The Myths of Rural School Consolidation

800px-Patten_ME_Bird's_eye“Another dramatic problem facing rural education is the issue of consolidation of schools. From Arkansas to West Virginia to Maine, small rural schools are closing in order to merge into regional schools. The assumption is that closing small schools and busing students to regional schools not only presents efficiencies of scale and cost-savings, but also provides more opportunities, including a broader curriculum with more Advanced Placement classes, for example. But many rural educators see consolidation as a disaster: Since schools are often the heart of small communities, there are devastating social implications when they are closed, including that parents and town leaders lose control and interest. Transportation becomes an enormous hurdle, literally removing access to schools, and students are forced to travel great distances to get to school. They can’t attend extracurricular activities and sports, nor can their parents easily support them.

While at the Ed School, Tompkins studied the issue of consolidation and started off as a proponent. But, in 1972, after evaluating the data, she published a critical paper, Economy, Efficiency, Equality: The Myths of Rural School Consolidation (later expanded into a book cowritten with colleagues). Since then, her opposition has only grown.

“My research still holds up,” says Tompkins. “Bigger is not better, smaller is not cheaper, and rural people are not too dumb to run their schools. Those are the three myths that undergird school consolidation. It hasn’t saved a lot of money; it just hasn’t lived up to its billing.” She adds, “I do think people believe  there are efficiencies and economies, but nobody goes in to look afterward to figure out, were there any savings? There’s almost no research on that.” Perhaps the best data, she says, comes from a series of articles published in 2002 in the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, which found that despite the state spending $1 billion on consolidation and closing more than 300 schools since 1990, no hard savings were achieved, there were more administrators than before, and the promise of more and better courses was never met.

The push for rural consolidation is all the stranger given the movement in urban areas toward smaller schools, including charter schools, so that classroom sizes are smaller and there is more accountability among students, parents, and administrators. “Our general view is, the more adults you have in positions of influence like school boards and planning committees, the more adults engaged in learning about and understanding public education, the better off you are,” says Tompkins. “And the centralizing kinds of strategies really undermine the community support for learning.”

Adds Tieken, “Schools are very much a part of the identity, the meeting place, the heart and soul of a community. If you ask them, ‘What if you lose your school?’ they say, ‘We lose our identity.’” Some of this concern is economically related, in that the loss of a school can cause people to move and businesses to shut down.”

Read the article in its entirety, here:


Ed Magazine.


15 responses to “The Myths of Rural School Consolidation

  1. As the end of our high school basketball season comes to a close, I am sure that those attending games agree that if we lose our school to further consolidation, then we lose our community. The school is our meeting place, and is certainly the heart and soul of our community during the winter months! Parents and citizens must be present at the Feb 10 public meeting to defend and support keeping our schools open. Also, as the withdrawal process continues please support this effort – it may be our only answer to keeping Katahdin MIddle and High School open.


    • Very astute. People don’t often realize the vital role a school has in a community, and how interconnected it is.

      Whether or not withdrawal is the only option to keep Katahdin open remains to be seen. The showing at the forum on Feb. 10 is an important mandate not only for the Board’s work, but for ours. We can do this!

      What is clear? Withdrawal is the ONLY way to keep your tax money in town. Though an AOS (keep sharing, but control your own finances) is a popular idea, people are understandably sick of sending their children to one school, where they go without, and their money to the other. This was an utterly predictable by-product of district consolidation. I used to think that relatively equal board representation would guard against this but no more! I am aghast at the picture of the Superintendent driving truckloads of your money North, with our own Board representatives riding shotgun (seriously, the former chairman is quick to fire at anyone who objects.) People must know that the pillage is NOT “temporary”, and will NOT “benefit us in the long run”. …and why does everyone treat “future” children as more important than those of the present? What we do to them today impacts their “future”.

      These debates always put local education advocates on the defensive; we constantly have to “prove” the worth of a small school. It’s time to turn that foolishness on its head, and demand irrefutable proof of consolidation’s benefits. Put the burden of proof back onto Larry, who hasn’t even proven it to himself. The evidence doesn’t exist, because rural school consolidation is a failed policy.

