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What happened when Philly closed 30 schools? New study offers answers

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

When the Philadelphia School District closed more than 10 percent of its traditional public school buildings in 2012 and 2013, many worried about the thousands of students displaced by these closures.

A new study, however, suggests that the students who struggled most academically during this tumultuous time were those attending schools that received the most displaced students.

The paper by two University of Pennsylvania professors, to be published formally next month in the Economics of Education Review, is perhaps the most comprehensive analysis yet of the 30 school closings that rocked Philadelphia’s education landscape during the early years of this decade.

Some of the study’s conclusions affirm the District’s approach, and others will embolden critics.

Among the more troubling findings: Displaced students had more absences and received more suspensions after their original schools closed. The farther the students had to travel to reach their new schools, the more they struggled in these areas.

This uptick in suspensions and absences did not, however, torpedo students academically. And there was a glimmer of hope in the data: When displaced students wound up at higher-achieving schools, their test scores went up.


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