Study Seeks to Show Impact of School Closure Decision Making on Students

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In late August, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a entitled Lights Off: Practice and Impact of Closing Low-Performing Schools.  The report examines the impact of closure of low-performing public schools in both the charter and traditional public-school sectors on students who attended those schools.


The study’s dataset included 1,522 ‘low performing’ schools closed in 26 states between 2006 and 2013.  Of these, 1,204 were traditional public schools and 318 were charters.  Volume 1 of the study address how closures are distributed across sectors, years, states, grades, demographic groups, and locations.  Volume 2 addresses the performance of students who attend closing schools, including those who ‘transferred early’ in the process.

Among the findings:

  • A little less than half of displaced closure students landed in better schools.
  • Closures of low-performing schools were prevalent but not evenly distributed.
  • In both the charter and traditional public school sectors, low-performing schools with a larger share of black and Hispanic students were more likely to be closed than similarly performing schools with a smaller share of disadvantaged minority students.
  • Low-performing schools that were eventually closed exhibited clear signs of weakness in the years leading to closure compared to other low-performing schools.
  • The quality of the receiving school made a significant difference in post-closure student outcomes. Closure students who attended better schools post-closure tended to make greater academic gains than did their peers from not-closed low-performing schools in the same sector, while those ending up in worse or equivalent schools had weaker academic growth than their peers in comparable low-performing settings.
  • The number of charter closures was smaller than that of traditional public school closures, however, the percentage of low-performing schools getting closed was higher in the charter sector than in the traditional public school sector.

NEPC Review

The National Education Policy Center reviewed the study and found that while it was rigorous, there were a few areas for improvement. Among these were

  • The report’s focus on some tenuous analyses (involving pre-closure transfers) obscures its most important findings – disproportionality in school closures and inadequate numbers of higher quality receiving schools, leading to performance declines for most.
  • Statistical modeling choices and matching challenges could threaten the validity of subgroup analyses (charter school students).


Source: CREDO & NEPC