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What the research says about small schools June 10th, 2010

Common belief about school size is changing. Schools as we know them were created with the industrial revolution. Prior to that students learned through apprenticeship with their parents or friends. Sometimes they attended schools in small one-room schoolhouses for a few years. Learning was individualized and skills repeated until mastered (Collins and Halverson, 2009). With the industrial revolution parents began to work in factories and cities. Schools needed to adapt to educate the masses. They got bigger. They were wonderfully successful in providing education for pretty much everyone. As education became more expensive the common belief was formed that a high school needed to have over 1000 students to be economical. With the increase in technology and its impacts on society, education is facing some big changes. There are shifts toward individualized education and learning plans. The Ministry of Education provides each school board with millions of dollars to support this idea of individualized pathways and programs in high school. Differentiated instruction is the hottest topic for professional development sessions. The theory of “bigger is better” was likely originally borrowed from the belief that businesses were more efficient the bigger they got. Gooding and Wagner (1985) did a meta-analysis of studies comparing business size to efficiency. They found that larger businesses definitely produced more product, but that the unit cost was not improved. In the case of industries that depended on human labor opposed to technology, the efficiency actually decreased, as the company got larger. In recent years there have been studies looking into the ideal size for a high school. Gregory (2000) states, “Since 1970, essentially all research favors the creation of small high schools”. Many of these studies are located in the United States. Some are in Canada, England and others in the Netherlands. Conclusions from these studies generally state that the ideal population of a secondary school ranges from 400 – 800, with some going as low as 300 students (Bingler 2002). Two examples of these studies include: • • 400-800 students for secondary schools being the upper limit. (Williams 1990) 500 – 750 students (Stephenson, 2002)

Social, emotional and academic reasons stated for the advocacy of small schools include the following: • Increased attendance and lower drop out rates (Fowler, 1995;

Fowler & Walberg, 1991; Rutter, 1988) • Increased student participation in school community and extracurricular activities (Cotton, 1996; Fowler, 1995; Stockard & Mayberry, 1992) Lower incidence of behaviour problems and vandalism (Stockard & Mayberry 1992) Students with the lowest socio-economic backgrounds are negatively affected the most in larger schools (Cotton, 1996; Fowler, 1995; Howley, 1994; Lee & Smith, 1996)

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The two biggest arguments for closing and combining small schools into larger schools are that they are more economical and that they offer more course options and programming for students. Based on studies, the first argument that larger schools save money, appears to be unfounded. There appear to be two main reasons for this. The first is that as the population of a school increases so do the resources needed to run it. Fox (1981) determined that as long as the maximum class sizes are generally reached the savings from other costs rarely meet projections. The increase in transportation costs quickly match the decrease in any administration costs. Administration, building and custodial costs increase with the influx in population. Most of the case studies Fox (1981) looked at did not meet their projected savings for these reasons. When looking at building size, Howley (2008) found that high schools smaller than 600 students actually cost less per square foot. The same study demonstrated that small high schools cost no more than larger high schools per student. The second reason the argument that combining secondary schools does not save money is related to how the calculation is actually done. Most studies recognize that there will be a very minimal decrease in cost per student when comparing larger to smaller high schools. However, if the calculation is done as cost per graduate, the numbers look very different. The increase in success of students plays a big role. Rarely is there any cost saved and larger schools can even end up costing more per graduate (Bingler, 2002). If the goal is to produce graduates then calculating the costs per graduate makes sense. It is important to do the math carefully when considering combining schools to create larger ones. All costs should be considered including renovations to new buildings, increase in transportation costs, increase in administration, increase in custodial and building maintenance including a buffer for the increase in vandalism that may occur. The second argument for combining schools is usually that larger schools offer greater programming and variety in courses. An increase in population does not always lead to an increase in courses offered. More sections of courses will need

