Closing schools need additional supports for homeless

Closing a school is never easy (even a bad one), but it’s being done with increasing frequency. In many large cities there are multiple factors that increase the need for school closure: 1) decreasing enrollment as populations shift  and students leave the city, 2) a concentration of low-performing schools, and 3) the increasing number of charter or magnet schools that may be higher-performing and create competition.

While closing a school might be the right decision, the consequences of such actions must be examined. Recently, the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness in NYC released a report on the negative effects of school closures on homeless students. Sarah Sparks of EdWeek writes, “The report also found homeless students transferring from a school were at greater risk of ending up in another low-performing school. That finding echoes that of a 2009 study on Chicago school closures, which concluded that the effect of having to shift to another school eliminated the benefit for students of closing the first low-performing school.”

This is precisely the issue that needs to be addressed. Action plans for all students attending a low-performing school slated for closure must be created to ensure future enrollment in a higher performing school. All students need such transition plans, but homeless students require additional guidance in what schools are available, what services are available, and they need district staff or social service agencies to oversee that  transition.

This is also a place that community and faith-based organizations can assist schools. A recent meeting sponsored by The White House, USED and CNCS highlighted how such organizations can assist in the school turn around process.

Closing a school can be a useful strategy in the education reform toolbox, but it cannot be done in isolation. Community leaders and district staff must come together to create transition plans for all students. I addition, follow through must be provided for those students most at-risk, and most likely to get lost in the system.

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