Four decades ago, many individuals hailed education in the United States as the new growth industry1 In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, declining enrollments caught the K–12 educational system by surprise (Boyd, 1982; also, see Abramowitz & Rosenfeld, 1978). A decline in the birthrate (overwhelmingly among the White population) and an aging population meant fewer students enrolled in public schools. Adverse economic conditions (e.g., rising inflation) and a mounting societal dissatisfaction with levels of student achievement in the schools resulted in an erosion of public support and a diminished willingness to invest in education, particularly in a period of decline (see Boyd, 1982).2 At the same time, competition between educational interest groups (e.g., bilingual education and special education) garnered the support of some politicians in passing legislation, resulting in “mandates without money” (Levine, 1979; cited in Boyd, 1982, p. 232). The resulting factionalism created enormous pressures for school districts throughout the country to deal head-on with the problems and conflicts of managing school systems with declining enrollments (Boyd & Wheaton, 1983). School administrators and school boards implemented numerous types of fiscal belttightening strategies (e.g., hiring freezes) to accommodate the decline in resources brought about by shrinking enrollments and exacerbated by growing inflation. One particular cost-saving measure that school districts used with some frequency—because school boards believed it made common and fiscal sense—was the closure of underutilized schools. In the 1970s, school boards closed over seven thousand public schools, affecting about 80% of the nation's school districts (Scott, 1983; also see Stinchcombe, 1984).
By the early 1980s, a voluminous and expanding literature on school closures had developed.3 The bulk of these studies, however, was largely prescriptive.4 These investigations dealt mainly with the advice and technical aspects of retrenchment (e.g., how to consolidate programs; how to