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School Closings in Chicago: Experiences and Outcomes

In May 2013, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close forty-nine elementary schools and one high school due to a $1 billion deficit and declining enrollments. It was the largest mass school closure to date that left 12,000 students relocated to “welcoming” schools. Five years after the Chicago Board of Education vote, the University of Chicago Consortium published a research report, School Closings in Chicago: Staff and Student Experiences and Academic Outcomes, looking at the short-term and multi-year impacts.

The researchers (Molly F. Gordon, Marisa de la Torre, Jennifer R. Cowhy, Paul T. Moore, Lauren Sartain, and David Knight)  analyzed both students’ academic outcomes, as well as the experiences that the staff and students from the closed and the welcoming schools had with the closure process.

The results reveal that the reality of school closures is more complicated than policymakers had thought. Students from both closed schools and welcoming schools were affected. Students from welcoming schools transferred out at higher rates just before the mergers. After the mergers, students from closed schools experienced lower test scores than would be expected given prior performance. Additionally, when schools closed, families and staff suffered the effects of the severed, longstanding social connections that they had with their schools and with one another, which resulted in a period of sadness.