Closing schools in a shrinking district: Do student outcomes depend on which schools are closed?

John Engberg, Brian Gill, Gema Zamarro, Ron Zimmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


In the last decade, many cities around the country have needed to close schools due to declining enrollments and low achievement. School closings raise concerns about the possible negative impacts on student achievement, neighborhoods, families, and teaching staff. This study examines an anonymous urban district that, faced with declining enrollment, chose to make student achievement a major criterion in determining which schools would be closed. The district targeted low-performing schools in its closure plan, and sought to move their students to higher-performing schools. We estimate the impact of school closures on student test scores and attendance rates by comparing the growth of these measures among students differentially affected by the closures. We use residential assignment to school as an instrument to address non-random sorting of students into new schools. We also statistically control for the contemporaneous effects of other reforms within the district. Results show that students displaced by school closures can experience adverse effects on test scores and attendance, but these effects can be minimized when students move to schools that are higher-performing (in value-added terms). Moreover, the negative effect on attendance disappears after the first year in the new school. Meanwhile, we find no adverse effects on students in the schools that are receiving the transferring students.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-203
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Urban Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this research was provided by the Institute of Education Sciences. We would like to thank Drs. Dennis Epple and Holger Sieg for their helpful comments throughout the research project. In addition, we would like to thank discussants and conference participants for helpful comments at American Education Finance and Policy, American Education Research Association, and Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness.


  • I22
  • I23
  • I24
  • I28
  • Low-performing schools
  • School closures
  • Value-added

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Urban Studies


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