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Chicago’s controversial mass school closures in 2013 have had negative effects on thousands of the city’s students—mostly those who are Black and from low-income households— according to a new report.

Transferred students fell behind academically, despite officials’ promises to provide a better education once they left under-populated schools for higher-performing ones, said the report which was released Tuesday by University of Chicago Consortium on School Research scholars. This study—the most comprehensive yet to evaluate the educational, social and emotional impacts of the city’s decision to shut down an unprecedented 47 elementary schools to save money five years ago— examined the outcomes of 10,700 students who were in kindergarten to 7th grade at the time of the closures. They also looked at outcomes of students and staff at “welcoming” schools that took in kids.

Through data, surveys, student and school staff interviews, researchers compared the experiences of transferred students to those in similarly under-enrolled, low-performing schools that were not closed or designated as “welcoming” schools.

Students from closed schools struggled to match their peers in key academic areas, including math. Also, those students were about one-and-a-half months behind their classmates who didn’t transfer in 2013 when it came to reading. These students also had to deal with a damaging stigma: school staff often labeled them as “low performers.”

Chicago’s school closures in 2013 allowed for the merging of several of the city’s student populations, a move that drew major protests at the time. Surveyed students and school staff told University of Chicago researchers that they endured a rushed, poorly planned merging process that left schools without proper support.

The study’s timing is also significant as Chicago’s five-year ban on closing schools ends this year. The district plans to shut down four under-populated, majority-Black high schools on the city’s South Side and turn another majority-Black elementary school into a high school, according to the Chicago Reporter. More funding, support and training on school mergers—especially emotional guidelines on how to help affected students with long-term adjustment—is needed, educators said.


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