What the Research Says (or Doesn’t Say): Consolidation of School Districts
Education Northwest recently received a request for the latest research on school district consolidation. As we discovered
in our literature review, this is a strategy being considered by many states, especially those with large rural populations,
such as Maine, Montana, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Although cost savings is the driving force behind
most consolidation efforts, other important issues include: local educational autonomy, community identity, the pros and cons
of larger districts, and the impact on students.
Below we provide a sampling of the most pertinent research we found. A full bibliography is available upon request from
What Is The Impact On Students?
In our search, we found only two studies that looked at student outcomes of consolidation; the other studies compared student
outcomes of large districts with small districts. The outcome studies we found compared graduation and dropout rates with
pre- and post-consolidation efforts—we found no studies that used student achievement data.
Bowen, S.L. (2007). Is bigger that much better? School district size, high school completion, and post-secondary enrollment
rates in Maine. Maine View, 5(10), 1–5. Retrieved from http://www.mainepolicy.org/resources/media/51_244589835.pdf
This study by the Maine Heritage Policy Center compared high school completion rates of the 15 largest and 15 smallest
school districts in Maine and found that the graduation rate for smaller districts was six percent higher than for larger
Greene, J.P., & Winters, M.A. (2005). The effect of residential school choice on public high school graduation
rates (Education Working Paper No. 9). Retrieved from Manhattan Institute for Policy Research website
This study calculated the graduation rate over the last decade using officially reported enrollment and diploma counts
made available by the U.S. Department of Education in its Core of Common Data (CCD). The study examined the relationship between
graduation rates and changes in each state's average school district size. The researchers found that “decreasing the
size of school districts has a substantially and statistically significant positive effect on graduation rates. Conversely,
consolidation of school districts into larger units leads to more students dropping out of high school.”