Why is Baltimore closing schools?

This interactive map shows public schools in Baltimore. Schools designated for closure under the 21st Century Plan are identified by large red markers; other schools have blue markers. By clicking on the marker of any school, you can view census data about the neighborhood in which the school sits.

Baltimore City has embarked on a 21st century plan for its schools which entails, among other things, closing 26 of its public schools over the next few years. By closing schools, the system’s leaders say they will be able to do renovations and improvements to the rest of the schools in the system. On the face of it, it sounds like a good strategy- close a few schools and renovate others.The city school leaders say closing schools can cut costs, but according to research, there is little evidence to show that school closings would improve education for children and students attending the closing schools would likely attend schools no better than the ones they had attended. Meanwhile, closing schools may not even save money. An audit of school closings in Washington, D.C., schools showed closures costing, rather than saving the district money.  City school leaders say school closures are meant to improve school choice options, but we know that better schools are not guaranteed from new schools alone and, more importantly, they hurt low-income communities by closing anchor institutions that provide schooling as well as a host of counseling services and after school programs for youth in the community.

Under the plan more than 8,000 – almost 10% – of Baltimore’s classroom seats will be affected by closures. But some communities will be affected much more than others. For example, a few communities* will lose more than 40% of their classroom seats under the 21st Century plan. In these communities, the average rate of poverty is more than 50%, compared to the citywide average of 32%. This analysis highlights an all-too-familiar phenomenon: school closures are concentrated in communities with high rates of poverty, placing additional burdens on families that already lack resources and access to public services.

*Poppleton/ The Terraces/ Hollins Market, Highlandtown, Edmondson Village, Penn North/ Reservoir Hill

City school leaders say that the schools that are closing because of under-utilization. The State, which is the largest source of funding for education and school facility improvements, has mandated that the city close schools due to “excess space.” They claim that the city has lost tens of thousands of students of recent decades and thus, there are a ton of empty seats in these school buildings. But school buildings can serve as a community anchor, with a myriad of useful programs co-located in the building. On the school site, there can be social services, job-training programs, daycares, health centers, or even businesses. All of these things should be strategically integrated into school program to help kids and families to succeed.

Another reason that has been given for school closure is that the schools are underperforming. This is based on test score data that they collect, but we know that single largest determinant of test scores is family income not schools. So, in essence, this plan will end up punishing the city’s poorest communities by shuddering their schools. The school closure phenomenon is not unique to Baltimore. School closure is a strategy borrowed from cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Detroit, where massive numbers of public schools have closed. The results in those cities have been disastrous. In Chicago, 47 schools closed.  In Philadelphia, 23 schools closed, leaving 3000 school staff out of work. The schools opened this year without school aides, librarians, gym, art and music. There were no school secretaries. The state has not come into help Philadelphia schools but has invested in building a $400 million prison. So, research and experience from other cities tells us that school closure is not a winning strategy.


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