In the ongoing struggle over school closings some tried and true methods are being applied. From the BCTF guide on how to save a school through Vancouver’s current struggles (see, QEA’s action page and Garibaldi’s attempt to forge community alliances) to the earlier wave of political actions including occupations and sit-ins in rural schools such as the embittered Forest Grove struggle) parents, staff and members of their surrounding communities have struggled to hold back the recent tide of school closures.
Not all schools are the same, nor are all situations of school closures identical. Factors leading to school closures, however, are consistently linked to declining enrollment and fiscal constraints.
There has been significant research into school closures and consolidations over the 20th century. This research can be said to, very loosely, identify two major moments or processes of school closure: (1) that linked to the decline of rural agriculture and rural resource extraction industries, and (2) that linked to late 20th century neo-liberal economic theories. Both are not of course truly independent of each other, but keeping them apart has a useful analytic value.
British Columbia’s economic history of the last 150 years is a history linked to rural resource extraction industries -forestry, fishing, mining. The early development of these industries required large flexible labour forces. In human terms, this meant the creation of quickly growing small resource dependent communities throughout BC. This process carried on fairly predictably until the mid-late 1970s. At which point global economic forces conspired with vested local interests to produce a wave of economic consolidation, rationalization, and concentration. In human terms -job loss, declining rural and resource community population, fewer bigger processing plants, and the combination of declining wages with growing profits. This economic backdrop provided the impetus to what I have described as the first moment of school closures, a process that had its primary impact on rural areas and smaller communities.
The processes described above also lead to the rise of neo-liberal economic theories as the primary guiding force of governments and the reigning popular orthodoxy. The implication for schools and other public interests is that a particular notion of ‘fiscal’ responsibility and accountability becomes the guiding principle. Backed by a common sense ideology that government is too big and taxes are a problem, public institutions have been forced to curtail expenditures and to reorganize themselves in ways that mirror the concentration and consolidation of BC’s resource extraction industries. In human terms? -Close schools to concentrate the production of measurably successful students in fewer sites of production (i.e. schools) that are larger and operated with fewer employees. This is particularly important to neo-liberal theorists as public institutions are seen as economic dead weights and thus the less one spends on them the better off a society will be. Many of the school closures in BC since 2001 have been closed as a result of neo0liberal economic theories operating as government policy.
The current proposal to close QEA is an excellent example of neo-liberal fiscal polices masquerading as educational policy. Here is a school that is functioning, doing a great job, but is planned for closure to meet a capital funding requirement. And, the capital funds are required because of provincial government policies. To be clear, the provincial government provides the money and sets the rules. The school board has to follow the rules and make decisions regarding its budget. The school board thus does indeed make its own decisions, but not under conditions of its own choosing. But by any other way (and despite surface appearances) it is the school board who are the shock troops of provincial policies.
The dilemma is that within the context Boards of Education can either accept the status quo (do nothing), accept the rules and do what the VSB is doing, or try and break the rules which would then lead back to the imposition of the status quo. Not really much of a choice.
Here are a couple of articles on school closing that may be of interest.
- On the debate between small vs large schools (though small seems to be considered between 250 and 350 in this article).Download file
- An article that reviews rural school closures in Denmark and questions the assumed devastating impacts that are often cited. According to the authors, rural school closures are a symptom, not a cause of problems of social cohesion.Download file
- A review of data on school closuresin Australia and the fiscal outcomes.Download file
- For a how to on closing a school check out:Vancouver Sun blogs