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 community services.


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.


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 offerings.

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 for 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 duplicate facilities.

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.


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


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 schools."

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).


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 l984):7-13.

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