      Our oldest son is in grade 7, and for too much of his educational life, someone has been looking into his classroom window, and wanting to take away what he has. Susan Gendron said the money for his elementary education would be “..better spent elsewhere”. Yeah! She said that on the radio! The Superintendent at that time wanted the money for Katahdin, and now this one wants all his resources to go to Dyer Brook…. Our son is hardly demanding — I dare say he is among the cheapest kids to educate, and I shudder to think how much of that $9000 tuition they actually spend on him.

      It ends here.


  2. So very true. I hear they already want to consolidate the Boys Varsity Soccer teams for next year. That is just the beginning. That opens the door to further consolidation. I am already hearing about some people homeschooling next year. All our kids have for extra curricular is sports, music. If you combine less are involved. I don’t believe the lie that they will be offered more. I am so disconcerted by the lies and deception. It is all smoke and mirrors. Heaven forbid a kid says they hate the school, you get called to the office. Isn’t the more appropriate question, why and how can we change that. Why is administration so concerned about what kids say. How about trying to educate them not bully them.


    • They are absolutely committed to consolidation; intend to shuffle kids around the buildings of SACS and Katahdin as though they were all, one 30-mile-side campus, ignoring the costs both monetary and human. Kids will be deprived of opportunity, of course, but taxpayers will be crushed once control of their coffers is transferred to another town. “It’s fun to spend other people’s money” ~The Humble Farmer.

      A while back, Larry spoke to the greater ease by which parents can opt to homeschool because of the technology available today – ostensibly to justify the massive expenditures for technology in the schools (and overpriced Common Core apps etc., but that’s another post). It’s hard to believe he has spoken to many homeschoolers, but I have. This “march of the homeschoolers” will snowball as he slashes what is dearest to them — faculty.

      I am disconcerted by the feelings of inferiority here — that rural children cannot afford and don’t deserve excellence. Actually, small rural schools have an advantage in that area if they get their priorities right — the priorities pursued by this RSU are the least child-centered I can imagine. They are hard for taxpayers too!

      Kids will not be “offered more”. That is a lie. It will all go to more administration, bussing etc. I cannot get past the lies either. That, and an appalling lack of respect for kids is what drives me, and this blog. A child’s feelings toward school are never “right” or “wrong” and must NEVER be punished, but addressed just as you suggest. Ask how and why, and then LISTEN!! Was it Earnest Hemingway who said most people never “really listen”? … (If you have knowledge of a child being “taken to the woodshed” for expressing a view, please contact me privately. It’s perverse, and, yes, bullying.)

      A lack of respect, yes, and also very deep philosophical differences about the purpose of an education drive me…. Are we educating free-thinking, self-governing citizens, or obedient cogs in the wheel? The use of our schools as instruments of control rather than investment does everyone dirt — children and taxpayers alike. (Locking the bathroom doors? What about the children who did nothing wrong, but will hold back tears as well as urine to avoid the humiliation of asking for an escort. You don’t “earn” basic human dignity. It’s true, isn’t it? School consolidation has replaced teachers with bureaucrats and wardens.)

      You absolutely can “drive the bus” here. Please introduce yourself at the meeting on the 10th! I’ll post the flyer to our FB page, and here too if you want to print some. (I haven’t the technology:(


  3. concernedparentalso

    We also have talked about next year, we are really considering pulling our 3 kids and home schooling. We also have looked into the Baxter charter school on line. There home and theirs no more of this


    • You are not alone, certainly! I just replied to a comment about the increase in homeschooling. Would you elaborate on your reasons? I suspect they aren’t what the administration would believe…

      Whatever you do decide, I hope to see you on the 10th:)


      • Have you ever read The Well Trained Mind? I am currently reading it as I contemplate Homeschooling. I am disgusted at all my kids have missed out on educationally. Kids shouldn’t be learning from computers in the early years. They should be absorbing all kinds of facts and knowledge, which they will continue to build on through the years, a classical education approach. Really can’t figure out what Malone’s angle is, but I know one thing. Our education has declined since he came on board. Bureaucratic baloney. Do we care about students or not. I would say no they do not.


