Clinton Suggests She Would Close Most Low-Income Schools

Gosh, I hope Hillary Clinton’s friends and allies who know a little about how American education works are having a strong talk with her after hearing that she said this during an appearance at an Iowa school:


“I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better than average job,” she said. “… But as president, what I’d be looking for are schools that exceed expectations. And I don’t care whether they’re urban, suburban or rural. … I am very partial toward districts that are doing well, and from everything I can tell, this one is.”

See, the way it works is that test scores are highly correlated with income, which means if you know the income levels in a school, you can pretty much predict its test scores. So, unless her definition of success casts a much wider net than the test scores that are driving American education today, what Clinton is effectively saying is that she would shut down most schools with predominantly low-income students. 

And do what? Make them commute long distances to “better” (i.e. richer) schools? Fire all the teachers but keep the students in the same school building with all new teachers—teachers hired knowing they too will likely be in trouble very soon, when it turns out new teachers aren’t all you need to overcome the problems of poverty and inequality? 

Focusing on schools can be great—if you’re talking about more funding, smaller classes, more school supplies, more support for teachers to get the training they want, doing what it takes to make teaching a desirable profession again. But suggesting that schools operate in a vacuum and that conditions like poverty don’t matter, that it’s some vast coincidence that the “best” schools are the ones with the rich students, is ignoring reality (and huge amounts of data). Maybe Clinton didn’t mean this remark to come off the way it did. But if that’s so, she needs to clarify.

Update:

Laurence Lewis points to video of Clinton's full remarks, arguing that she was pushing not to close schools but to better fund schools like the one she was visiting. From the context, the latter point is clear: Clinton was making an argument in favor of school funding in general. But I don’t think that gets her off the hook for saying “I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better than average job.” If it’s not what she meant to say, she should clarify. But the context doesn’t erase the implications of that statement.

"A big reason Hillary Clinton was in Keota yesterday was to support smaller, struggling communities and their school districts that face shrinking tax bases. As the only candidate to outline a detailed plan to spur economic growth in rural areas like Keota, she spoke again about Governor Brandstad’s decision to starve Iowa schools, especially rural ones, of critical funding, which could force too many rural schools to close. She also noted that shutting down these schools was not good for Iowa students and communities. Hillary Clinton’s entire career has been a commitment to fixing struggling schools, not shutting them down, and she’s going to continue that if she’s elected President."

We'll put this in the “choose your words more carefully in future, please” category.

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