Urban Consolidations Raise Issues Similar to Rural Consolidations

Last Updated: April 27, 2011

This article appeared in the April 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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The drive to turn around so-called failing schools is one factor fueling a spate of urban school consolidations across the country. Also in the urban consolidation mix are declining enrollment, poor facilities, and budget crises — all factors familiar to rural communities who have long been in the trenches trying to maintain local rural schools.

A March 31, 2011, story in Education Week quotes urban community advocates in Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, Philadelphia, and New York who describe consolidation decisions made by districts without informing or involving community residents; public hearings that serve no purpose; and concern of local residents about the impact of losing a school on students and on quality of life in the neighborhood. 

The article, "Urban Activists: School Closures Hurt Our Communities," describes participant involvement in an event at the Ford Foundation that brought together people involved in urban education in several cities.

Most of the participants were from cities in which schools are being closed, often as part of school turnaround initiatives that focus on privatization of schools, replacing regular public schools with charters - many times run by private or for-profit interests, and closing so-called "failing" schools. Many urban closings around the country are also driven by economic choices and the idea that closing schools will save money. 

The themes and concerns about school closure voiced by community activists parallel those that have been expressed by rural communities for decades. Participants described situations where schools were closed and students forced to attend schools much farther away from where they live, schools that were no more successful than the schools they left. Participants questioned the educational validity and rationale for the closures. 

Participants also described learning of a school closure only after the decision was made. Others described realizing that the public meetings around school closures had no impact on the policy decisions being implemented. 

As in rural communities, these activists voiced concern that consolidation decisions were made with little regard for their real impact on students. They also expressed serious concerns about the effect that losing a school has on the quality of life in the affected neighborhoods. These residents, like their rural counterparts have so often done, suggested that schools are essential community institutions necessary to the survival of the community itself. 

Many expressed concern that school closings served larger political agendas- namely privatization of education, real estate development, and marginalization of low-income children.

It is clear that there are many ways for rural and urban community and education activists to learn from each other. 

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Read more from the April 2011 Rural Policy Matters.