Education on a Human Scale…


The issue of busing is weighed very differently depending on whose children endure the journey.  See what the research says about it, beginning on page 52 of the pdf….

“…There are some who cling, stubbornly, to the outdated view that bigger schools are necessarily better schools. Despite the fact that there is no research evidence to support this view, well meaning but misguided and ill-informed policy makers continue to pursue the closure and consolidation of small neighborhood and community schools. They pursue this agenda apparently unaware that the educational community has moved on from this mid-twentieth view to embrace the educational opportunities available to students in small schools. Despite paying lip-service to “evidence based decision making,” some educational leaders seemingly ignore the growing body of evidence that clearly indicate that smaller schools are to be preferred over larger ones. One has to wonder if these folks can read!…”

Read more of this fascinating study of school consolidation in its entirety, here: Education on a human scale_5 April 

…or keep scrolling for (colorful) highlights:

“….Once upon a time rural parents and educators were more or less alone in their struggle with governments and school boards to maintain their small community schools. Educational authorities and policy makers seemed united in their view that bigger schools were better schools. If parents truly cared about their children and their education, they would agree to close their small schools and have their children bussed down the road to larger schools in distant community. It was assumed that the “authorities knew best” and they only wanted was best for the children.
     For the most part parents trusted the authorities and went along with the closure and consolidation plans. Yet, in their hearts they knew something was wrong with what they were being told. They knew that their community schools were good schools; they knew that the children benefited in many ways by having their schools situated close to home. But those in authority consistently said otherwise. And in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the authorities had the power to impose their views.
     That was then; this is now. Over the past thirty years there has developed a considerable body of evidence and a set of informed perspectives that confirm what rural parents and known and felt all alone. In Chapter 3 of this report we present the evidence that supports the viability and value of small rural schools…”

“People in rural communities and rural teachers have been arguing for years that there is a fundamental inequity in an education system that funds on the basis of student populations rather than programs.”

Any discussion about small schools must deal with the issue of bussing. Part of the rationale for closing small community schools has always been the prospect and feasibility of bussing students from their home communities to larger schools situated in other communities. The persistent efforts of educational authorities to close and consolidate small schools and create ever larger schools has resulted in more and more students of all ages having to endure longer and longer bus rides.”

“Given that educational administrators have, in many cases and situations, held considerable power, school consolidation has often been achieved by over-riding public opinion on the basis of claims about the educational and financial benefits of larger schools. These alleged benefits are not supported by any significant evidence, and the more researchers have looked at the question of school size, the more clear it becomes that small schools are actually superior”

“Educational authorities, convinced that they were right, intimidated and informed parents that if they wished their children to have a quality education, they had to agree to close their small community school and have their children bussed to a larger school in a distant community. No additional evidence was necessary (Howley and Eckman, 1997; Truscott and Truscott, 2005, Theobald, 2005; Meier, 2002).”

“For many educational authorities there was no need for research to support this view. Most administrators and policy makers during this time period increasingly drew their educational models and metaphors from business and industry. Notions of economies of scale and the “cult of efficiency” (Callahan, 1964) provided all the “proof” needed to justify the consolidation and closure of small schools. For many it was simply a matter of common sense: if bigger factories are more productive than smaller ones then bigger schools must be better than smaller schools.”

“…don’t bother me with the facts, I have made up my mind” applied to educational decision making. It is hard not to conclude that those who still insist that bigger schools are better schools are simply not interested in the evidence to the contrary…”

…these large, typically urban schools are attempting to create the social conditions which exist naturally in rural schools, conditions which are ironically destroyed by consolidation.
     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…”

“Policy makers can change the rules under which state [provincial] systems operate, from big-school to small-school norms. They might, in other words, un-rig the game that requires schools to be large. This study and others show that large size is not the criterion of “excellence” it was once thought to be. And smaller schools have now been shown to exert an evidently robust effect on equity. It is interesting to observe that at the time large-school norms were instantiated—the early and mid-twentieth century—few educators or legislators worried about equity. Such norms seem to have outlived their utility (2004: 27).”

“Howley and Howley conclude their most recent work with a number of practical recommendations for educators and policy makers concerned with making the most educationally sound decisions regarding small rural schools. They base these “considered judgments” on the current body of research on this topic as well as their own and others experiences working with rural communities:
•    Sustain the smallest schools in the poorest communities.

•    In communities that serve all social classes, do not build large

•    Keep elementary and middle schools proportionately smaller than
high schools.

• When building new, keep schools everywhere smaller than
recommended in the 20th century.

•    Provide appropriate and adequate support to smaller schools: small
size improves the odds of success, it does not guarantee it.

•    Regard smaller school size and reform as distinct issues, but do not
hesitate to innovate in smaller schools.

