The optimal scale of operations of schoolsis a hotly debated issue in current education-al policy reform discussions. One view is thatlarger schooling operations offer educationalservices more efficiently than small indepen-dent schools. Proponents argue that increas-ing the size of schooling operations wouldlower per pupil costs and free up resourcesfor use at the school and classroom levels.
Researchers also claim that large privateschool franchises promote the creation of sound institutional environments in mem-ber schools.
Advocates of large school chains alsomaintain that such chains have an easiertime gaining credibility and legitimacy inthe community,
and that larger schoolingoperations have more opportunities to ac-cess private investments to expand than dosmaller ones.
These assertions have sparked two differ-ent trends in school management: consoli-dating public school districts and increas-ing public funding for private and charterschool franchises and Educational Manage-ment Organizations. Despite a growing pop-ulation, more than 100,000 school districtshave been eliminated since 1938, a declineof nearly 90 percent.
There is also a grow-ing number of private and charter schoolpartnerships and Educational ManagementOrganizations in the United States.
For in-stance, Edison Schools, the United States’largest for-profit manager of schools, hasbecome one of the nation’s largest charterschool management organizations and hasincreased from slightly more than 200 char-ter schools in 1995 to more than 3,600 char-ter schools in 2006.Critics fear that these reforms could havepotential negative unintended consequenc-es. They argue that large, centralized opera-tions will create hard-to-manage bureaucra-cies and foster diseconomies of scale due toassociated problems of managing complexorganizations and maintaining a sense of order.
Opponents are also concerned thatlarge schooling operations will make it dif-ficult to create a sense of community amongstudents, parents, teachers, and adminis-trators.
Others are concerned that largerschooling operations encourage more stan-dardization and less innovation.
Some have argued that reducing the sizeof schooling operations is a more effectiveway to improve educational outcomes. They claim that small schools can improve thequality of education by creating intimatelearning communities where students areencouraged by educators who know them.
Small school advocates also argue thatsmaller schools foster cooperation betweenteachers, school administrators, and parentsand higher trust in the school community.
Following these insights, many currentproposals for reform in the United Statesshare a vision of small, autonomous schools,encouraged to strengthen school communi-ties.
The small schools movement has alsomade significant progress in recent years.For example, the Bill and Melinda GatesFoundation invested more than $1 billion todivide large urban high schools in the UnitedStates. These resources partly funded the cre-ation of 197 small high schools in New YorkCity alone.
Much of the existing empirical evidenceon the optimal size of schooling operationsis mixed and often clouded by methodologi-cal limitations.
The research that examinesthe benefits of private school franchises ver-sus small independent schools also suffersfrom thin data because it derives from theevaluation of small-scale programs. For in-stance, in its evaluation of Edison Schools,which was not a randomized study, research-ers found that the performance of theseschools varies.
Similarly, the evaluations of the small high schools funded by the GatesFoundation also suggest that there is wide variation in the quality of these schools.
The evidence on private school franchis-es and small private independent schools islimited because most educational systemsonly provide funding to public schools.
The evidence onprivate schoolfranchises andsmall privateindependentschools is limitedbecause mosteducationalsystems only provide fundingto public schools.