Tuesday, June 18, 2013
One of the most disturbing news stories in the education world this spring has been the announcement of massive school closings in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia. Chicago plans to close 50 schools and programs. Last Friday over 850 school district employees in Chicago received layoff notices. In Philadelphia, the current plan is to close 23 schools and it is estimated that over 3,000 employees will be fired. The district is trying to deal with a $1.35 billion deficit and falling enrollments. One angle that is being debated in the school closings is the role of charter schools in creating these crises. The enrollment in traditional public schools is falling as students move to charter schools. As of 2012, 23 percent of students in Philadelphia attended charter schools. Although charter schools are public schools, it appears that the warnings sounded about charter schools by education experts like Diane Ravitch may be playing out in real life in these budget crises. The Washington Post recently featured an editorial by the Rev. John Thomas, a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, arguing "the schools are gone because they have been replaced by charter schools, the darlings of politically well-connected school reformers making a profit on tax money while public officials eliminate the inconvenience of teachers unions." Other articles on charter schools and public school closings can be found here and here. The school closure crisis is leading us to an intensifying and heated debate over whether charter schools harm the overall health of our public school systems.