleston County School District, Chicago Public
Schools, Dallas Independent School District, District of Columbia Public Schools, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Oakland Unified School District, Pittsburgh Public Schools, St. Louis Public Schools, and Seattle Public Schools.  Not all of these had leadership trained by Broad, at least by that time, although there is parallel.  Chicago had been run by two people who had no formal training in education.  Paul Vallas went on to wreak further havoc in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and now - probably illegally under Connecticut law - in Bridgeport.  And of course Arne Duncan has taken his great educational "expertise" national in the U. S. Department of Education, where a number of the key people around him are courtesy of another foundation, that of Bill and Melinda Gates.  (side note:  Broad and Gates, along with the Waltons of Walmart and the Bradley Foundation, are key members of what Diane Ravitch has labeled the Billionaire Boys Club of wealthy types who think they are entitled to define how American public education should be shaped and run).

DC is also another district without Broad leadership, since neither Michelle Rhee nor her successor Kaya Henderson went through Broad training, although neither of them was specifically trained for the position of running DC schools.

I have not had time to digest the entire handbook.  But you can get a sense from the first section, which is titled What is this guide and who is it for?

This is a guide for school district operators considering school closures to address significant budgetary challenges. Note that this tool was not designed to assist with school closures as part of a periodical closing and opening of schools for academic performance, though a subset of the strategies may still be applicable.

Drawing on effective practices and lessons learned from 10 large urban school districts that have recently closed schools, this guide provides frameworks, timelines and recommended practices for:

   • Deciding whether to close schools and which schools to close
   • Engaging and communicating with stakeholders
   • Effectively executing school closures

This guide describes first what it takes to go through the school closure process; second, the do’s and don’ts of school closures—some major risks and mitigation strategies other districts have identified; and finally, the detailed steps a district must take to decide upon and conduct school closures.

Now let me be clear about several things.

If a city's overall population drops, it will almost certainly have to close school building.  A city like Baltimore, which had a population of 949,708 in 1950 will not need the same number of schools with its 2010 population of 620,961.  

But what, you say, if the population is steady but the school population is dropping?  Well, remember, what I said about artificially created financial problems?   Pay attention, students, because a lot of the "financial" problems facing some school districts have been artificially created by use of wide creation of (often dysfunctional) charter schools, and further withdrawal of funds from public schools via vouchers (Cleveland and Milwaukee, to a lesser degree now ending DC) and what Kevin Welner has labeled as neovouchers -things like tax credits and "scholarships" to allow families who often already have their children in non-public settings to take some of the money that would otherwise go to the taxes supporting PUBLIC schools and transfer it to the non-public schools their children were attending - this is quite visible in Arizona).

We also know that school finances in general became constricted as a result of the financial mess created at the end of the Bush presidency.  Real estate prices collapsed, in some cases in part because of being inflated by a bubble, but more often as unemployment soared and people could no longer meet their mortgages.  Remember that the primary sources of revenue for many local governments, whose largest or second largest expenditure is public education, is from taxes on real estate.  At the same time states, which in some cases pay up to half the cost of public education (in HA it is a bit more complicated with one state-wide district), saw their revenues drop as those were based on taxes on incomes (dropping from unemployment) and sales (people without income do not spend on taxable items).  Given that all states except Vermont are constitutionally required to run balanced budgets, even those with rainy day funds (Virginia, for example), soon found they had to severely cut funding for public schools, and even the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, aka the stimulus) cushioned some of that for a while, it was insufficient.

What we have seen as a major component of the "reform" movement has been application of Naomi Klein's shock doctrine.  After all, there is never a financial crisis from which profits cannot be made, if one is properly positioned.

Please note -  there are efficiencies that can be gained in schools so that what money is available can be devoted to better instruction.  But if the focus starts with the financial, the distortion of the educational process is inevitable.

