Charter schools are on the rise across the country, and as more public K-12 schools are found not to be delivering the type of high-quality education that students in their districts deserve, the push to close low-performing schools has increased. A recent study has concluded that when those closures happen, schools that serve predominantly black and Hispanic students are most likely to be affected.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University recently published “Lights Off: Practice and Impact of Closing Low-Performing Schools 2017” (pdf). The study focused on low-performing schools in 26 states from the academic years 2006-2007 to 2012-2013. For the purposes of the study, low-performing schools were defined as schools with average reading and math scores that were in the bottom 20 percent in a state for the given school year as well as the previous school year. During the study period, there were 1,522 schools—consisting of 1,204 traditional public schools and 318 charters—closed in those 26 states for low performance during the study period.

The study had several key findings.

While closures of low-performing schools were prevalent, they were not evenly distributed. The closures appeared to be concentrated in a few key states, and within those states the closures were mostly of elementary schools in urban areas.

Most of the low-performing schools that were closed had already exhibited signs of weakness in the years leading up to the closure, including a steady decline in both academic achievement and growth.

While the number of charter school closures was smaller than the number of traditional public school closures, charter schools had a higher percentage of schools being closed than public schools.

Low-performing charter and public schools with a larger share of black and Hispanic students were more likely to be closed than low-performing schools that did not have disadvantaged minority students as their student population, which raises questions about equity in the decision-making process when it comes to closing schools.

Once schools were closed, less than half of those displaced students ended up at a school that was better than the one they left, and that speaks to the quality of the education post-closure. The study found that the quality of the students’ new schools had a huge impact on student outcomes.

Those students who ended up at better schools made greater academic gains than those who did not, and again, the effect was most pronounced for black and Hispanic students in poverty.

The study concludes that while closing low-performing schools may be an inevitable option, those in power need to ensure that there is equity in dealing with low-performing schools. Specifically, “they should identify and refrain from explicit and unconscious biases in decision-making about closing low-performing schools.”

In addition, the study suggests that school districts should not allow chronically underperforming schools to continue to erode student learning outcomes. This speaks specifically to charter schools that have a contractual obligation to meet certain academic goals.

The study encourages states to review their closure criteria and to have effective follow-up measures to ensure that students affected by closures have an equal chance of getting assigned to higher-performing schools.

Considering that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is the champion of charter schools, you would think that we would see marked improvement in this area. After all, she claims that she has been championing the cause of minority students her entire career.

We’ll see.

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