Secretary Duncan and his team were mobbed the other day by agitated parents and kids protesting the closing of public schools around the land. Though Uncle Sam has no real control over this, it's true that Duncan came to Washington promising to close (or overhaul) a thousand schools a year and, more recently, has been pressing for radical action in the lowest-performing 5 percent—i.e., about 5000 schools. Actual data in this realm are scarce, but NCES reports roughly a thousand closings a year among “regular” public schools (meaning that, in one sense, Duncan's promise is being kept, though not by him), as well as who knows how many charter and private schools that bite the dust. But even if the total is closer to 2000, in a country with 100,000 schools that's just 2 percent a year. Moreover, schools keep opening, too, hundreds of them every year in every sector.
Nobody likes to close schools. Secretary Duncan remarked to the crowd, “I don't know any educator who wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to close schools.’” And it’s self-evident that nobody likes to have his or her own school closed. It's traumatic for families, teachers, students, neighborhoods, communities, even entire villages and towns.
But there are three big reasons why schools close and will continue to close—while others open.
First and most obviously, big demographic shifts....