“It just doesn’t add up”: Disrupting official arguments for urban school closures with counterframes
Keywords:school closures, urban school reform, social movements, framing
Mass school closures have become commonplace in urban school districts. To explain their actions, school system leaders often rely on a dominant frame that presents closures as an inevitable, data-driven, and politically neutral phenomenon in an educational landscape defined by shrinking budgets, demographic changes, and increased school choice. In response, research has typically focused on how communities tell counternarratives that seek to interrupt official accounts of school closures. Using a critical frame analysis of qualitative data from the 2013 school closure process in Washington, DC, I discuss another grassroots approach to disrupting school closures: counterframes. Drawing on Critical Race Theory and social movement theory, I discuss counterframes as discursive arguments that allow communities to directly challenge official rhetoric and offer alternatives. Findings show that communities in DC crafted counterframes that pushed back on the notion that the closures were inevitable, questioned the data guiding the process, and attempted to expose hidden agendas and interests behind shuttering schools. The article concludes with the relevance of counterframes to broader educational mobilizations as well as their limitations.