Low-performing schools with higher proportions of black and Hispanic students are more likely to be closed than low-performing schools serving less students of color, according to a new study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) focusing on low-performing schools and closures in 26 states.
Fewer than half of the students end up in better-forming schools following a closure, but when students leave a school before the year it closes, they stand a somewhat better chance of attending a higher-performing school.
School closures are more concentrated in urban areas and more common among elementary schools and charter schools, and the researchers also found that “clear signs of weakness” are noticeable in schools that eventually close as much as three years before.
The closing of a school can be traumatic for parents, educators, students and entire communities, but past research has shown that the outcomes for students are not always negative. A 2015 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago showed that more than 90% of students whose schools were closed ended up in schools with higher performance ratings. Those who chose not to attend their designated “welcoming schools,” however, sometimes ended up in schools with lower performance ratings. The researchers noted that families also consider multiple factors in choosing another school, not just academic performance, and that many wished they had more information about choices and time to make decisions.
A 2015 New York University study on school closures in New York City showed that the eighth graders who would have attended the schools that were shut down ended up in high schools with higher achievement and attendance than students in a control group. Both studies, however, said more research is needed on how closures affect teachers.
The CREDO study suggests that school districts and charter school authorizers review policies and procedures for closing schools and “identify and refrain from explicit and unconscious biases in decision-making about closing low-performing schools.”
But additional studies also stress that the potential negatives must be taken into consideration. Some school closures have resulted in federal lawsuits claiming violation of the Civil Rights Act. Other closures have resulted in “school deserts" in some communities and have forced students to travel through unsafe areas to find their new school home. In fact, a study of the closure of dozens of schools in Chicago in 2013 revealed that much of the money school officials earmarked to improve existing schools as part of the transition, went to logistics, moving expenses and strategies to provide safer modes of travel for students instead.
While school closures may be necessary in situations where school buildings deteriorate to unsafe levels or if shifting demographics cause the need for school mergers, any school closure deserves careful consideration. Schools are often the heartbeat of a community, and removing them often demoralizes and discourages the people that school once served. Rather than closing schools, districts should first reach out to the community that would be affected to see if businesses, organizations and individual members of that community can be energized to save it through giving of themselves financially and as volunteers.