Is School Consolidation a Good Idea?

In her review of more than 100 studies on school size, Mary Anne Raywid of Hofstra Universtiy writes that the relationship between small schools and positive education outcomes has been  “confirmed with a clarity and at a level of confidence rare in the annals of education research.” Better Schools Come on Smaller Campuses by Stacy Mitchell.


Those who say small schools are not efficient, or ineffective, or that they cost more should provide real evidence, not just rhetoric or politically correct studies. There is increasing evidence and studies that smaller schools provide a better quality education than large ones. "A higher percentage of students, across all socioeconomic levels, are successful when they are part of smaller, more intimate learning communities," says a recent U.S. Department of Education study. "Security improves and violence decreases, as does student alcohol and drug abuse."  Taken from "Local Government Commission Recommends "Neighborhood-Based Schools"


"According to the Department of Education, schools of 1,000 or more students experience 825 percent more violent crime, 270 percent more vandalism and 1,000 percent more weapons incidents, compared to those with fewer than 300 students.  Better Schools Come on Smaller Campuses by Stacy Mitchell.


Below are listed several studies and a very brief summary from each study and links to the entire studies.

By David W. Kirkpatrick

Few aspects of education have been more thoroughly researched than school size; few findings have been more consistent; and few have been more consistently ignored.  Ted Sizer said no school -- elementary, middle, or secondary -- should have more than 200 students. ...Sizer heads the Coalition for Essential Schools, which has numerous school reform projects around the nation, and he has received millions of dollars from Walter Annenberg to assist his efforts.

Arkansas Consolidation Debate
a Waste of Time

Small school districts in Arkansas accomplish more with less money in more difficult circumstances than do large districts, according to a new report by the Rural School and Community Trust. The report, School District Consolidation in Arkansas, found that small districts have a higher proportion of students in poverty and a much smaller property tax base, and spend less per student than large districts.


New Research Finds
Smaller is Better in Arkansas

Researchers from Ohio University analyzed test scores from every Arkansas school on seven state-mandated tests to determine if students from low-income communities do better in small schools and districts, or in large ones. Their conclusion is that, across the board, smaller schools and smaller districts are most effective in reducing the predictable effects of poverty over student achievement.

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Arkansas’ Small Schools Cut Poverty’s Power Over Student Achievement

Small schools and small school districts in Arkansas substantially reduce the negative effects of poverty on student achievement, according to results of a forthcoming study by Ohio University researchers. The findings are consistent with ones from similar studies in Alaska, California, Georgia, Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia.

Vermont Decided to Fund Small Schools Rather Than Close Them


Vermont did a study of  small schools in 1997  with the majority of legislators intending to close them (small being fewer than 100 students). The department’s report came to a surprising conclusion. They determined these extremely “small schools in Vermont cost more to operate than larger schools, but they are worth the investment because of the value they add to student  learning and community cohesion.” Instead of consolidating the schools, they  provided additional funding to cover the higher costs of the state’s smallest school districts.

ACT Scores Higher in Small Districts With High Poverty

Recently the Arkansas Department of Education released an analysis showing ACT scores are better in large districts than in small districts. Within days the national Rural School and Community Trust shot back with data showing that ACT scores are higher in the 130 smaller school districts where there are high poverty levels than in the large schools with high poverty levels.

Gates Grants to Assist With Develoopment of Small Schools

By Caroline Hendrie
Education Week

    As part of a broader push to create hundreds of small, personalized high schools across the country, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the launch last week of a five-year, $31 million, initiative to start 168 alternative schools geared to young people who are falling through the cracks in traditional high schools.



Arkansas "Efficiency" Model
Irrational and Unfair

A statistical model proposed to select small Arkansas school districts for consolidation on the basis that they are "inefficient" and "ineffective" is irrational and unfair, according to an analysis by the Rural School and Community Trust...

As a result of these deficiencies, the model targets for closure 40 small districts that serve a high percentage of poor and African American students.


by Rep. David N. Cox

"School district size has a consistent negative relation to student performance and is highly significant in three out of four tests." W. Niskanen & M. Levy, University of California, Berkeley4...The main reason taxpayers have not passed more bond elections for more and smaller schools is that our districts are too large. Their suspicions say that their money is going to benefit some other part of the district. The district is no longer their community, but it is rather a larger government entity.


The answer is smaller schools

By  Ms. Stacy Mitchell

Can the current public education system reform to serve all students, even children it now "leaves behind?"Yes Higher graduation rates, less violence, a sense of belonging instead of alienation: the case for small schools is supported by mountains of evidence and a growing number of innovative models. But many state and local governments persist in consolidation efforts, fueled by a misguided belief in the effectiveness of giant schools.

