the consequences of closure

Schools with more students of color are more likely to be shut down — and three other things to know about a big new study

Student protested school closures in 2010.

Shutting down schools with low test scores doesn’t help student learning and disproportionately affects students of color, according to one of the largest studies ever of school closures.

The results, released Thursday by the Stanford-based group CREDO, indicate that closing a school doesn’t help student achievement as much as advocates have hoped — or harm it as much as some have feared.

The findings, the researchers write, “call for caution in implementing this bold policy measure.”

The study examines school closures in 26 states, from 2006 to 2013. Shuttering schools — both for financial and performance reasons — has become a common, contested phenomenon in a number of cities. High-profile education leaders like Joel Klein in New York City and John White in Louisiana have pushed school closures as a necessary, even moral, response to low performance.

Here are four things we learned from the report.

1. Closures don’t help (or substantially hurt) student achievement on average.

Overall, being displaced from a low-performing school had virtually no effect on student test scores. This undercuts rhetoric that closing “failing” schools will help students, as well as that it will dramatically harm their academic trajectories.

One caveat is that the study defines low performance of schools using absolute test scores — not how much a school’s students improve, a metric most researchers say is better for measuring school quality. Past studies in New Orleans and Ohio have found closures based on academic growth do help student learning.

Another caution is that it’s unclear just how similar the schools being compared to one another actually are. The researchers compare displaced students’ performance to students in low-achieving schools that were not shut down. If the low-scoring schools that remained open were on a more positive trajectory or had just hired a dynamic new principal, for example, that might skew the comparison.

2. When students move to higher-achieving schools they do better, but when they switch to similar schools they do worse.

Unsurprisingly, students who switched from a lower-achieving school that closed to a significantly higher achieving school — about half of the displaced students — saw their scores improve, relative to similar students whose schools weren’t closed. This is consistent with common sense and past research.

However, switching to a similarly achieving school caused a decline in test scores, perhaps because of the disruption of moving schools.

And switching to a school with lower test scores led to even bigger drops in achievement. This was relatively rare, though — in part because few schools had significantly worse test scores than the ones that closed.

3. Schools that serve more black and Hispanic students are more likely to be shut down.

Critics of school closures have long argued that they disproportionately impact — even target — black and Hispanic communities. The latest research gives some credence to this view.

It shows that schools serving a larger share of students of color were somewhat more likely to be shut down than schools with fewer students of color and similar achievement. There was also some evidence that higher poverty schools were more likely to be closed.

4. Lower-achieving charter schools are more likely to close than traditional public schools.

The study finds that 5.5 percent of low-scoring charter schools were closed down from 2006 to 2013, as compared to 3.2 percent of district schools.

One notable exception: Michigan. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has argued that traditional schools there lack accountability because, she said, none has ever been closed for low performance. But many have shut down, presumably for other reasons. In the time period studied, 9 percent of low-achieving Michigan district schools were shuttered, compared to less than 6 percent of low-scoring charter schools.

Four key questions the study doesn’t answer:

1. Why do low-achieving schools with more students of color close more often?

One explanation is simple: racism and lack of political power. School closures are controversial and often draw serious opposition. Students and families of color may be less successful in opposing closures if policymakers are less sympathetic to their claims.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which advocates for closing persistently low-performing charters, implicitly acknowledged that possibility.

“We are especially troubled by the report’s observation of different school closure patterns based on race, ethnicity, and poverty,” president Greg Richmond said in a statement. “These differences were present among both charter schools and traditional public schools and serve as a wake-up call to examine our practices to ensure all schools and students are being treated equitably.”

But the study can’t explain why closures happen more often in certain communities. For instance, if low-achieving schools with many white students are especially likely to be located in rural areas where there are fewer alternative schools, that may help explain the results.

Another explanation could be that the expansion of charter schools in high-minority areas puts additional fiscal and enrollment pressure on districts and charters — as charters expand, other schools may close as their enrollment declines.

What is clear, though, is that black and low-income students and communities are especially likely to have a school closed.

