Policy Brief Explores School Closure as a Reform Policy
East Lansing, Mich. — Closing a “low-performing” school and sending students to a “better-performing” one has been offered as a school improvement strategy, which the logic suggests will motivate schools to improve. A new policy brief released today investigates whether closing schools is an option that policymakers should pursue.
The brief, School Closure as a Strategy to Remedy Low Performance, was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), and written by Gail L. Sunderman, University of Maryland, Erin Coghlan, University of California Berkeley, and Rick Mintrop, University of California Berkeley. It was funded in part by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
According to the brief, the limited evidence base suggests that school closures are not a promising strategy for remedying low performance. The authors write, “School closures have at best weak and decidedly mixed benefits; at worst they have detrimental repercussions for students if districts do not ensure that seats at higher-performing schools are available for transfer students.”
In addition to reviewing the evidence base, the authors answer four overarching research questions:
- How often do school closings occur and for what reasons?
- What is the impact on students of closing schools for reasons of performance?
- What is the impact of closing schools on the public school system in which closure has taken place? and
- What is the impact of school closures on students of various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and on local communities and neighborhoods?
Based on their analysis, the authors offer the following cautions: (1) Because this turnaround option is so infrequently used, policy and district actors should approach this option with caution; (2) “Closure and transfer” is a decidedly undesirable option in districts where transferring to a higher-performing school is not available; (3) School closures are especially inadvisable for middle school students, due to the shorter grade span of such schools; (4) Closing schools for any reason has costs, but closing schools solely for performance has unanticipated consequences; and (5) Closures tend to differentially affect low-income communities of color.
The authors, in their conclusion, state that school closure as a strategy for school improvement is a “high-risk/low-gain strategy that fails to hold promise for improving student achievement and non-cognitive well-being.” They continue, “In many instances, students, parents, local communities, district and state policymakers may be better off investing in persistently low-performing schools than closing them.”
Find School Closure as a Strategy to Remedy Low Performance on the web: www.greatlakescenter.org
The brief can also be found on the NEPC website: nepc.colorado.edu
About The Great Lakes Center
The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform. Visit the Great Lakes Center Web Site at: www.greatlakescenter.org.