Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Closing Schools on Students' Educational Settings:: Evidence from Two Rounds of School Closures in Philadelphia

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 2:05 PM
Japengo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

John MacDonald, Matthew Steinberg and Janie Scull, University of Pennsylvania
School districts throughout the United States have increasingly relied on closing traditional public schools as an education reform strategy to address declining student enrollment, fiscal constraints, poorly maintained school infrastructure, and low academic performance (Brummet, 2012; Engberg, Gill, Zamarro, & Zimmer, 2012; Steiner, 2009; Sunderman & Payne, 2009). Encouraged by federal policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the Obama Administration’s more recent school turnaround initiatives, many districts—no fewer than 70 urban districts between 2000 and 2010—have endorsed school closings as a means of offering students better educational options (Engberg et al. 2012). With large, urban districts such as Chicago Public Schools and the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) closing sizable numbers of their traditional schools in recent years, there is a need to better understand whether such policies result in better educational opportunities for students—and the extent to which students avail themselves of these opportunities.

In this paper, we examine the effect of the School District of Philadelphia’s (SDP) major rounds of school closures between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years on students’ educational opportunities. Over the course of these two school years, 30 traditional public schools in Philadelphia were closed – representing more than 10 percent of the stock of traditional public schools – and nearly 10,000 students were required to change schools. To examine the extent to which the SDP’s policy satisfied its goals of relocating students from low-performing schools to higher-performing options, we address the following questions: Were students displaced by the closing of schools provided with higher-quality school options? What were the patterns of post-closure student sorting and the relative peer composition experienced by students from closed schools?  Did closing schools affect the educational settings experienced by students from closed and receiving schools?

Using student-level administrative data for all grade 3-12 SDP students attending a traditional public school before the school closure policy went into effect, we first describe the academic and behavioral characteristics of school settings and the relative peer composition among closed schools and those that remained open. Next, we employ difference-in-differences and instrumental variables strategies to estimate the effect of two rounds of school closures on the composition of schools receiving displaced students compared to schools having never received any displaced students. We find that closure-induced mobility led to improvements in the academic settings experienced by displaced students, with some educational costs borne by receiving students. We find that student absenteeism increased for displaced and receiving students as a result of closures, while school closures had only a modest effect on the distance that displaced students had to travel to new schools. This work should inform the national policy discussion on the design and role of school closure policies in improving the educational opportunities for among the most disadvantaged urban public school students.