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Review Finds Valuable Analysis of School Closure Research

BOULDER, CO (October 24, 2017) – Lights Off: Practice and Impact of Closing Low-Performing Schools, authored by Chunping Han, Margaret E. Raymond, James L. Woodworth, Yohannes Negassi, W. Payton Richardson, and Will Snow, and released by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, provides an extensive analysis based on the most comprehensive dataset ever assembled for school closure research, including 1,522 low-performing schools that were closed across 26 states between 2006 and 2013.

Matthew Gaertner, a principal research scientist at SRI International, and Professor Ben Kirshner, of the School of Education at University of Colorado Boulder, reviewed the report and found it to be a careful and rigorous study, albeit with a few missed opportunities.

Substantiating concerns raised by closure opponents in cities such as Washington DC and Philadelphia, the report finds that even when holding constant academic performance, schools were more likely to be closed if they enrolled higher proportions of minority and low-income students. The report also finds test-score declines, relative to the comparison group, for two groups of students displaced by closures: students who transferred to “inferior” schools (with a prior record of low test-score performance relative to students’ closed schools) and those who transferred to “equivalent” schools (with test-score performance similar to students’ closed schools). Slightly less than half of students transferred to higher performing schools after a closure; those who did showed academic improvement relative to their matched peers. 

Gaertner and Kirshner determined that the report’s focus on some tenuous analyses (involving pre-closure transfers) obscures its most important findings, involving inadequate numbers of higher quality receiving schools, which was associated with performance declines for most students, and disproportionality in school closures. Additionally, the reviewers were concerned about statistical modeling choices and matching challenges that may threaten the validity of the subgroup analyses focused on charter school students. Finally, Gaertner and Kirshner would have liked to see the report acknowledge the inescapable moral dimensions of school closure: Do the communities affected by closures have opportunities to participate in closure decisions?

Notwithstanding these concerns, the reviewers found the report to provide a valuable contribution to the growing body of school closure research.

Find the review, by Matthew Gaertner and Ben Kirshner, at:

Find Volumes I and II of Lights Off: Practice and Impact of Closing Low-Performing Schools, by Chunping Han, Margaret E. Raymond, James L. Woodworth, Yohannes Negassi, W. Payton Richardson, and Will Snow, published by CREDO, at: and

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project ( provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

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