Studies Don’t Support School Closures

RECEIVED Tue., Oct. 8, 2019

Dear Austin Chronicle,
    The recent campaign to build larger and modernized elementary schools for East Austin and Urban Core kids resonates with recent political campaigns. The architects with the program reassure us parents and taxpayers that the schools are beautiful and that students will be thrilled to be part of this structure. The 21st century school building will be worth the wait and address all ills. To paraphrase, “Build the schools and the closings will pay for it.”
    The closings will not pay for it. There have been a rash of school closings in cities across the country, and the Pew Charitable Trust, in a six-city study, points out that the savings come with massive layoffs, not building sales. Second, the academic rewards are mixed and require buy-in by the affected communities. Third, these closings happen in cities losing population, clearly not the problem facing Austin or Central Texas.
    Like the wall will not fix the movement of people, building bigger, brighter, friendlier buildings to replace the relationships students build with older, smaller schools will not change the students. A massive million-person longitudinal study by Anna Egalite and Brian Kisida points out that putting low-income students in bigger classes and schools decreases, not increases, academic performance on standard measures, especially for low-income kids. Most observers accept the 2011 observation that the additional services and alleged savings come “at a cost, as larger schools have higher rates of student absences and social disorder that may hinder cognitive and social development” (Gottfriedson and DiPietri, 2011). Gershenson and Lamberg, 2015, point out that consolidations disproportionately affect “two subgroups: socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students with learning disabilities.” It is the students’ relationships to faculty and students at the school that matters, not the sight lines in the 21st century classrooms.
    Closings will not pay for the new schools, and modernized, consolidated schools will not address the problem.
Cordially,
John Mckiernan-Gonzalez
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