Why don’t bad schools close?

This blog post originally appeared on the Education Innovating blog run by Education Evolving from 2010 to 2011. It has now been merged into our main blog.

EdWeek ran this interesting article on a study put out yesterday by Fordham and Basis Policy Research.

The researchers examined over 2,000 chronically low-performing elementary and middle schools, and found that it is difficult to close them. Despite persistently low performance and efforts at turnaround, only 19 percent of the poor chartered schools and 11 percent of poor district schools closed after five years.

And, it adds, the Department of Education estimates that only 18 of 730 schools receiving School Improvement Fund grants this year opted to shut down, and 31 schools choosing to restart.

The challenge seems to be that the politics are prohibitively difficult for administrators—no matter how well-meaning, how right, how savvy—to close schools. When a superintendent does take bold action, as did Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC, it makes news. It is unusual.

Instead, there may be another way to look at this. Bad schools may be much more likely to close if quality alternatives are available—with the decision of an administrator not initiating the closing, but coming at the end after families have chosen in sufficient numbers not to attend there. The findings about the limits of turnaround efforts seems to suggest that many of these alternatives may need to be created new.

Image: mackinac.org