After all, school closings are not the only thing that will flow from such an approach.  Senior and experienced and educated teachers cost more, in part because of negotiated union contracts, in part because they have due process rights (improperly labeled as "tenure) which means they cannot be arbitrarily dismissed nor assigned at whim to responsibilities for which they are not trained.  So let's break the unions, get rid of tenure, force out senior teachers and have series of ill-trained 5-week wonders who are not committed to teaching as a career and even though we pay Teach for America more for each of these than for a conventionally trained new teacher we save money because we will always have most of our teaching staff with little experience and hence earning lower salaries.   As of now the mode of teaching experience in the United States is 1 year, and the percentage of teachers with ten or more years of experience is going down.  This may save money, but it does nothing to improve education.

We could save money by not spending so much on testing.  This is a parallel to not spending so much on the military as a means of having sufficient funds to meet the social needs of our people, which when unmet affect school performance, which tracks heavily with socioeconomics.  

But don't worry,  You do not even have to think about that.  

You have your handy dandy Broad Foundation improved guide to tell you how to go about closing schools.

In fairness, the guide does inform you about getting buy-in from various constituencies in order to avoid problems, or at least to minimize them.

I looked through the entire guide quickly.  What I do not see is any acknowledgement of schools as the last remaining anchor of some communities, without which rebuilding that community economically becomes almost impossible.  By looking at school finances in isolation, the solution is almost always going to be to close schools for financial reasons, even though we now have a great deal of evidence that (a) such closures do NOT save the amounts promised, and in the short term often cost more; (b) such buildings often become havens for drugs, serve as eyesores in communities that were already hurting; and (c) usually cannot be sold or rented to other organizations for income, something that becomes even more difficult the longer they remain vacant.   After all, who would want to set up in a building that hasn't been maintained in a neighborhood that for all practical purposes is being abandoned?

I am no longer a classroom teacher.

I would love to again be with adolescents in a classroom, were I presented with a situation where I could focus on teaching.  

I am too old, considered too expensive, and that is unlikely to again happen.  My few months at the inner city non-profit charter were the product of prior relationships with some key people at that school.

Besides, I am too outspoken about educational issues, and many people would not want to take that on.

I may no longer be in public schools, but I am still committed to trying to save public education.

Yes we need to seriously examine how we spend our resources, but there is something that is of greater priority, and that is the future of our young people and the communities in which they leave.

What is most wrong about this document is that it ignores that question by focusing on the current economics.  What if we rearranged our priorities?

NOw we have people talking about putting armed guards in every school.  How about instead we move to remove guns from the neighborhoods so that such armed guards are not necessary?

How about instead of structuring society so that we have 1% of our population incarcerated we change our focus so that young people have a future and are not put onto an express in the school-top-prison pipeline we have been constructing in the past three decades or so?

There are certain functions a society owes its people.  These should be public, not for profit services.

Public safety is one.  That includes those that we must incarcerate, although incarceration should never be the first or primary aim of response for those whose behavior can be positively affected otherwise, including by having a decent education.

Public education is another.  We are moving back to being more racially segregated in education than in any time at least in the past half century.  We are moving in education in the direction of economic apartheid as well.

Perhaps you think I am overreacting to this document.

I do not.

It is all to symptomatic of what is wrong with how we are approaching the educational needs of our young people.

We do not focus on them.

If our lens is purely economic, we lose site of important human values, part of what has at least for some of our history made this country different, something to be admired, a place to which others wanted to come, even if they entered or stayed without proper documentation - I phrase it that way to include people from places like Ireland who enter with temporary papers then fade into Irish-American communities in the Northeast.

Yes, our population is changing, and we see a great deal of that in who comes into our public schools.

This is NOT a new phenomenon.  The people may now be darker-skinned and/or speak Spanish at home.  In the past they the skin tones may have varied, but they were just as different, speaking Polish or Yiddish or Italian or Greek, going to synagogues or Orthodox or Catholic churches.  We have always been a nation whose makeup has been changing.  Public schools were a place that helped us all become Americans.  They were not perfect, but they provided an opportunity, and they anchored communities.

What I see in this document from Broad is part of a larger picture that is moving away from that notion of the public school as an institution whose value was far greater than whatever the immediate financial costs might be.

Hope I didn't bore you.


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