Friday, October 01, 2010

Research suggests rural school consolidation may not be best option for student performance

While consolidating rural school districts is often offered as a way to improve services and save money, research is mixed as to whether it helps students. "Consolidation of school districts as a money-savings strategy is not supported by the research which concludes: consolidation will not reduce the costs for education, and it may very well have a negative impact on student performance," Dave Murray of The Grand Rapids Press reports. That's the message from William LeTarte, executive director of the Michigan Small & Rural Schools Association, who has written more than100 pages of research on the topic.

A 1994 University of Michigan study concluded "a systematic review of evidence on school systems in Michigan demonstrates that larger school districts are no more efficient or effective than smaller districts," and further, "there is very little evidence that larger educational units will achieve economics of scale in administration or operations." A 2007 study from the Mackinac Center "indicated that 'consolidating small districts could save $31 million while breaking up large districts could save $363 million,'" Murray writes.

A 2007 study from Arizona concluded "contrary to expectations, research overwhelmingly shows smaller decentralized school districts have superior student achievement and efficiency ... Proponents claim that there will be a savings in administrative costs, on the contrary, consolidation efforts have resulted in larger not smaller administrative staffs eroding the meager projected benefits from economics of scale." Research also offers a model for effective rural schools. A 2002 Knowledge Works Foundation study noted "the best small schools offer an environment where teachers, students, and parents see themselves as part of a community, and deal with issues of learning, diversity, governance, and building community on an intimate level." (Read more)

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