Closure of Denver’s Manual High School offers lessons, warnings for districts and families

Under NCLB, the ultimate sanction faced by a school that fails to make adequate yearly progress is closure. The Denver Post reports on the aftermath of one such closure – that of Denver’s Manual High School, a predominatly minority high school, in 2006.

[In] 2006 [Denver Public Schools] district officials announced [Manual High] school would close at the end of the school year because of lagging test scores and plummeting enrollment — forcing 558 students to find a new school.

Nearly a third of those students are now classified by the district as withdrawn. They are either dropouts, have moved to a different state or their whereabouts are unknown. One student has died, and 94 transferred out of Denver Public Schools. Their progress is no longer tracked.

Of those who remain in DPS, 70 will graduate this month, joining 175 other former Manual students who went on to get diplomas from other schools. Another 11 are on track to graduate later this year, and 40 more are still in DPS, but not yet ready to graduate.

President Barack Obama recently said he would like to see the nation’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools close and reopen as robust institutions of learning over the next five years.

Ben Kirshner, assistant professor of education at CU who led the Manual study, said districts must be careful.

“I don’t think the message is never close a school,” Kirshner said. “The message is slow down. Think about what happens to these students when they close. Our data suggests students on the whole did not benefit, and many experienced setbacks.”

Disclosure: Dr. Ben Kirshner, primary investigator on the study referenced in the article, is my graduate advisor and co-chair of my dissertation committee.

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