Chicago returned to the center of the national debate over the future of public education this week as the city’s school board voted to shut down 50 schools. The decision, which could be derailed by a lawsuit, would result in the biggest single round of school closings in United States history.
Closing schools that are deemed underutilized or underperforming and transferring the students to better-equipped schools is a major tenet of the Obama Administration’s education policy. Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, utilized the approach while he was running Chicago’s school system, but many other cities have embraced it.
Nationwide, 1,929 schools were closed in 2010-11, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Seventeen low performing schools are slated for closure in New York City, while Philadelphia officials voted in March to close 23 schools they said were underutilized. Last week, a judge in Washington D.C. declined to halt the closings of 15 public schools that the district has said are “half-empty.” A lawsuit filed in March claimed the closures improperly discriminate against poor, minority and disabled students, but U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg wrote in his 31-page opinion there was “no evidence whatsoever” that officials intended to discriminate in closing the schools.