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ERIC Number: ED515900
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Feb
Pages: 28
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: N/A
ISSN: N/A
Consolidation of Schools and Districts: What the Research Says and What It Means
Howley, Craig; Johnson, Jerry; Petrie, Jennifer
National Education Policy Center
Arguments for consolidation, which merges schools or districts and centralizes their management, rest primarily on two presumed benefits: (1) fiscal efficiency and (2) higher educational quality. The extent of consolidation varies across states due to their considerable differences in history, geography, population density, and politics. Because economic crises often provoke calls for consolidation as a means of increasing government efficiency, the contemporary interest in consolidation is not surprising. However, the review of research evidence detailed in this brief suggests that a century of consolidation has already produced most of the efficiencies obtainable. Indeed, in the largest jurisdictions, efficiencies have likely been exceeded--that is, some consolidation has produced diseconomies of scale that reduce efficiency. In such cases, deconsolidation is more likely to yield benefits than consolidation. Moreover, contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications. For example, policymakers may believe "We'll save money if we reduce the number of superintendents by consolidating districts;" however, larger districts need--and usually hire--more mid-level administrators. Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs. For these reasons, decisions to deconsolidate or consolidate districts are best made on a case-by-case basis. While state-level consolidation proposals may serve a public relations purpose in times of crisis, they are unlikely to be a reliable way to obtain substantive fiscal or educational improvement. As is evident in the above summary, findings based on available research suggest that decision makers should approach consolidation cautiously. Specifically, the authors recommend that policymakers: (1) Closely question claims about presumed benefits of consolidation in their state; (2) Avoid statewide mandates for consolidation and steer clear of minimum sizes for schools and districts; (3) Consider other measures to improve fiscal efficiency or educational services; and (4) Investigate "deconsolidation" as a means of improving fiscal efficiency and improving learning outcomes. (Contains 3 figures and 78 notes.
National Education Policy Center. School of Education 249 UCB University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309. Tel: 303-735-5290; e-mail: nepc@colorado.edu; Web site: http://nepc.colorado.edu
Publication Type: Information Analyses; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: Policymakers
Language: English
Sponsor: Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice
Authoring Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder, National Education Policy Center