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Closing Failing Schools

It's hard to understand why parents who want the best education for their children persist in opposing efforts to shutter neighborhood schools with a consistently dismal performance record. But that has been the case time and again in cities across the country, most recently at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. ("When to Shut Down Failing Schools," The New York Times, Nov. 1).

In 2005, the school was named in a class-action lawsuit filed by child welfare advocates claiming that some students were denied the credits needed for graduation by being warehoused in an auditorium for most of the day.  Although the suit was settled in 2008 when the city agreed to provide instruction and counseling to hundreds of former students, it was not enough to satisfy state authorities, who identified the school as low-achieving and subject to closure if it did not improve. Last spring, the state gave the city three choices, including conversion to a charter school.

Despite evidence that Boys and Girls High School is beyond remediation after so many years, there is still support among the community.  I respect the feelings of local residents, but I wonder if they are not letting emotions get in the way of reason. The school has been given ample time to improve. At some point, patience runs out when the education of students is on the line.

Turning persistently failing schools into Community Schools offers a glimmer of hope ("DeBlasio Unveils New Plans for Troubled Schools," The New York Times, Nov. 4).  By addressing factors outside the classroom, this strategy sometimes helps.  In Cincinnati, some schools have improved, but others still post appalling academic results despite the investment of millions of dollars over the years.

If additional instruction time each day, extra professional training and summer school do not produce desired results, the time has come to close failing schools. Converting them to charters is no assurance of improvement, but it is better than the status quo.

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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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