How Poverty and the Size of Schools and School Districts

 Affect School Performance in Arkansas

A series of studies1 in seven states (Alaska, California, Georgia, Montana, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia) indicates that smaller schools reduce the harmful effects of poverty on student achievement and help students from less affluent communities narrow the academic achievement gap between them and students from wealthier communities. The implication is that the less affluent a community, the smaller the school and school district serving that community should be in order to maximize student achievement. The present study conducted by Ohio University researchers extends this analysis to Arkansas. The findings are remarkably consistent with those from the other states.  4a

Schools Are Engines of
Rural Community Welfare

What happens to small rural communities when they lose their school? Cornell University sociologist Thomas A. Lyson wanted to know.  His study revealed among other things:  Sixty percent of the communities with schools saw population growth from 1990 to 2000; only 46 percent of those without schools grew. Average housing values in the communities with schools are 25 percent higher than in those without schools. Their houses are newer, and more likely to be served by municipal water and sewer systems. Communities with schools enjoy higher per capita incomes, a more equal distribution of income, less per capita income from public assistance, less poverty and less child poverty.      4aa


Consolidation Failures in West Virginia and the Broken Promises

by Dana Kelley


Charleston Gazette ran a series entitled "Closing Costs" that detailed the results of its yearlong investigation into the legacy of a decade of school consolidation in West Virginia. The Gazette examined high school course schedules in 10 West  Virginia counties and "found more than 100 advanced classes that were promised but weren't offered in the past two years."    The  Gazette reported that not only had school administrators "reneged on promises" of savings and advanced classes, but after closing 300 schools, West Virginia had seven more school administrators than 10 years ago, plus a 16 percent increase in central office administrators. on educational issues page.  5a

In Arkansas:
Consolidation a Cure Worse Than Disease

Trying to save money through consolidation of either schools or districts would likely be "a ‘cure’ that would worsen the disease" of poor achievement caused by inequities in Arkansas’ education funding system. That was the message delivered in testimony by the Rural Trust’s policy director, Marty Strange, to the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Education. The Commission is charged with proposing massive changes in the state’s troubled education program.       6


Violence and School Size:  The Evidence

Elizabeth Beeson


The Department of Education, in its report “ Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools: 1996-97”, finds that school principals were more likely to perceive at least one discipline issue as a serious problem in schools with enrollments of more than 1,000 students.  38% of principals in large schools reported some serious discipline problems, compared to 15% of principals in medium size schools and 10% in small schools. In a paper examining the correlation between school size and types of disorder, Emil J. Haller found that school size has a substantial and independent effect on student truancy and disorder.

Mission Creep:
How Large School Districts Lose Sight of the Objective -- Student Learning

By Mike Antonucci

In this well-researched report, Mike Antonucci demonstrates that large school districts are "off task," with time and energy increasingly shifted away from the core service activities of education.While the average U.S. school district spends nearly 62 percent of its budget on instruction, many large districts spend closer to 50 percent. In Philadelphia, only 48 percent of district employees are classroom teachers, while only 40 percent of the Detroit workforce is composed of teachers in the classroom.

Research: Smaller Is Better

By Debra Viadero

Studies conducted over the past 10 to 15 years suggest that in smaller schools, students come to class more often, drop out less, earn better grades, participate more often in extracurricular activities, feel safer, and show fewer behavior problems.    8a


School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance

Kathleen Cotton

Much school consolidation has been based on the beliefs that larger schools are less expensive to operate and have higher-quality curricula than small schools. Research has demonstrated, however, that neither of these assertions is necessarily true.  Academic achievement in small schools is at least equal—and often superior—to that of large schools. Student attitudes toward school in general are more positive in small schools. Student social behavior—as measured by truancy, discipline problems, violence, theft, substance abuse, and gang participation—is more positive in small schools. Levels of extracurricular participation are much higher and more varied in small schools than large ones, A smaller percentage of student drop out of small schools than large ones.      9

A Summary of an Award Winning Look at School Consolidation in West Virginia, a State Where It Has Been Tried Aggressively


The state has spent more than $1 billion on school consolidation.  School Building Authority Executive Director, Clacy Williams, acknowledged in September 2002 that school closings didn’t save taxpayers money. The number of local administrators has increased by 16% in the last 10 years despite a 13% decrease in student enrollment (41,000 fewer students) and closing of over 300 schools.  The number of state-level administrators increased and their salaries nearly doubled between 1990 and 2002. West Virginia spends more of its education dollar on transportation than any other state; rising transportation costs have forced counties to slash funding from classrooms, offices, and cafeterias.       10