2. How do school closures affect the students who would have gone on to attend schools that were shut down?

The study examined students who were directly affected by closures, not future students who might have otherwise attended a closed school. In one of the only studies to examine this question, those “future” students who would have otherwise attended a closed school were significantly more likely to graduate high school.

3. How do school closures affect things other than test scores?

The latest study only looks at test scores. But critics argue that shuttering a school negatively affects a community, economically and socially, and harms students in ways beyond academic achievement. Some past studies have examined student attendance, high school graduation, and college enrollment, generally showing mixed results.

4. How do school closures affect students at receiving schools?

The CREDO report doesn’t look at how an influx of new students affect the new schools they move to. Past studies have found evidence that receiving schools see a dip in student achievement as a result. This points to potential unintended consequence of closures, even when the directly affected students benefit.

This story has been updated to clarify that the effects on achievement were estimated by comparing students in closed schools to similar students at schools that were not closed.

School Closings

Thousands of Indianapolis high schoolers are applying for school as district goes all magnet

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
High school students across Indianapolis Public Schools are reapplying for school.

Thousands of Indianapolis high schoolers are making a choice this fall that could disrupt friendships, reconfigure sports teams and shape futures: Where to go to high school.

In recent weeks, freshman, sophomores and juniors across Indianapolis Public Schools have begun choosing where they hope to go to school next year as the district closes nearly half of its high schools and pushes teens to choose their campus based on academic focus rather than neighborhood.

The district will close three high schools next fall and open magnet academies with academic and career focuses, such as health science and information technology, at the remaining four campuses.

“We want to ensure that they are choosing a high school because they want to be a part of those academies,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. “That will be really important because students will be expected to dive into those academies.”

The administration has pitched the all-choice approach as a way of getting students engaged and interested in high school. But for students, the decision of where to go to school often hinges on more personal factors.

When Brandon Henderson’s family moved to Wayne Township, he was supposed to go to Ben Davis High School, which has many career and technical programs. But Henderson, a sophomore who hopes to become an engineer, said he chose to stay at George Washington High School to be with his girlfriend, Carmella Johnson.

If they have to move to another campus, so be it, said Johnson. “It’s just a school,” she added.

Johnson was not alone in her attitude. In interviews the day after the IPS board voted to create academies, some students raised concerns about the plans while others were supportive, but none seemed overly anxious about the changes.

“It don’t matter, you know. I got a spot here for next year,” said Wade Waites, a junior at George Washington. “Whatever extra activities that they might have, that I can learn something and pick up an extra career, I’m down for it, man. I’m down for it.”

The administration is requiring students in schools that will remain open, as well as students at campuses that will close, to select their top school choices. Nearly all students in magnet programs have completed the process so far and “well above” half of students in neighborhood high schools have as well, said Patrick Herrel, who oversees IPS enrollment.

Current students in magnets can choose to stay in their programs at Crispus Attucks High School, Arsenal Technical High School, and Shortridge High School. Students can also remain in the visual and performing arts and humanities programs, which are moving from Broad Ripple High School to Shortridge.

But students in traditional neighborhood high schools will be required to choose new programs. That includes hundreds of teens enrolled in George Washington and the neighborhood program at Arsenal Tech, as well as students who will be displaced when Northwest and Arlington high schools close. The exception is rising seniors at schools that will remain open, who can choose to stay at their current campuses.

The district will send students new assignments by Nov. 13, said Herrel. That will give students who are not happy with their assignments time to reapply to high schools through Enroll Indy.

“The goal is that everyone gets their first choice, and we are very hopeful that we will be able to achieve that,” Herrel said.

But if there are not enough spots in a program for all the interested students, the district will make assignments by lottery. Students at schools that are closing will get priority. But students won’t have priority to stay at their neighborhood campus, so a sophomore at George Washington, for example, could potentially be forced to move.

Even following the high school closures, IPS will have thousands of extra high school seats. But if any programs prove unexpectedly popular, it’s possible that current students could be displaced.

