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School Closures Oppose the Will of Parents

Education reformers place great emphasis on the importance of parental choice. But they recently revealed their hypocrisy in a way that is infuriating to all those who support the strategy.

Despite protests from thousands of parents, the Panel for Education Policy voted to close 18 schools in the New York City system and shrink five more ("Thousands Gather in Brooklyn to Fight School Closures," In These Times, Feb. 10). The justification was that the schools were not providing a quality education. Presumably, the evidence used for making this determination were standardized test scores. Another 33 schools are on the list, with a decision expected by March or April.

By protesting the action, parents were making their will known. Yet school officials ignored their wishes, preferring to impose their own. "We're making difficult decisions - that people may or may not agree with - to make sure we're providing quality education to our students as quickly as possible," explained Chancellor Dennis Walcott. He maintained that not all protestors were parents but instead consisted of many Occupy Wall Street members.

Although the closures immediately affect parents whose children attend the earmarked schools, they will eventually affect parents whose children go to schools in adjacent neighborhoods because those schools will be overburdened with the displaced children. This creates a vicious cycle. (It's important to note that the panel has never voted against closing a school.)

Studies have shown that parents choose schools for reasons not always limited to academic factors. They make their choice for holistic, logistic, social, and administrative reasons. We can argue all day long that by doing so they are shortchanging their children. But in the final analysis, the choice should be left to them alone. I wonder how many of these factors are involved in the 18 schools. Walcott doesn't want to know, or else he would be listening to parents.

What is most troubling about the entire matter, however, is that it further drives away middle-class parents who constitute the ballast for large urban school districts. If they feel that their voices will continue to be ignored, they will hasten their flight to private and religious schools. This argument was made quite persuasively by John Norquist, Democratic mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2004 ("School Choice and Urban Diversity," The Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2011). Because Milwaukee has had choice since 1991, his words are worth remembering.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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