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Less than Half of Students from Schools Closed for Poor Performance Transfer to Better Ones

The closure of a low-performing school is almost always a highly debated event. Those on the side who support the closing will claim that moving students from an underperforming environment to a more productive one put them on a better educational path. Opponents of closing low-performing schools claim that it only disrupts students’ educational experience, potentially causing them to slip behind because of stress. Unfortunately, it’s a debate that has been gaining traction over the last 15 years or so with more K–12 public schools facing closure for underperformance.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has released a study detailing findings from school closures in 26 states from 2006 to 2013. Schools that were defined as low-performing had both average reading and math scores in the bottom 20 percent of the state in any given year, as well as the previous year. Over the course of the study, 1,522 low-performing schools, including 1,204 traditional public schools (TPS) and 318 charter schools were closed throughout the 26 states studied.

The study’s researchers examined several different characteristics of the schools that closed. Areas examined ranged from if similarly low-performing schools were treated differently to what schools transferred students went to and how well they performed at their new schools.

To measure the impact of a school closure on students, CREDO researchers employed a unique strategy of constructing a “virtual twin” for each closure student using school records. They then estimated a school closure’s impact by comparing the academic progress of closure students and their virtual twins from the same sector.

Key Findings from the Study:

Closures of low-performing schools were prevalent but not evenly distributed. Elementary schools were closed more often than high schools because younger students had a longer time to adjust to their new setting and districts typically had more than one elementary school that could absorb transfers. School closures, especially TPS, also tended to be more in urban areas.

A little less than half of displaced closure students landed in better schools. Though a higher share of displaced students from charter schools went to better schools than displaced TPS students. Those students who left the low-performing school at least a year before the school’s closure also had a higher chance of going to a better school. Likely because of a lower influx of students that would result once a school closure took place. There was also a greater number of students leaving low-performing schools before the official closure of a school was announced.

The most troubling pattern that researchers discovered was that the schools receiving displaced students eventually performed as poorly as the closed schools did in their final year. This supports a concern among many educators that displaced students have a shortage of better school options.

Not surprisingly, students who went to better schools following a school closure made better academic strides. Students who went to equally low-performing or worse schools tended to have weaker academic growth overall, particularly among TPS closures. This effect was “most pronounced for black and Hispanic students in poverty.”

Both low-performing charter and traditional public schools with a larger share of black and Hispanic students living in poverty were more likely to be closed than similarly performing schools with smaller populations of disadvantaged minority students.

The findings from the study confirm what many policymakers and educators have increasingly realized: “closing chronically low-performing schools seems to be an inevitable option.” The challenge seems to be maintaining or improving the performance of schools that receive displaced students. Failure to ensure that these students are actually going to better environments will only jeopardize their future learning.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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