to be offered, but not necessarily different courses. A study by Barker and Gump (1964) determined that in larger schools with 65 times more students compared to smaller schools only offered twice the course selection. In one study by Pittman and Haughwout (1987), an increase in student population by 100% only led to 17% more course offerings. Lastly, Monk (1987) determined that school size only affected course options up to a population of 400 students. Schools larger than 400 did not have a significant difference in course selection compared to smaller schools. With all the funds and resources being pumped into Student Success and a focus on increasing graduation rates in Ontario, the combining of schools to larger than 400-800 students needs to be considered seriously. It could have a very negative impact on things like EQAO scores, credit accumulation rates, graduation rates and general social tone of the school. While certain divisions of the Ministry of Education may be pushing for school boards to be more effective in their allocation of students and funds, other divisions of the same Ministry would be very upset if these statistical measures of success are reduced. No action is isolated and the combining of schools will have impact on many other parts of the big picture. All of these effects need to be considered carefully.

Works Cited
Barker, R., & Gump, P. (1964). BIG SCHOOL, SMALL SCHOOL. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. Bingler, Steven; Diamond, Barbara M.; Hill, Bobbie; Hoffman, Jerry L.; Howley, Craig B.; Lawrence, Barbara Kent; Mitchell, Stacy; Rudolph, David; Wash (KnowledgeWorks Foundation, Cincinatti, OH; The Rural School and Community Trust, Washington, DC; Concordia, LLC, New Orleans, LA , 2002). Collins, A., Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology. Teachers College Press, New York, NY.

Cotton, K. (1996). School size, school climate, and student performance. Closeup #20. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Fowler, W. J., Jr. (1995). School size and student outcomes. In H. J. Walberg (Series Ed.), & B. Levin, W. J. Fowler, Jr., & H. J. Walberg (Vol. Eds.), Advances in Educational Productivity: Vol. 5. Organizational Influences on Educational Productivity (pp. 3-25). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc Fowler, W. J., Jr., & Walberg, H. J. (1991). School size, characteristics, and outcomes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 13(2), 189-202. Fox, W. (1981). Reviewing economies of size in education. Journal of Educational Finance, 6(3), 273-296. Gooding, R., Wagner, J. A Meta-Analytic Review of the Relationship between Size and Performance: The Productivity and Efficiency of Organizations and Their Subunits. Administrative Science Quarterly, 30: 462-481. 1985. Gregory, Tom (University of Washington, Small Schools Project at the Center for Reinventing Public Education, Seattle, WA , Dec 2000). School Reform and the No-Man's-Land of High School Size. Gregory, T. (1992). Small is too big: Achieving a critical anti-mass in the high school. In Source book on school and district size, cost, and quality. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Howley, C. (1994). The academic effectiveness of small-scale schooling (an update). ERIC Digest No. RC-94-1. Charleston, WV: Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. Lee, V. E., and Smith, J. B. (1996). High school size: Which works best, and for

whom? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY. Monk, D.H. (1987). Secondary school size and curriculum comprehensiveness. Economics of Education, 6, 137-150.Howley, C. (2008). Don’t supersize me: Relationship of construction costs to school enrollment in the US. Educational Planning, 17(2). (prepublicaton version) Pittman and Haughwout (1987). Influence of High School Size on Dropout Rate. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 9, No. 4, 337-343 (1987 Rutter, R. A. (1988). Effects of school as a community. Madison, WI: National Center on Effective Secondary Schools. (ED 313 470) Stevenson, K. 2002. Ten educational trends shaping school planning and design. Washington, D.C.: National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. Stockard, J., & Mayberry, M. (1992). Effective educational environments. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press, Inc. Williams, D. T. (1990). The dimensions of education: Recent research on school size. Working Paper Series. Clemson, SC: Clemson University, Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Excellent Articles Suggested for Review
Allen, L. with Almeida, C. & Steinberg, A. (2001, August). Wall to wall: Implementing small learning communities in five Boston high schools. LAB Working Paper No. 3. Providence, RI: Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory a program of The Education Alliance at Brown University. Available: Stevenson, K. (2007). Educational Trends Shaping School Planning and Design: 2007. National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.