Research on School Consolidation: A Snapshot

The research on School Consolidation is clear, yet so counterintuitive and surprising  and, subsequently, not readily accepted — in spite of the stellar credentials of those who conduct it.  Sadly, it isn’t what you don’t know, but what you know for sure; “going with your gut” so to speak,  that leads to so many disastrous decisions especially for rural kids.  Here, Timbered Classrooms offers an overview of the research we have compiled on the  topic,  to be read, (or, apparently, ignored!) at a glance… Link to the original post, or continue to link to the research behind it — it is all here for you.


“…A growing body of North American education research on the “dollars and sense” of school sizeis exploding the myth and now suggest that smaller scale schools are not only better for students but, more surprisingly, more cost effective for school boards…”

“…Smaller schools are more successful with difficult-to-teach kids and with social and citizenship development. Bigger schools aren’t as good at those things…”

“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….”

“…Those who say small schools are not “efficient,” or effective, need to cite the evidence, not just the rhetoric. … The nation’s 25,000 nonpublic schools have an average enrollment of only 200. The average size of Pennsylvania’s nonpublic schools is fewer than 160. That of the new charter schools is only about 200, and many have fewer than 100.

“The Sinclair Act may have worked in some ways, but we don’t know what those are,” Donaldson told the Small Maine High School Coalition which met on the UM campus. “We do know it raised costs and reduced community and parental involvement.”

“And there’s no evidence it increased quality.”

“A wave of research from around the country shows that consolidation does not improve schools or lead to better academic results…”

“I have always been opposed to school consolidation although the fact that it costs more money was not my initial reason…”

“School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town. Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town….”

“Thousands of Maine people have seen the results of consolidation and are working to extricate themselves from the mess. Not only did taxes go up to pay for the mess, small towns lost their sense of community, lost their voice in the educational process and were continually steamrolled…”

“The public school, separated from the community by busing, (for whatever reason), government control, consolidation and other “advances”, has become a no-man’s land, a place existing only in reference to itself and to a theoretical “tomorrow’s world”.”

“…all this bus travel was damaging to the lives of my children both at school and at home. Moreover, the grade school that my children attended was nine miles, and their middle and high schools twelve miles, from home, well beyond the range of close or easy parental involvement. School consolidation thus involves a great expense of time and money that might be better spent in the education and upbringing of children.”

“…contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications. … Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….”

“…The research of the last thirty years clearly justifies educational policies that support the creation of new small schools and, more importantly for rural areas, sustaining and supporting existing small community schools. There is little if any justification for closing small schools as a matter of policy. All fair minded people have to wonder given this research base:
Why do so many states [and provinces] continue to develop consolidation policies that are anything but research-based? Why is this irrational and failed approach to educational improvement forced upon rural communities, despite their widespread and often vehement opposition? (Rural School and Community Trust, 2006)…
To continue to pursue a policy of closure and consolidation in the face of the research evidence is to put the education of rural children and youth at risk…”

‘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.”

“For 50 years, America has been consolidating school districts, and the main effect has been to replace educators with bureaucrats and wardens.”

“…small schools are not necessarily weak schools. In fact, it seems to me, now, that rural schools are some of our finest American educational institutions. Instead of being unfortunate institutions in regions too isolated to be harvested by the consolidation combine, small, rural schools are often places where educational excellence flows naturally. Instead of being weeds in the educational landscape, rural schools are often vines that bear rich fruit and healthy nourishment for young people. ”

“No wonder local communities are frustrated and angry, They are paying more than ever and their schools are still being forced to cut school programs.”

According to our recent survey, 44 out of 49 respondants (with three abstentions) support the RSU Withdrawal initiative spearheaded by the communities of former MSAD #25. A whopping 89.8%!

But to those who want our communities to remain connected? Take heart! 21 out of 51 polled (41.2%) were open to re-connecting once the withdrawal process is complete by establishing an Alternative Organizational Structure, or AOS. Certainly, as more people become aware of the opportunity therein, support will increase.



2 responses to “Research on School Consolidation: A Snapshot

  1. I think the research on combining schools is clear, but now when you have your own agenda, and want kids in one school. I feel like in the end, the powers that be would like a new school. They seem to feel, after listening at that meeting last night, that if we combine we could have more course offerings. I think that is just another dangle that will never happen. They can offer more already, and they choose not to, how about at Katahdin, talking about all the AP courses that are available to public school students. Have people come in and donate their time, think outside the box. Administration does need to be cut. When your Superintendent makes more than the superintendent in Houlton, something is wrong. There are too many teachers out for training, that is not cost effective. We wouldn’t necessarily have to face consolidation if the school board and administration would spend less. We don’t need the latest fad, lets use what is tried and true.
    I felt last night at that meeting that there is a clear agenda, especially when we didn’t even look at option 1, keep things the same. The excuse is always, the towns don’t want to pay more, so that means we have to cut. How about starting at the top and cutting. We have spent more money since joining the RSU and have seen a decline in our kids education at the middle and high school. I would also argue that people will homeschool because they feel the school is not doing what it should. I feel for these teachers, who are wonderful, caring, creative people. They truly care about our kids, but are constantly asked to try on a different hat, or do something different.
    Parents want more say in their kids education. They do not want it left up to a heavy handed superintendent and a board that can’t say no. If you care about kids as you say, then cut from the top, and start being transparent with people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The “powers that be” certainly revealed themselves didn’t they? …as staunch consolidation proponents. How can we expect a small school to be run effectively and in a child-centered way by people who are so busy trying to make it into a big school? ….so they can run it the only way they know how, on large scale terms? The answer is obvious. We can’t.

      If people want to invest in education at Katahdin, they could do so in an RSU model IF the Board respected the desire of communities to educate children close to home and on a small scale; perhaps utilize the provisions in the law that permit them to create and empower separate school committees…. But it won’t happen with the current representation. That was apparent in the nail-spitting response to the scenario to consolidate just the Katahdin side. SACS would be unaffected, right? Well, that is the problem. Those who objected so vehemently want ALL the resources in their community regardless of the costs to kids. …and they feel entitled to that! …a common phenomenon predicted by Superintendents at a Small Schools Coalition meeting I attended in 2005.

      You need a Superintendent who can answer an interview question, “What do you know about running small schools optimally for kids?” Not, “What do you know about building a new school?” ….and, more importantly, a Board that knows enough to ask it.


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