Despite what those advocating for school closures profess, any resources that are saved by closing schools do not go to increased services for all students.
By Dr. Adrienne Ann Mullen
In 2019, the same board members who are currently calling for closures targeted some of the more popular, more integrated and higher-achieving schools for closure or break-up, in order to try to force families to move their students to less popular, less-integrated and lower-achieving schools. But because the previous board’s majority did not agree with this, and other schools were closed instead, these same folks are now choosing another tactic to accomplish their agenda: disinvesting in the schools that are more popular, more integrated, and higher achieving, while implying that those schools should close. As a recent editorial said, PUSD is now officially punishing excellence, as even when those whom they profess to care the most about – socio-economically disadvantaged students – do better at some schools than at others, they advocate closing the schools where they do better. Decades of research nationally shows that more integrated schools are better for all students, and indeed test scores show that PUSD’s disadvantaged students do better at the more integrated schools. It is well known why that is true, as all students receive the benefit of the ability of the better-off parents’ resources of volunteer time and money that the school receives, and also because the expectations can be higher in the classroom than they can where poverty is too powerful a factor.
Why it doesn’t work
There are several reasons why closing schools doesn’t mean more resources for all students. The first major one is that it doesn’t net a lot of resources compared to the size of the district’s budget because typically an extra 10% of closed school families leave the district when schools close. The second is that any additional resources aren’t used to increase services for students.
This is why even though the district has closed eleven, one-third of the schools it had in 2005, there hasn’t been any significant increase in resources for all students. Further, many of its closed sites are now occupied by charter schools, which further drains resources from the school district. So closures actually worsen the problem.
Where additional resources go
If there are any additional resources remaining from job cuts to lower paying positions such as clerical and maintenance staff that are eliminated during closures, the use of them is really only for two purposes. The first is to raise the salaries and other compensation of employees. One can see this during the last several years in PUSD, with 10% raises for each of the last two years, and a nearly 8% raise for most teachers the year before that, for a total of a nearly 28% increase in salaries and more in total compensation that includes increased district contributions to employee health care and pension costs. While this is necessary to provide a good standard of living for these employees and their families, it doesn’t mean more resources in direct services for children. The services provided by staff continue in the same way as before. In addition, teachers and school site maintenance, clerical, and other support staff are allocated based on the enrollment of the school, so the number of students served per one of these staff members doesn’t decrease. Therefore, there is no increase in the amount of services that can be provided for individual students, and that means there are not more resources for students.
The second purpose for which additional resources are used (and again a matter of the priorities really being for adults) is for moving staff to other jobs. This could be to provide for career advancement, or to move someone from a job that isn’t working out. When these folks move to new positions, their old positions are filled with new people. This means that even as enrollment falls because of demographic changes, the overall number of employees doesn’t fall in the same proportion, and the number of out-of-classroom employees actually increases significantly. There are a large number of former classroom teachers that are out of the classroom now as a result. The latter are not providing direct services to students and thus another reason that additional resources don’t mean more resources for students.
Trying to take the parental/family effect out of education
The parental/family effect far exceeds the in-school effect, even with the best possible teachers and environments. National studies comparing student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress across school sectors (public, charter, and private) bear this out by showing similar achievement gaps when adjusted for socioeconomic status. It’s like comparing the intensities of sunlight and moonlight. Even the brightest full moon’s light doesn’t compare with that of the sun’s. This is because of the dynamic force of example. What a person does is far more powerful than what a person says. Children are immersed in the dynamic force of their parents’ examples for most of every day. It is the most powerful shaping force that they experience in their lives, by far. I know the board would like to remove or lessen that effect and have all children be more equal, and that’s why they are taking action against parents who demonstrate their higher expectations by choosing schools these board members don’t like, but you can’t make the sun dimmer and have the moon shine brighter.
This is what happens when non-educators and social engineers with political agendas determine the direction of a school district. In short, it is disastrous. PUSD will likely become even smaller as a result of their actions than it would otherwise, and more families will leave the district. From decades of experience, we predict that it will also become more segregated. Sadly, that is the future that the current board is creating.
Dr. Adrienne Ann Mullen is a former PUSD Board of Education Member. She has spent 37 years in education and currently is the Dean of Adult, Community & Continuing Education Programs & Services for the Los Angeles Community College District, and an Adjunct Professor in the Rossier School of Education at USC. Her four children attended and graduated from PUSD.
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