In this study of school closures in Detroit, the authors note that the closures were concentrated in black and brown communities. Terrance L. Green, Joanna D. Sanchez, and Andrene J.Castro note this spatial concentration of closures and point out that it typically has negative effects on students.

It reads in part:

Between 2006 and 2013, >1,200 traditional public schools were closed across 26 states in the United States.2 These closures disproportionately occurred in urban school districts that predominantly serve Black and Brown3 students, such as Detroit, Chicago, and New York City (Deeds & Pattillo, 2015; Ewing, 2018).4 In each of these districts, >100 schools have been closed in recent years (Journey for Justice, 2014). According to research, schools that serve larger populations of Black and Brown students with economic need are more likely to be closed than schools with fewer students of color, even when the schools have similar academic performances (Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 2017). Research also indicates that schools mainly serving Black and Brown students are closed even though closures can be detrimental on multiple levels as they affect “every part of the education system from students to teachers to the neighborhoods around the schools and the city as a whole” (Grover & van der Velde, 2016, p. 21).

Scholars who take critical perspectives link school closures to political forces, corporate interests, and the policy contexts that allow neoliberalism to take shape (Lipman, 2011; Pedroni, 2011; Stovall, 2016). The neoliberal education agendas that focus on school closures manifest through policy justifications that render closures as a positive reform mechanism. These agendas purport to remove “low-performing schools” from the “education market” through competition, thereby producing viable schooling options for families (Brummet, 2014; Engberg, Gill, Zamarro, & Zimmer, 2012). School closures are therefore rationalized as good administrative governance, a logical intervention to “failing” traditional public schools, a consequence to underutilization of space, and a fiscally responsible option for distressed districts. However, these arguments for closing schools are still made despite empirical evidence showing that closing schools does not result in large savings, especially for big-city school districts, at least in the short run, without coupling it with large-scale teacher layoffs (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2011).5

Moreover, there is an important relationship among federal, state, and local policy actors in how school closures and charter openings manifest. Federal policy actors6 create a climate for neoliberal education policies that state and local actors in turn implement. As such, federal education policies in the United States have engendered an environment for school closures and the subsequent opening of charter schools in low-income Black and Brown communities (Good, 2017; Lipman, Vaughan, & Gutierrez, 2014). Policies such as No Child Left Behind created a high-stakes accountability environment that made school closures a “commonsense” neoliberal outcome to “underperforming schools.” Under this logic, No Child Left Behind encouraged school closures through market-based school reform policies that punished schools for low performance, introduced incentives, and promoted school choice (Green, 2017; Mintrop & Sunderman, 2009). Similarly, the federal government continued to close urban public schools, while new initiatives promoted the possibility of innovation in charter schools. The Race to the Top competition prioritized school closure as one of its remedies to “underperforming schools” (Deeds & Pattillo, 2015).

At the state and local levels, neoliberal policies have also been used to justify school closures and the concurrent opening of charter schools. This has been coupled with housing, labor, and other city policies that constrain urban life for children and families of color (Ewing, 2018; Green, 2017; Lipman, 2011). For example, research suggests that closing public schools and opening charter schools in Chicago “is linked to policies that mandate dismantling public housing, limit affordable housing options, and support gentrification” (Lipman et al., 2014, p. 3). Consequently, the massive school closures in Chicago—which resulted in >50 school closures in 2013 alone—have produced racialized outcomes leaving some Black communities with few traditional public open-enrollment schools (Lipman et al., 2014).

Impacts of School Closure on Students and Communities

The impacts of school closures on student educational outcomes are neutral at best and negative in other instances (Gordon et al., 2018). Students whose schools have been closed initially experience higher absenteeism and lower test scores, which in some cases decrease over time (Engberg et al., 2012). Research in Chicago suggests, however, that students from the 50 schools that were closed in 2013 experienced long-term negative impacts on their math test scores and grade point averages (Gordon et al., 2018). Furthermore, in schools that have been closed across the United States, students have noted less voice, decreased ability to affect school policies, weaker relationships with teachers, and lower academic performance in the schools that they attended after their neighborhood schools were closed (Kirshner, Gaertner, & Pozzoboni, 2010; Kirshner & Pozzoboni, 2011). While most students in urban districts move to lower or equally performing schools after closure, some studies suggest that when students move to higher-performing schools, they typically experienced better attendance and test scores.7 However, the distance between high- and low-performing schools in many urban cities is so far that it prohibits some students of closed schools from attending higher-performing schools (de la Torre & Gwynne, 2009).

Additionally, the social-spatial and psychological impacts of school closure can be costly. Research indicates that school closures can destabilize communities, interrupt the lives of students and families, and cause receiving schools to become overenrolled (Gordon et al., 2018). The closure of schools can also lead to a type of social death or mourning because the connections among schools, students, families, and communities are lost (Ewing, 2018). The social impacts of school closure also include erasure of histories, student mobility issues, loss of jobs for teachers of color, and fractured school feeder patterns (Buras, 2013; Green, 2017). To compound these impacts, the psychological consequences of school closure interrupt a community’s sense of place and home (Journey for Justice, 2014).

To frame this study, we draw on Peck and Tickell’s (2002) theorization of “rollback” and “rollout” neoliberalism. According to Peck and Tickell, neoliberalism represents “explicit forms of political management, intervention, and new modes of institution-building designed to extend the neoliberal project, to manage its contradictions, and to secure its ongoing legitimacy” (p. 396). Peck and Tickell characterize rollback neoliberalism as a type of dismantling, discreditation, and destruction of public institutions and goods. As the authors note, rollback is historically situated and represents a shift from Keynesian-welfare economics to free market economic theories characterized by marketization and deregulation. For example, rollback neoliberalism destroys public goods and institutions such as public schools, public housing, and labor protection policies (e.g., teachers’ unions and tenure; Lipman, 2013b; Moskowitz, 2017).

Conversely, the authors argue that rollout neoliberalism describes a policy logic that privileges entrepreneurial governance through new construction and consolidations. Rollout neoliberalism therefore engenders new institutions (i.e., charter schools) and policies that create markets in places where they had not previously existed, such as charter school markets in communities that once housed traditional public schools (Lipman, 2013a). Given the proliferation of charter schools in urban contexts and the ways that charter schools are marketed toward students of color, rollout neoliberalism is also imbued with racial consequences.

School closings and dispersion of communities of color tend to be correlated with gentrification and dispersion of the students whose schools were closed, as well as disruption of community institutions.