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NY Group Says Obama Education Strategy “Wrong” on Closing Schools

June 4, 2009

New York, NY — President Obama's Education Secretary, Arnie Duncan, wants to close thousands of underperforming schools across the country, a process he has already started in Chicago.

Duncan says it is part of a national effort to improve education, although some education advocates in New York are skeptical. They favor a different approach, according to Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. Easton is among those who believe it's wrong for the nation's top education executive to set goals for closing troubled schools when they could be improved instead.

"Turning around schools is a great idea, but starting with closing schools as the first step to turning around schools? It doesn't make a lot of sense. Closing a school is not some kind of magic solution."

President Obama has set aside $3 billion in stimulus money to be used to turn underperforming schools around; Duncan's strategy is to use that money to shut down some schools altogether, and hire new staff members for the newly consolidated schools that remain.

New York City had a taste of the Secretary's turnaround strategy under Mayor Bloomberg, where big troubled schools were replaced by smaller ones. Easton points out an important consideration - what happens to all students affected by school closings, not just the ones who end up in the 'new' school.

"There's not enough room in that new school for all the kids who were in the old school, which then creates problems in other schools because of overcrowding. So, closing a school is not a solution. Fixing the school, having a good quality school — that's the solution."

Easton adds closings have meant fewer programs available for English Language Learner students, and parents sometimes have less contact at school as the neighborhood schools are lost. He's convinced that taxpayers and students would be better served by investing in underperforming schools.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY