Rather than closing low-performing schools, officials should invest in them, research project concludes

Investing in low-performing schools is a better way to benefit students than closing those schools, according to a new research report. “Closing schools based on academic performance is not a promising solution for turning around low-performing schools,” according to the new policy brief by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC). “School closures negatively impact student achievement and well being, especially among students living in low-income and underserved communities.”

The report, which was funded in part by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, notes there is no guarantee that students will be transferred to better performing schools and in many cases, students are transferred to other schools of equal or lower performance. It found:

  • School closures cause significant stress for teachers and students and negatively impact student test scores, especially during the school’s final years of operation.
  • Students who are transferred to higher-performing schools experience a drop in achievement during the first year at a new school, despite moving to a “better” school.
  • School closures create transportation barriers for displaced students and have the potential to prevent students from participating in after-school activities, sports, or work.
  • Policymakers and districts overlook the hidden costs of closing schools, including costs associated with boarding up and securing closed buildings, storing abandoned furniture, textbooks and technology, and integrating students into new schools.

Instead of closing low-performing schools, the policy brief concludes, policymakers should invest resources in improving existing schools:

  • Especially in districts where high-performing schools are in low supply, policymakers should avoid using school closures as a remedy for improving student performance.
  • Education leaders must work with their local communities, school administrators, teachers, families, and students to find solutions to improve low-performing schools.