The Bigger Picture on School Costs
by Representative David Cox


The discussion about school size, both with school boards and in the general public, will not be complete without considering the ancillary costs of big schools. These are harder to quantify than the capital and staffing costs of additional smaller schools. If these costs and liabilities are not considered, a shallow look could conclude that schools should be built bigger yet.     12

A New Look at Poverty and Achievement

Dispelling the Myth Revisited, a new report issued by Washington, DC-based Education Trust, finds that over 4,500 high-poverty and/or high-minority U.S. schools scored in the top third of all schools in their states, leading authors to conclude that poor and minority children can achieve at high levels when taught well .     13

More to Miss: School Size, Course Offerings, and Student Participation

Conclusion of . University of Nebraska education professors. Donald F. Uerling and Larry L. Dlugosh on study they conducted:    Students in smaller districts took more courses offered -- both academic and vocational-- than in larger districts. Participation in the curriculum was highest in the smallest districts and lowest in the largest. Enrollment units per student were 21 percent higher in the smallest districts than in the largest.


Smaller Districts: Closing the Gap for Poor Kids

Craig Howley & Robert Bickel  (August 2001, draft article manuscript)

The initial series of studies, dubbed "The Matthew Project" (5) looked at school and district size (separately from one another) in Georgia, Ohio, Montana, Texas, and West Virginia. In our five states we found two important patterns for both schools and districts--with one notable exception (the inspiration for our multi-level study). The first pattern we call the "excellence effects" of size. Basically, schools and districts with lots of poor kids (percentage-wise) are predicted to have higher average test scores if they are smaller: the smaller the school, the higher the predicted score. In scientific terms, "the effect of size is negative in impoverished schools": as size goes up, school and district-level student achievement go down                17

Small Works
Schools in Three States Showcase Virtues of Small Size.

The issue of school size is at the forefront of education reform in this country. Time and again, research has shown that small schools make a valuable and noticeable difference in students' education. But while larger, urban schools are embracing this evidence by downsizing or creating "schools within schools," small, rural schools continue to be consolidated out of existence due to the mistaken belief that one big centralized school is more efficient, and therefore, better. The result is a large, consolidated school to which students must be bused long distances from their homes, where there is no sense of community investment in the school, and where parent and community participation in school affairs suffers because the school district is so distant.  19


 Research on the relationships of school size, poverty, and student achievement has shown that small schools are better for kids -- particularly kids from poorer communities. Now, a new report goes head-to-head with conventional wisdom about economies of scale, illustrating that smaller schools can be cost-effective, as well. Dollars & Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools is a collaborative effort of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Rural School and Community Trust, and Concordia, Inc. In the report, a team of nine researchers with expertise in education, architecture, and quantitative research challenge the common belief that big schools are cheaper to build and maintain than are small ones.        69

Small Schools Offer Real Hope For Communities Of Color
 by Dr. Augusta Souza Kappner

Last year, Bank Street College of Education's study, Small Schools: Great Strides chronicled the success of small schools reform in numerous Chicago public schools. We found that smaller learning communities diminish school violence, raise academic engagement and performance, and increase attendance and graduation rates - the very issues with which minority communities across the nation are grappling. .. research affirms the mounting mass of evidence of those who have studied small schools over the past decade                  6     9 

A New Look at Poverty and Achievement

Dispelling the Myth Revisited, a new report issued by Washington, DC-based Education Trust, finds that over 4,500 high-poverty and/or high-minority U.S. schools scored in the top third of all schools in their states, leading authors to conclude that poor and minority children can achieve at high levels when taught well .     13


Better Schools Come on Smaller Campuses by Stacy Mitchell


A higher percentage of students, across all socioeconomic levels, are successful when they are part of smaller, more intimate learning communities," says a recent U.S. Department of Education study. "Security improves and violence decreases, as does student alcohol and drug abuse. Small school size encourages teachers to innovate and students to participate, resulting in higher grades and test scores, improved attendance rates, and lowered dropout rates."


Small Schools Research and Information

Articles, Books and Organizations on Small Schools.      63

The Trouble With Big

Research, Articles and Resources


American Family Association of Arkansas

Bobby L. Hester, State Director

P. 0. Box 9076, Jonesboro, AR 72403


Phone: 870-932-5065




Also see West Virginia Failures and Broken Promises

Real Agenda Behind Consolidation Plan


For a complete printable list of the Governor's and legislators' e-mail addresses, see  What You Can Do To Help


Also see

for "The Real Agenda Behind Consolidation"


Educational Issues







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