How closing schools hurts neighborhoods

DPS has closed 48 schools in 20 years, all in low-income and communities of color. Yet those schools left in those neighborhoods are not better, but merely next on the chopping block. Neighborhoods that experience school closures, loose social capitol, and their power to make claims on the state. When DPS closed Gilpin Montessori in Historic Five Points, the community was shocked because it had been an elementary for nearly 66 years. And DPS’s response – we didn’t think anyone cared.

 March 6, 2013

On Thursday, the Philadelphia school district’s governing board, the School Reform Commission, will be voting on the most massive one-time downsizing of the system ever proposed. The district’s recently revised plan, which has encountered widespread community and teacher opposition, calls for closing 29 out of 239 district schools next fall – a step down from the original proposal to shutter 37 schools. The system is grappling with a budget gap of $1.1 billion over five years and has seen enrollment decline as more than 80 charter schools have been created since the late 1990s.

Here’s a piece on what the school closing really mean to neighborhoods, by Elaine Simon, co-director of the Urban Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She has studied and written about Philadelphia school reform for almost three decades and for the last six years taught a project-based learning course, “Schools and Community Development,”  in collaboration with teachers in West Philadelphia high schools. This appeared  on the Philadelphia Public School Notebook (, a nonprofit watchdog news organization that has covered the school system since 1994.

By Elaine Simon

Recent analyses show that most students from schools recommended for closing in Philadelphia would not end up in better-performing schools. They are likely to wind up in schools much like the ones they were in before, as a recent study by Research for Action shows.

Most of the displaced students will not benefit academically from the closings as planned. In addition, they would have to travel a distance outside their neighborhoods, because the closings would create education deserts in areas of the city with the highest concentration of minority and low-income residents.

Disturbingly, this scenario echoes the urban renewal of the mid-20th century. Just as urban renewal decimated neighborhoods and dispersed the mostly poor and minority residents without benefiting them, the school-closings agenda of the current wave of school reform probably will lead to the same outcomes.