That was concerning to Jessica Smith, a senior at George Washington, who said that she’s unsure about the career academy plan because when students start high school, many of them don’t know what they want to do after they graduate.

Students who live in the area should be able to stay at the school, she said. “Some kids walk to school, and they don’t like taking the bus.”

The administration considered giving current students priority in the assignment lottery, said Ferebee, but it wasn’t feasible.

“If you give everybody priority,” said Ferebee. “Priority isn’t priority.”

Longer list

Dozens more Detroit schools added to state’s partnership list for low test scores — but forced closure is not a threat for now

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

More than two dozen struggling Detroit schools will likely be added to the state’s “partnership” program after posting years of rock-bottom test scores.

That will bring to 50 the number of Detroit schools in the program, which requires schools to meet certain improvement targets or face consequences.

Those consequences could include closure or a staff shake-up but, for now at least, decisions about the schools’ fates will rest with local school boards. State officials say they currently have no plans to force schools to close.

That’s a big change from earlier this year when 38 schools across Michigan were told they were in danger of being shuttered after landing in the bottom 5 percent of state rankings for three years in a row.

Plans to close those schools were abandoned in the face of intense political opposition. Instead, the 37 schools that remained open (the one charter school on the list was closed by its authorizer) entered into “partnership agreements” with the state that require them to improve. (Read Detroit’s here).

On Monday, the state released a list of schools to be added to the partnership program. The state will now enter into negotiations with seven districts that don’t already have agreements. Among them are two Detroit charter schools — the David Ellis Academy and the Henry Ford Academy: School of Creative Studies Elementary.

Detroit’s main district, which already had 24 schools in the program, had another 24 schools added to the list. In addition, the district was invited to include nine schools that state says are trending in the wrong direction. With those nine schools, almost half of the 106 schools in the main district could be in the program.

“These will be positive, yet pressing, conversations with the leaders of these districts to get their struggling schools back on track,” state Superintendent Brian Whiston said in a statement. “We want to provide as many local and state-level partners as possible to help students in these schools be successful.”

The state’s press release has more details and the full list of Michigan schools that have been added to the program — as well as schools that have been removed from watch lists after showing improvement.

Here’s the list of Detroit schools that are now in the program:

Newly added:

David Ellis Academy (charter)

Henry Ford Academy: School of Creative Studies-Elementary (charter)

Blackwell Institute

Brewer Elementary-Middle School

Carstens Elementary-Middle School

Central High School

Cody Academy of Public Leadership

Detroit International Academy for Young Women

Dixon Elementary

Dossin Elementary-Middle School

Earhart Elementary-Middle School

East English Village Prep Academy

Duke Ellington at Beckham

Emerson Elementary-Middle Schools

Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School

King High School

John R. King Academy and Performing Arts Academy

Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School

Mann Elementary

Marshall Elementary

Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy

Nobel Elementary-Middle School

Palmer Park Prep Academy

Pulaski Elementary-Middle School

Schulze Elementary-Middle School

Wayne Elementary

 

Schools that have the option to join the program:  

Academy of the Americas (Optional)

Bagley Elementary (Optional)

Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts (Optional)

Carver Elementary-Middle School (Optional)

Edison Elementary (Optional)

Ludington Magnet Middle School (Optional)

Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody (Optional)

Nichols Elementary-Middle School (Optional)

Spain Elementary-Middle School (Optional)

 

Already in the program:

Ann Arbor Trail Magnet School

Bow Elementary-Middle School

Clark, J.E. Preparatory Academy

Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School @ Northwestern

Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody

Durfee Elementary-Middle School

Fisher Magnet Upper Academy

Gompers Elementary-Middle School

Henderson Academy

Marquette Elementary-Middle School

Mason Elementary School

Osborn Academy of Mathematics

Osborn College Preparatory Academy

Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design and Alternative Energy

Sampson Academy

Thirkell Elementary School

Burns Elementary-Middle School

Denby High School

Ford High School

Law Elementary School

Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School

Mumford High School

Pershing High School

Southeastern High School