June 16, 2015

Ben Kirshner, (303) 492-6122, kirshner@colorado.edu
Daniel Quinn, (517) 203-2940, dquinn@greatlakescenter.org

School closure report offers some guidance, if caution is taken, review finds

Think Twice reviews recent Fordham analysis

EAST LANSING, Mich. (June 16, 2015) – A recent report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute investigated school closures in Ohio for urban district and charter schools. The report found that test scores of displaced district students showed greater gains in math and reading relative to students from non-closed schools and that displaced charter students showed gains in math but not reading. An academic review of the report finds that, despite the encouraging results, they leave un-addressed core questions about closure policy.

Ben Kirshner, University of Colorado Boulder, and Matthew Gaertner, Pearson's Research and Innovation Network, reviewed School Closures and Student Achievement: An Analysis of Ohio's Urban District and Charter Schools for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Among the findings of the report, closed schools were attended by greater percentages of African American students from low-income families.  Additionally, the report noted that displaced students performed better if they transferred to schools with higher levels of performance.

National and international media extoled the report's findings and suggested that closing schools could improve educational outcomes. However, the reviewers caution that readers should not draw strong or straightforward conclusions from the study.

The reviewers cited three primary concerns:

  1. Availability of higher-quality receiving schools that are easily accessible to students ought to be a precondition for a decision to close a school.
  2. What counts as a better schooling option needs to be better defined, with the promise of safe, reliable transportation options.
  3. School closure does not provide a lasting solution to challenges associated with economic and racial segregation found in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.

Specifically, the reviewers suggest that alternative interpretations of the report call for a different set of policy solutions, which could focus on integration.

The reviewers primary concern for the report focuses on the ability of parents and communities to make decisions about schools. "Until people's fundamental moral right to be part of decisions that affect their children's lives are taken seriously, discussions about improvement or lack of it in test score performance are insufficient."

In their conclusion, the reviewers state: "we caution policymakers to ensure that there are better, accessible school options before accepting the conclusion that closure is a sound choice."

Read the full review at:

Find the report on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & 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 website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/