Email Print

Education researchers from CReATe find school closures do more harm than good

by Stephanie Farmer - Roosevelt University  |  03/21/2013

CHICAGO (March 21, 2013) -- Closing public schools in Chicago will negatively impact academic performance and create more hardship for communities that are already suffering from disinvestment, according to a new study by Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE), a group of Chicago-area university professors specializing in educational research.

After a review of scholarly research and new data on school closings occurring in Chicago and around the country, CReATE, a network for more than 100 professors from Chicago-area universities, urges the Chicago Board of Education on Thursday to reject a proposal that would shutter 80 neighborhood schools. 

“We find that the history of previous school closures and school actions reveal that closures will negatively impact academic performance and create hardship for communities. Simply put, we believe that massive school closures will do more harm than good for Chicago’s children,” said David Stovall, professor education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and contributor to the CReATE report.

Calling the school-closure issue “the most critical education policy decision today” for Chicago and its future, CReATE researchers found evidence that: 

School closures historically have had a negative impact on children’s academic performance.  Analyses of school closures in Chicago reveal that 94% of students from closed CPS schools did not go on to “academically strong” new schools.  The evidence also shows that students transitioned to new schools experience lower test scores and are at an increased risk of dropping out.  School closings also negatively affect the achievement levels for students in the receiving schools due to increased class sizes and overcrowding in receiving schools. 

School closures have not historically resulted in the savings predicted by school officials. In national studies of school closings, closure-related costs have consistently been underestimated or understated by officials, as districts found themselves paying for closed school site maintenance or demolition, moving services, new costs of transporting students and support for both displaced students and the schools that received them.  A Pew study shows that CPS is having difficulty disposing of the schools they have already closed.  Furthermore, public school districts may also lose federal and state grants if parents remove students from the destabilized public school system and send them to charter schools.

Chicago Public Schools measurement of ideal utilization of 30 children per classroom reflects poor education policy.  The evidence shows a huge gap between the number of empty seats CPS claims it has versus what CPS has reported in their yearly data, thus casting doubt on the magnitude of the so-called underutilization problem.  More importantly, studies on class sizes advise against the Chicago Board of Education’s standard of ideal utilization at 30 children per classroom.  The most credible study on the impact of class size, Tennessee’s Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) program found that students from smaller classes outperformed students from larger classes, with the biggest gains seen amongst African American students, lower-income students, and students from urban areas. 

School closures have historically benefited charter school expansion.  Previous rounds of CPS school closures have facilitated charter school expansion whereby 40% of closed CPS school buildings have been leased to privately operated charter schools.  Enrollment data show that the presence of charter schools contributes to declining CPS enrollment in neighborhood schools, which goes on to create the conditions for neighborhood school closures.  Charter school funding from the state is expanding while funds for public neighborhood schools are significantly reduced.  Finally, CPS signed an agreement with the Gates Foundation to introduce 60 more charter schools in Chicago at precisely the same time CPS threatens to close 80 neighborhood schools due to underutilization.  

School closures exacerbate racial inequalities in Chicago.  Approximately 90% of the school closings will impact predominately African-American communities.  The pattern of schools being considered for closure overlays the patterns of disinvestment in African-American communities such as closed public housing units, foreclosures, city-owned vacant properties and troubled mortgages.  We believe that closing schools will deepen the distress and insecurity that these communities are already confronting.  

School closings will contribute to even more violence Chicago communities are enduring.  Studies of previous school closures in Chicago found spikes of violence in and around the elementary and high schools where students from closed schools were sent. 

For all these reasons, CReATE has determined that school closures are not in the best interest of Chicago children, parents, residents and communities.

“We strongly believe that the pathway to stronger schools for children is paved by safe and stable school environments, and strong communities.  School closures undermine these conditions,” Stephanie Farmer, professor of sociology at Roosevelt University and contributor to the CReATE report.

The CReATE Research Brief on School Closures is available at http://createchicago.blogspot.com

The briefing paper was prepared by professors Stephanie Farmer of Roosevelt University, Isaura Pulido of Northeastern Illinois University, Pamela J. Konkol of Concordia University, Kate Phillippo of Loyola University, David Stovall of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Mike Klonsky of DePaul University. 

Chicago Teachers Union