Not Enough Said
Study: consolidation of school districts into larger
units leads to higher dropout rate!
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.”
However, both appeared to be dead set against the proposal by state Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-South Union Township, to consolidate
the administrations of all six county school districts,
That’s a shame, as we’d hope for open minds
on school boards across the county, rather than misplaced fears over loss of identity.
Not Enough Said:
The 'fears' of loss of identity are not misplaced.
While reportedly, state Rep. Tim Mahoney's comments on his legislation lead everyone to believe there will be no loss
of identity and local smaller districts will retain sports teams and mascots, the legislator never addresses a plank of his
plan involves redrawing district boundaries!
It might not happen in the first or second year of consolidations, but the redrawing of district boundaries is coming
in the future.
According to the Education Northwest links, a study indeed shows loss of local identity and unity
Graves, B. (2010). The collision of athletics & consolidation. School Administrator, 67(5),
24-29. Retrieved from http://www.aasa.org/SchoolAdministratorArticle.aspx?id=13226
Although not a research study, this article discusses one issue of consolidation—losing interscholastic
sports teams when districts merge and the effect this has on community identity and unity.
We have not yet read the study, however the Herald-Standard.com editorial board should review it and several others which
address the impact on community in all areas the state legislator says will only improve.
From dramatic savings (25% - 30%)(2009)(20% - 25%)(2011) (left to be seen are actual savings since the legislator's Advisory
Board Committee hired consultants, Education Management Group have not yet completed its $68,000 study on consolidation of
administrations), to a better education for all students, the claims come before anyone, anyone, has highlighted studies which
show otherwise, and knocked them out of the water.
Other states may have had longstanding 'consolidated' schools.
Another study shows the impact of consolidation in the state of West Virginia.
That's so close to Pennnsylvania - how's that working out?
Jimerson, L. (2007). Slow motion: Traveling by school bus in consolidated districts in West Virginia. Retrieved
from Rural School and Community Trust website http://www.ruraledu.org/user_uploads/file/docs/slow_motion_wvbusdes.pdf
A survey of high school students in four West Virginia counties found that students from consolidated districts had a 43
percent longer commute, rode busses more often, and participated less in extracurricular activities than students in nonconsolidated