•    Doubt that an educationally-relevant lower limit of school size exists. (emphasis added) Much depends on context, and even in the contemporary world, dedicated parents educate very small groups of children with remarkable success at home (2004: 28-29)…”

“The schools that are the focus of this study are small schools. From a national and international perspective they are very small schools. The body of research that has been amassed over the last thirty years confirms that small size is no impediment to academic performance. In fact for some groups of students a smaller school provides them with their best chance of academic success. To bus them out of their home community to a larger distant school may put their academic lives at risk…”

“…The criticism that smaller schools cannot offer as broad a program of studies as can larger schools has been around for a very long time; it is often used as a justification for closing smaller schools. Educational authorities, pursuing an agenda of school consolidation, point out the obvious: larger schools can offer a wider range of programs and more courses than can smaller schools. “Therefore, goes the argument, operating small schools with more limited curricula is unfair to the students who attend them” (Cotton, 1996).
However, as Cotton (1996) points out:

“While this has a certain common sense appeal, examination of the research reveals that there simply is no reliable relationship between school size and curriculum quality. For one thing, researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety”—that is, “on the average a 100% increase in enrolment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings” (Pittman and Haughwout, 1997). Moreover, “[t]he strength of the relationship between school size and curricular offerings diminishes as schools become larger…”

“..Meier (1996) addresses the issue of school size as an impediment to parental involvement. “Schools are intimidating places,” she writes, “for many parents – parents feel like intruders, strangers, and outsiders.”
And nothing seems more foolish than going to parent night and seeing a slew of adults who don’t know your kid, have very little investment in him or her, and whose opinions and advice make one feel less, not more, powerful. When kids reach high school, schools usually give up on parents entirely (except to scold them). But high school students don’t need their parents any less, just differently.
When the school is small enough, probably someone there knows your kid well enough, and maybe also likes him or her enough, to create a powerful alliance with you. Smallness doesn’t guarantee such an alliance, but it makes it reasonable to put time into creating one (1996: 13).  When that larger school is in a distant community, that feeling of alienation for parents is intensified. In addition, travel distance and time become additional barriers for parents to be involved with the school and get to the school for special meetings. In some circumstances having access to transportation can be a problem for parents…”

“…The trend to close schools was intensified by a culturally popular assumption … schools need to be big to be good. In fact, for many decades of the 20th century, school consolidation was considered synonymous with school improvement, despite the fact that there was virtually no evidence to support the assumption. While naïve views related to consolidation still exist, and the practice continues to be one of the first cost-cutting measures examined when states face serious fiscal difficulties, we have at last reached the point where consolidation advocates are forced to submit evidence for claims of greater efficiency and improved instruction (Theobald, 2005: 121)….”

“…school administrators often have something very different in mind when they speak of educational quality than the images of educational quality in the minds of most citizens living in rural communities. They speak, it seems different languages and it is very difficult to translate between the two…”

“…Theobald’s second point is that in the United States and in Canada as well, a higher standard of evidence is now required to justify crucial decisions that are made with public money. We are now in the age of evidence-based decision making and accountability. Theobald speaks to the passing of the time when a group of people can set themselves up as experts and make decisions on the basis of unjustified and unsubstantiated judgment calls….”

“…Let us be clear, it is not progress, technology or time that kills a small rural school or any school for that matter. Small schools often do not fit the standardized mould and they cause difficulties for administrators. And so, the very qualities that make these schools work and that their students and communities love about them are actually used as justification for their closure. These schools work because they are nonstandard and responsive to real communities…”

“…Contrary to the mythology, exceptional schools do not die off, most are killed by intentional acts, not by the inevitable forces of nature. In nature, variation, messiness, and chaos are not unnatural or unproductive forms of organization. In fact, as biologists would remind us, they are essential features of growth. When school people forbid such messiness, or view it as a burden, we undermine the possibility of proliferation … Many good schools die an early unnatural death because the policies that govern our public systems cut short their natural growth … the people who operate the present system do not see themselves in the business of trying to maintain idiosyncratic practice …they’ve been trained to seek, first and foremost, ways to solve problems by rule. If it’s not good for everyone, it’s not good for anyone. To make exceptions smacks of favoritism and inefficiency. (Meier, 2002: 156-157)
     The strange notion of fairness (in the sense that because we have lost our schools, you should too) and just desserts is sadly a powerful motivator of school closures. So many communities have lost school in past decades, so why should others be allowed to keep theirs? But what an odd and petty rationale for closing a core community institution; yet schools continue to be closed on the basis of this bizarre rationale of past mistakes…”


9 responses to “Education on a Human Scale…

  1. This report has great insight and information, Lisa! It really speaks to many of the issues we are facing in RSU 50.


    • Thank you — I’m happy you like it! Of all of the studies I’ve seen on school consolidation, this is easily the most thorough. It was compiled around an initiative in Nova Scotia, where the parallels are clear. Former-Commissioner Susan Gendron stated publicly that the RSU Law (debaucle, more like…) was modeled, in part, on New Brunswick…


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  3. Reblogged this on Timbered Classrooms… and commented:

    “…There are some who cling, stubbornly, to the outdated view that bigger schools are
    necessarily better schools. Despite the fact that there is no research evidence to support
    this view, well meaning but misguided and ill-informed policy makers continue to pursue
    the closure and consolidation of small neighborhood and community schools. They
    pursue this agenda apparently unaware that the educational community has moved on
    from this mid-twentieth view to embrace the educational opportunities available to
    students in small schools. Despite paying lip-service to “evidence based decision
    making,” some educational leaders seemingly ignore the growing body of evidence that
    clearly indicate that smaller schools are to be preferred over larger ones. One has to
    wonder if these folks can read!

    …and so read the Opening Words, of “Education on a Human Scale”; in-depth and comprehensive research by Mike Corbett and Dennis Mulcahey for the Acadia Centre for Rural Education. The full report, in pdf, is linked in the third paragraph and is also available in hard-copy form at the Sherman Public Library. We have asked that it not be checked out, that it remains accessible for the entirety of the RSU Reorganization process.


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