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Research & Commentary: The Lack of Quality Alternatives for School-Closure Students

September 5, 2017

Fewer Than Half of Closure Students End Up In Higher-Performing Schools

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released an important report in late August 2017 titled Lights Off: Practice and Impact of Closing Low-Performing Schools. It “systematically [examines the] closure of low-performing public schools in both the charter and traditional public-school sectors.”

In this report, CREDO analysts studied more than 1,200 district and 300 charter schools in 26 states between the 2006–07 and 2012–13 school years, making it the most thorough study on the topic to date.

The researchers found the schools that closed were trending downward in reading and math achievement, which led to lower enrollment. However, only 48 percent of the students in closed charter schools and 45 percent of students in closed district students ended up in a school performing better or similar to the school they attended previously; 15 percent of those students found themselves enrolled in schools that performed even worse than the closed school.

The study also determined low-performing schools that had a larger percentage of black and/or Hispanic students were more likely to be closed than low-performing schools with a lower percentage of black and/or Hispanic students.

“A higher share of displaced charter students ended up in better school settings than did [traditional public school] closure students, compatible with the stronger capabilities of parents of charter school students in maneuvering school choices,” the study’s authors wrote. “The chance for superior placement among students who left in the year before school closure was somewhat higher, implying some advantage for early departure given limited seats available in better local schools. Some students who did not land well in the first one or two years after closure attended a better school in the next year. However, the dominant pattern was for the schools that students attended in the second and third years following closure to mirror the quality of their schools in the previous year. The pattern possibly reflected families’ preference for stability over improved quality in their choice of schools or the realistic constraint of the options for quality alternatives. These findings resonate with a widely held concern that there is a shortage of better options for students displaced by school closures.” (Emphasis added.)

Not surprisingly, the quality of the schools students from closed schools landed in had a significant impact on outcomes. “Closure students who attended better schools,” the report continues, “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 study makes clear the dire need for more education options, especially private school choice options, near failing public schools. The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence shows private education choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and, according to the research, it does so at a lower cost, while also benefits public school students.

“The results are not difficult to explain,” said Matthew Ladner of EdChoice. “School choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused. It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources [and it] breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities.”

Closing failing schools will only benefit all closure students if there are many high-quality alternatives nearby. These alternatives are made most easily made available through the creation of a universal education savings account program or voucher programs. Private school choice alternatives give more families a greater opportunity to meet each child’s education needs. When parents are given the opportunity to choose, every school—private, charter, traditional public—must compete and improve, which allows more children to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information about school closures and private education choice.

Lights Off: Practice and Impact of Closing Low-Performing Schools
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/lights-off-practice-and-impact-of-closing-low-performing-schools
This study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University systematically examines closure of low-performing public schools in the charter and traditional public-school sectors. The CREDO researchers found the schools being closed were trending downward in reading and math achievement, which led to lower enrollment. Only 48 percent of the students in closed charter schools and 45 percent of students in closed district students ended up in a school performing better or similar to the school they attended previously; 15 percent of those students found themselves enrolled in schools that performed even worse than the closed school. The study also determined low-performing schools that had a larger percentage of black and/or Hispanic students were more likely to be closed than low-performing schools with a lower percentage of black and/or Hispanic students.

High School Closures in New York City: Impacts on Students’ Academic Outcomes, Attendance, and Mobility
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/high-school-closures-in-new-york-city-impacts-on-students-academic-outcomes-attendance-and-mobility
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the NYC Department of Education implemented a set of large-scale and much-debated high school reforms, which included closing large, low-performing schools, opening new, small schools, and extending high school choice to students throughout the district. The school closure process was the most controversial of these efforts. Apart from the general sense that school closures are painful, there was no rigorous assessment of their impact. Hence the Research Alliance undertook a study of the 29 low-performing high schools designated for closure in New York City between 2002 and 2008, examining the impact of these closures on students’ academic performance, attendance, and mobility.

The Effects of Performance-Based School Closure and Charter Takeover on Student Performance
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-effects-of-performance-based-school-closure-and-charter-takeover-on-student-performance
In this report by the Research Education Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University, which studied school closures in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the researchers conclude the effects of school closures are positive if the interventions improve school quality and minimize disruptions. The results tend to be more positive when schools are phased out, rather than immediately closed, and when students stay in the same school post-intervention.

The Effect of School Closings on Student Achievement
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-effect-of-school-closings-on-student-achievement
This report, published in the Journal of Public Economic, examines the closure of more than 200 schools in Michigan. The report’s authors concluded school closings do not persistently harm the achievement of displaced students. They also determined putting closure students in higher-performing schools can result in achievement gains for those students.

School Closures and Student Achievement: An Analysis of Ohio’s Urban District and Charter Schools
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/school-closures-and-student-achievement-an-analysis-of-ohios-urban-district-and-charter-schools
This report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the closure of 200 urban schools in Ohio’s eight biggest cities found children displaced by a school closure on average make significant academic gains on state math and reading exams after their school closes. Further, the study reveals students who attended a higher-quality school after closure made even greater progress.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/education-savings-accounts-the-future-of-school-choice-has-arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal educational savings account (ESA) programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/a-win-win-solution-the-empirical-evidence-on-school-choice-fourth-edition?source=policybot
This paper by EdChoice details the vast body of research on educational choice programs, determining school choice improves academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Competition: For the Children
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/competition-for-the-children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

2016/17 School Choice Report Card
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/201617-school-choice-report-card
This report card published by the American Federation for Children scores 27 active non-special-needs voucher, scholarship tax-credit, and education savings account programs against ideal standards for program quality. The report is an excellent tool policymakers and researchers can use to help improve education programs and maximize student participation. 

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org