Urban School Closures Similar to Rural Closures

Last Updated: January 27, 2014

This article appeared in the January 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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The National Opportunity to Learn Campaign (OTL) has a great new infographic visualizing the Cycle of School Closures.

The infographic is part of a series publicizing the economics and effects of school closures. Debunking the Myths of School Closures addresses the realities that closures do not save money, result in better education for students, or affect “empty” schools; they do, however, result in significant educational, economic, and social harm to communities that lose schools. The Color of School Closures demonstrates that school closures in three cities disproportionately affected low-income students and students of color.

While the content of the infographics is directed toward urban school closures—particularly those in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York City, which have seen extensive use of the policy in recent years—the patterns, myths, implications, and implementation strategies apply in rural areas as well.

For much of the 20th century the primary education policy implemented for rural schools and districts was consolidation. The rationale: it will save money and offer a better education than is available in smaller, more rural, community-based schools. That policy has continued unabated in the 21st century.

Research has consistently found that neither significant savings nor improved educational outcomes result from rural consolidation. Instead, opportunities for student participation and family involvement fall significantly and communities suffer a range of negative effects including loss of business, declining home and property values, and erosion of social infrastructure.

Research has also demonstrated that rural school and district closures have disproportionately affected low-income communities and students and communities and students of color. As in urban areas, it is not uncommon for higher-performing schools serving at-risk students to be targeted for closure. Daily bus rides of three to five hours are not uncommon in some rural, high-poverty parts of the country.

The OTL infographics point out the role of charter schools in closures in urban centers. Until recently, charter influence in most rural areas has been minimal, with pressure for consolidation coming from states and larger towns, towns sometimes anxious to gain the resources of smaller schools and communities.

But the charter/privatization dynamic is changing. For example, in North Carolina, a dramatic expansion of the state’s charter law is putting pressure on cohesive higher-performing rural communities, especially those in low-income counties. A new law in Alabama will provide public money to cover a significant portion of private school funding in communities with a “failing” public school. Much of this money will go to private schools that were established as whites-only alternatives to desegregation. And, underfunded rural schools in South Carolina and Louisiana have long struggled with further funding cuts when new charters open and take students and their funding. As in urban areas, these schools often find struggling students returning to regular school after being “counseled” out of the charter.

Read more:

National Opportunity to Learn Campaign


Read more from the January 2014 Rural Policy Matters.