School Consolidation

School consolidation continues to be a topic of great concern for many small rural school and districts. While advocates for consolidation commonly cite fiscal imperatives based upon economies of scale, opponents have responded with evidence undermining this argument and pointing out the prominent position of the rural school in the economic and social development of community. Additionally, evidence continues to build demonstrating the advantages of small schools in attaining higher levels of student achievement. Larger schools, in contrast, have been shown to increase transportation costs, raise dropout rates, lower student involvement in extra-curricular activities, and harm rural communities’ sense of place. Despite this, the prevailing notion of streamlining school districts and reducing expenditures through consolidation remains strong.

The links listed below provide a glimpse of the extant research on school consolidation as well as providing some ideas for areas in need of more study.

American Association of School Administrators: School District Consolidation: The Benefits and Costs

American School: Rural School Districts Facing Threat of Consolidation

Education Northwest: What Does Research Say About School District Consolidation?

National Education Policy Center: Consolidation of Schools and Districts: What the Research Says and What It Means

Pennsylvania School Boards Association: Merger/Consolidation of School Districts: Does it save money and improve student achievement?

The Rural Blog

The Rural School and Community Trust: Consolidation and Charter Policies Make Conflicting Claims

The Rural School and Community Trust: Consolidation Fight-Back Toolkit

Anything But Research Based-State Initiatives to Consolidate Schools and Districts
Rural Policy Matters (March 2006)

Broader Curriculum Does Not Equal Higher Achievement in Iowa
Rural Policy Matters (March 2006)

Breaking the Fall—Cushioning the Impact of Rural Declining Enrollment (PDF)
Lorna Jimerson (February 2006)

School Consolidation and Local Control (PDF)
National School Boards Association (2005)
School consolidation and alternatives are the focus of the October issue of Leadership Insider.

A Decade of Consolidation: Where are the Savings? (PDF)
Cynthia Reeves (Jan 2004)
Between 1990 and 2000, total enrollment in West Virginia decreased 11%, 202 schools were closed, and education spending increased by 16%. Per pupil expenditures increased more in West Virginia than in any other state, but student achievement remained stagnant during this period. Transportation and administrative costs rose in spite of the declining numbers of students. This report includes analysis of primary state policies that have led to consolidation including: 1) construction and renovations requirements that mandate minimum enrollments; 2) school funding formulas that discourage efficiency and flexibility; 3) transportation allowances that have no upper limit other than cost per mile traveled.

Closing Costs: A Summary of an Award Winning Look at School Consolidation in West Virginia (Word Document)
Eric Eyre & Scott Finn (August 2002)
With the promise of broader curriculum and huge tax savings, West Virginia has closed more than 300 schools, one in every five, since 1990. In 2002, the Charleston Gazette investigated the outcomes of the state’s consolidation efforts in the series, “Closing Costs.” This is a summary report of that series.

Research: Smaller Is Better (Requires Free Registration)
Debra Viadero (November 2001)
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.

Think Small—Making Education More Personal
Northwest Education Magazine (Winter 2000)

Rural School Consolidation and Student Learning. ERIC Digest.
Jim Fanning (1995)

What’s So Big About Small Schools?  The Case for Small Schools: Nationwide and in North Dakota
This report is part of a series of working papers produced by Harvard University’s Program on Education, Policy and Governance (PEPG).