Trouble with consolidating schools signs we should stop dating

“Where we balk is when there is a systemic, forced, and somewhat arbitrary consolidation of school districts.We think there are a lot of worthy considerations not given their due in the process.”Over the past 70 years, the number of school districts has declined from 117,000 to around 14,200, even though the student population has almost doubled.Consolidation increasingly is becoming an attractive alternative to states faced with growing pressure to fund public education, with small, rural school districts being affected the most.The question, according to the Rural School and Community Trust, is whether policymakers take the best interest of students into account.“It’s a case-by-case situation,” says Marty Strange, the organization’s policy director.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.“It’s gone from ‘How big does a school or district have to be to be efficient?

Hawaii, for instance, has a single statewide school system.

Ten states, led by Maine, are considering consolidation or moving toward the process this year.

Strange said during a late October webinar that consolidation “crosses hairs with all of the classic debates -- equity, adequacy, efficiency, and the question of who is in control.”“As the evidence grows daily that small schools are quite effective, this is an issue that is being turned on its head,” he said.

There are several reasons for this: empirical studies of consolidation employ different analytical approaches to data; older data in some studies yield results that may not be representative of current district conditions; studies do not uniformly separate costs related to merging only a narrow range of district services from costs related to merging entire districts or combining schools; different studies focus on different costs or estimate costs in different ways; and much of the literature consists of advocacy.

However, while the literature on consolidation may not provide a direct road map for making decisions, it does provide a useful overview of issues, together with estimates of cost savings and cautions for those going forward with consolidation.

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