When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools

Mickey Muldoon

Consortium on Chicago School Research
University of Chicago Urban Education Institute
October 2009

Chalk up another mark on the growing “no-effects” list of school-reform research: This study finds that students impacted by school closures in Chicago Public Schools between 2001 and 2006 did, on average, no better or worse after leaving the shuttered schools. But no surprise here: 42 percent of the displaced students went from bad schools to equally bad ones (namely the bottom quartile of schools in Chicago). The rest of the findings are a mixed bag: There were some ancillary negative effects (lower summer school attendance and a temporary test score drop after students learned that their schools were slated for closure), some marginal positive effects (better scores for the 6 percent of students who subsequently entered high-performing schools), and a combination of both (for the 52 percent who wound up in second or third quartile schools). Behold the chicken-and-egg dilemma with school closure: What’s the point of closing failing schools when there aren’t any better options available? The authors point out that although some schools were closed specifically for low-enrollment rather than low test scores, the two categories typically overlap. (Some of the closed schools reopened as new schools but the report does not disaggregate effects on student achievement for doing so.) Andy Smarick writes that school turnaround should really boil down to a simple formula: “close failing schools, open new schools, replicate great schools, repeat.” But as this study signals, timing is a significant problem. It’s far faster to close an old school than to open a new one. Should cities ideally wait until enough new seats are available before eliminating old ones? Perhaps so. Read it here.

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