ERIC Identifier: ED282346
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Nelson, Erik
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
School Consolidation. ERIC Digest, Number Thirteen.
School consolidation is the practice of combining two or more schools for
educational or economic benefits. A consolidated school can offer an expanded
curriculum and a more prominent identity in the community while reducing costs
through economy of scale. On the other hand, consolidation can incur numerous
liabilities, especially if the schools to be closed are the sole providers of
HOW PREVALENT IS SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION?
The trend toward consolidation of one-room schools began in l918 as a
reaction to perceived academic weakness in rural and small schools. Statistics
reveal the tremendous rate of school consolidations. Ravitch (l984) reports
that, while total enrollment in elementary and secondary schools nearly doubled
from l945 to l980 (from 23 million to 40 million), the number of schools dropped
from l85,000 to under 86,000. During the l970s the number of schools in the
country declined 5 percent.
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO CONSOLIDATION?
School consolidations have been justified on two primary grounds: the "bigger
is better" philosophy and economic efficiency. The most powerful inducement for
school consolidation is the claim that one big school is better than two smaller
schools; bigger schools provide a wider range of curricular and extracurricular
Because school systems seldom have enough money, arguments based on economic
efficiency have also been a powerful force propelling the school consolidation
movement. In recents years, declining enrollments have been a further incentive
WHAT ARE THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION?
Consolidation of schools has both curricular and financial advantages. First,
it often enables the consolidated schools to share courses and facilities.
Sharing results in a more varied curriculum because fewer classes are dropped
due to low enrollment. Expenditures for capital improvements and basic
maintenance are reduced because there is no need to upgrade or maintain
Because consolidation often combines classes and increases their size, fewer
teachers need to be employed. Consolidated schools, moreover, do not normally
employ as many administrative personnel as did the separate schools.
Consolidation of schools also can produce psychological benefits. When
combined, schools often gain a confidence and an identity in the community they
did not previously possess (Kay 1982). Sports programs and extracurricular
activities flourish in consolidated schools because of combined funding.
WHAT ARE THE LIABILITIES OF CONSOLIDATION?
Some educators (for example, Beckner and O'Neal 1980) stress the benefits of
small schools and, thus, question the effectiveness of school consolidations.
They suggest that small schools are able to perform functions that are
impossible in larger schools. Small schools usually provide closer relations
between faculty and administration, a smaller teacher-pupil ratio, and an
enhanced potential for individualized instruction.
Opponents of school consolidation suggest that combining schools often
produces more harm than good, for the following reasons:
--More red tape
--Less participation in decision-making by teachers and adminstrators
--More tension between teachers and students
--Fewer situations for bringing about change
--More time, effort, money devoted to discipline problems
--Less parent-teacher involvement
--Less human contact, producing frustration and alienation and weakening
morale of both students and school staff
WHAT FACTORS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED BEFORE CONSOLIDATION?
According to Kay (1982), a leading research analyst in the school
consolidation field, a school system "considering consolidation ought to
investigate the nature, extent, and strength of other community institutions and
social service agencies serving any community facing possible loss of its
In places where the school is the sole source of community services, loss of
the schools would be greatly felt. School officials in such cases should be
reluctant to consolidate. Conversely, communities with strong networks of
organizations and facilities are better equipped to withstand the loss of
schools through consolidation.
Finally, only discussion and debate can determine the proper weight to be
given to all elements of the consolidation issue. Concerns for economic
efficiency and school size must not outweigh the effect of school consolidation
on the community. Only by granting equal importance to all the major factors can
decision-makers ensure that "narrow concerns about formal schooling do not
unconsciously override broader educational concerns and the general well-being
of the community to which those broader educational concerns are intimately
connected" (Kay 1982).
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Beckner, Weldon, and Linda O'Neal. "A New View of Smaller Schools." NASSP
BULLETIN 64 (October l980):1-7.
Brantley, William E. "Consolidating High Schools: One District's Answer."
SPECTRUM l (Spring l983):15-22.
Burlingame, Martin. DECLINING ENROLLMENTS AND SMALL RURAL CITIES AND
DISTRICTS: AN EXPLORATORY ANALYSIS. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March
27-3l, l978. ED 151 127.
Cuban, Larry. "Shrinking Enrollment and Consolidation: Political and
Organizational Impacts in Arlington, Virginia l973-78." EDUCATION AND URBAN
SOCIETY 11 (May l979):367-395.
Greene, Robert T., and others. "Richmond's Progressive Solution to Decling
Enrollments." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 6l (May l980):6l6-6l7.
Kay, Steve. "Considerations in Evaluating School Consolidation Proposals."
SMALL SCHOOL FORUM 4 (Fall l982):8-10.
Ravitch, Diane. "What We've Accomplished Since WWII." PRINCIPAL 63 (January