School consolidation could increase costs and lower education quality, new report finds
February 1, 2011

Sweeping state-level consolidation policies have unintended consequences

Craig Howley
(740) 593-9869

Teri Battaglieri
(517) 203-2940

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Feb. 1, 2011) — School consolidation could actually cost taxpayers more money while harming student performance, according to a new policy brief released today.

Consolidation will generally not save taxpayers' money, and could actually increase taxpayers' financial burden through added administrative and transportation costs, according to the brief's authors, Craig Howley, Jerry Johnson and Jennifer Petrie of Ohio University.

"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," the authors state in their report, Consolidation of Schools and Districts: What the Research Says and What It Means.

The policy brief was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Larger school districts are more likely to be fiscally inefficient than smaller districts, according to the brief. And while some policymakers think school district consolidation will save money through fewer superintendents, they don't take into account that larger school districts require more mid-level administrators, the new report states.

Furthermore, consolidation has not been shown to improve student achievement, but instead can result in diminished academic and social performance, according to the brief.  Studies show that bigger districts and larger schools are associated with reduced rates of student participation in extracurricular activities, less safe schools, lower graduation rates, lower achievement levels for poor students, and wider achievement gaps, particularly among low-income and minority populations.
Based on their research, Howley, Johnson and Petrie recommend that policymakers approach school consolidation cautiously and make decisions about it on a case-by-case basis, and not through sweeping state policy changes. They added that deconsolidating larger schools and districts is much more likely to achieve the goal of improving student achievement and making school operations more efficient. Deconsolidation would particularly benefit many impoverished schools and districts, where students and teachers would gain from more individual attention, according to the report.

To read Howley, Johnson and Petrie's full report, go to:

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The brief is also available on the National Education Policy Center website at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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