When Is It Time to Pull the Plug on a Failing School?

These days, a lot of people have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to have a “failing school” in their community. Whether the school has shut down extracurricular activities and programs, failed to meet the strict academic standards of No Child Left Behind or lost large numbers of students to competing charter schools, there are a lot of public schools that have seen better days. When a school fails to perform, tough questions start to get asked about the administrators, faculty and even whether the school should remain open at all.

Care2′s Judy Molland wrote about the struggling Philadelphia School District in April, and unfortunately, the district is still in bad shape and planning to close many schools. Over the past few years, the Philadelphia School District has seen many of its students transfer to charter schools, in hopes of a better education in an area where “80 percent of its 11th grade students read below grade level.” Because many schools in the district are operating below capacity, the district may close 37 campuses by June 2013, which is about one in six of public schools. “If the sweeping plan is approved, the district says it will improve academic standards by diverting money used for maintaining crumbling buildings to hire teachers and improve classroom equipment” (New York Times).

Administrators, parents and students of the schools that may be closed are understandably shocked. The closing of a school can be devastating for a community and for individual students who may be split up from teachers they admire and friends they have grown up with. But, for the cash-strapped Philadelphia district, redistributing students among more functional schools may be the best option.

When is it time to shut down a public school?

Closing a school is an enormous decision that affects a large number of people. Here are a few indicators that it is time for a school to be closed.

1. Student academic performance is at an unacceptable level, and does not show signs of improvement over a period of several years.

2. The school is operating significantly below capacity, with students being drawn away to more competitive schools in the area.

3. The physical school building requires extensive renovation or expensive maintenance and may be a hazard to students and faculty in the building.

In the case of the Philadelphia School District, it seems that many of these factors are at play in the district’s decision. Some of the schools have shown signs of academic progress in the last few years, but, in the eyes of the district, it is not enough to keep the schools open past the end of the present school year.

Has it happened to you?

Do you live in a community where a public school was closed? How did it affect the families of children who attended the school, and the community at large? Tell us about the outcome — was the school’s closing a positive event in the end? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


Related Stories:

Philadelphia Closing 64 Public Schools in Radical Restructuring

10 Years of No Child Left Behind: Flawed Beyond Fixing?

No Child Left Behind Turns Successful Schools into “Failing” Schools

Photo: David Schott via flickr


Christine Jones
Christine J5 years ago

Very sad.

Lynn D.
Lynn D5 years ago

really sad for the kids stuck in them...............

June J.
June J5 years ago

Schools APPEAR to be failing because corporatins and the top 1 percent of wealthy Americans aren't paying their fair share of taxes. That's why there are budget deficits in the Western world today, not just the United States. Rich people are happy to pay for resources for their own children but not for poor, minority or diabled/special needs (such as austistic children) children. Another reason why schools APPEAR to be failing is that not enough tax dollars have been put into education and the all those think tanks that want to change the education system and what subjects care taught in public schools are right wing conservative think tanks. They give a few dollars here and there for scholarships to assist the odd poor or minority person to get an education, and for their drops in the bucket, they exert heavy pressure and want to tell the politicians just how that money should be spent. They are also imposing the BUSINESS model on to schools instead of AN EDUCATIONAL model. The business model is dangerous because it teaches blind obedience and consumer behviour to the masses when we really need crtitcal thinkers, responsible, compassionate and caring people who can respond and think outside the aquare when they have to, problems such as the nuclear rods at the Fukushima plant in Japan, where sea water was pumped in and out, and radiation levels of sea water were recorded. Despite all the attempts of the top 1 percent of rich people to destroy public schools, some have sti

Christine Stewart
Christine S5 years ago

I think the students need to get into the discussion. Are they not native English speakers, so that the tests are harder for them and they get low grades? Do they not have time to study because they help out the family with a part time job? Or are they lazy and don't do the homework?

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Berny p.
berny p5 years ago

If we want good schools, then they can't continue to be personal cookie jars, for connected individuals.

Lauren B.

In my community we have two "failing schools" which should never be closed. They are 50% refugee kids from other countries in a very white state, English language learners, and they are not exempted from NECAP's even before they speak English or can read or write. Hence the failing status...but these schools are remarkable learning communities full of love and inspired teaching.

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

Before they fail.

Larry W.
Larry Weeks5 years ago

Closing the schools is only part of the problem. The fact that children are failing their grades is not the problem. The problem is that no technology is offered that teaches learning to students. The do not learn how to learn.
If they did they would excel on their own and put a lot of teachers either out of business or back into learning how to learn themselves.
Study technology exists already...has for 70 years and has done great things for private people. Why is our education system not using it.
It has been proven to halve the length of time spent in school, relieving pressure on teachers and students alike, has been a proven usable knowledge that the student will never forget. So why is it not used?

It is called vested interests... .and the education game goes round and round and the students learn nothing and the system slowly fails as the students cannot perform educated jobs and technologies.

see http://www.appliedscholastics.org/study-tech.html

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

I am glad to see the 42% no answers to the poll. The answer to failing schools is not closing them nor Charter Schools, which I believe should not exist. The answers lie in finding the solutions to the root cause or causes of failing schools and correcting them. We need a total overhaul of our schools and our teachers, most of both are pathetic.