Academic journal article Rural Educator

National Rural Education Association Report: Rural School Consolidation: History, Research Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations

Academic journal article Rural Educator

National Rural Education Association Report: Rural School Consolidation: History, Research Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations

Article excerpt

The consolidation of rural schools in the United States has been a controversial topic for policy-makers, school administrators, and rural communities since the 180Os. At issue in the consolidation movement have been concerns of efficiency, economics, student achievement, school size, and community identity. Throughout the history of schooling in America, school consolidation has been a way to solve rural issues in the eyes of policy makers and many education officials. Today, faced with declining enrollments and financial cutbacks, many rural schools and communities continue to deal with challenges associated with possible school reorganizations and consolidations.

This paper, developed by the NREA Consolidation Task Force, provides a review of the literature on rural school consolidation, defines consolidation, addresses current research and issues related to consolidation with respect to school size, economies of scale, and student achievement, and concludes with proposed recommendations for the NREA Executive Board.

Factors Leading to Interest in Consolidation

As early as the mid 1800's, consolidation of schools was thought to provide students a more thorough education by eliminating small schools in favor of large ones (Potter, 1987). Legislation providing free public transportation was passed by the state of Massachusetts in 1869, paving the way for consolidation of rural schools. The invention of the automobile and paving of roads allowed students to travel longer distances in shorter amounts of time, decreasing the need for the many one-room schools built by early settlers.

The rise of industry in urban areas in the late nineteenth century contributed to the school consolidation movement. The prevailing belief during the industrial revolution was that education could contribute to an optimal social order using organizational techniques adapted from industry (Orr, 1992). Early school reformers and policy makers felt that an industrialized society required all schools to look alike, and began to advocate more of an urban, centralized model of education (Kay, Hargood, & Russell, 1982). Larger schools were seen as more economical and efficient, which was defined in terms of economy of scale. As a result of this thinking, urban and larger schools were adopted as the "one best model," and from this context rural schools were judged deficient.

Along with policies advocating an urban "one best system," model of education came studies on appropriateness of size. Conant (1959) determined that in order to offer the best possible college preparatory curriculum, a high school should have at least 100 students in its graduating class. Conant stated that the most outstanding problem in education was the small high school, and that the elimination of small high schools would result in increased cost-effectiveness and greater curricular offerings. Many who research trends in school consolidation believe that Conant's study and subsequent book The American High School Today, contributed much to the move toward school consolidation (Smith and DeYoung, 1988; Pittman and Haughwout, 1987; Stockard and Mayberry, 1992; Walberg, 1992; Williams, 1990).

In addition to policy-makers and education professionals, private businesses, in the interest of financial gain, have encouraged school consolidation. International Harvester Company, a major promoter of school consolidation in the 1930s, produced a catalog with several pages devoted to its promotion of newly manufactured International Harvester school buses (White, 1981). These business- government linkages in support of school consolidation are still evident today. In West Virginia, the legislature appointed a School Building Authority (SBA), to fund capital improvements for school districts. In order to gain approval from the SBA for improvements, districts had to meet mandated enrollment levels set by the state, which forced consolidation of small schools. …

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