        • I never have…. Who wrote it?

          The pressure to educate kids via computers — it is so much bigger than this administration, but corporate de-formers looking not only to profit from our children, but to make sure they haven’t sense enough to demand better.

          You are not alone, here. Parents all over the country are fighting tooth and nail, aided by the finest minds in education.

          Mr. Malone wants to close Katahdin. He doesn’t believe it should exist. So every single decision, is either child-centered, or furthers his agenda toward closure — these goals are at cross purposes, and no one decision can do both. Guess what he opts for every. single. time……

          Time for parents to start driving the bus, but there are some good Board members who are beginning to question.


  4. concernedparentalso

    you haven’t seen any thing yet,


  5. What do you mean?


  6. concernedparentalso

    Every time we the parents take our children out to home school, it drops the no. of children in the schools. That in powers him to make the statement, we have to go forward in closing the schools and make one. Because the lack of kids going to school. Sorry i hate to say it, but you mark my words.


    • I see you’ve read the script from which the Superintendent is sure to read;) …easily refutable.

      There is soooo much inequity baked into funding schools in terms of population instead of programming, and expensive too! Bussing isn’t free; it isn’t even cheap.

      Taxpayers had better hang on to their wallets…..


  7. The Well Trained Mind A Guide to Classical Education at Home is written by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but I know when something sounds a lot more in-depth and common sensical to me. The amount that these kids could be learning is great. I think there is a lot of time wasted in school, and I think the kids in their early years should have extra recess and a time to play, especially in kindergarten. The math concerns me a lot, because i see so many high school kids who should know more of their basics. The key is well rounded, and high expectations, and curriculum that is rich and challenging.


  8. Wow. You have just described everything about an education that the elites; the authors of the Common Core demand for their own children…. …..and everything the Common Core is NOT.
    We know what works for kids, and it isn’t about money. There is an article I posted today that articulates the ugly side of education reform much better than I could. I may even take a bit of a break from “School Consolidation Week” and post it.
    These things are all connected, as they represent various ways in which people seek to take the money allotted to our children for themselves; either into distant communities or even more distant shareholder coffers.

    Here is the article:
    ~The Hidden Agenda of Corporate Ed Reform~

    Here’s the hidden “story” many of us have observed, that the Reformers are trying to suppress. During the 1980s and 1990s US educational researchers and teachers figured out how to help all children succeed. Professional educators were becoming highly innovative, we understood the importance of joy, curiosity, flow and creativity– how the brain learns and constructs knowledge, how to motivate all students and how to help them develop their skills.

    We were part of a learner-centered revolution in education, where “lifelong learning” and a “love of learning” were the guiding lights of our profession. Magic was happening and by the end of the 1990s the power elites became aware of our success and it might threaten them if educators continued moving in the direction we were going.

    So then they did three things- First, they looked at what worked and made sure their kids got that kind of education in elite private schools. Next, they invested in profit-making charter schools and education software to make money by implementing some of the principles we developed. And finally, they started to set up all these standards and testing schemes (NCLB, RTT and Common Core) to shut down the successful learning that had been happening in public schools.

    Why? Because they don’t want us giving away a quality education for free. They want to control it, limit its distribution and sell it. They fear a world where all kids (regardless of race or social class) would be able to compete equally with their children. They’re afraid of what would happen if America’s public schools became breeding grounds for greater liberty, creativity, skill development, critical thinking and equality.

    ~Christopher Chase
    The Art of Learning

    Related: The video the corporate reformers do *not* want you to see, a 1993 ABC News Report on “The New American Revolution in Learning.” They focus on motivation, multiple intelligences, flow, research on how the brain works, the trouble with standardized testing. Shows all the great learner-centered reforms the powers that be have been trying to shut down in US public schools…


    • A great argument for less bureaucrats in education. And also for homeschooling. If it isn’t good enough for their kids, it shouldn’t be good enough for ours.


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