Small Schools: Why They Provide the Best Education for Low-Income Children

Last Updated: October 01, 2000

Small Schools

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A Challenge West Virginia document by Beth Spence

Based on the research of Dr. Craig Howley and Dr. Robert Bickel, 2000

Dr. Craig Howley of Ohio University and the Appalachia Educational Laboratory cares deeply about the education of children — especially low-income children, the kids who often are left out when education policy decisions are made.

That's why he set out to learn about the effect of school size on children. His research is known as the Matthew Project. The name is taken from the verse of Matthew commonly referred to as "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

Dr. Howley used the biblical reference to illustrate how education systems function to advance the position of the wealthy and powerful, while putting a ceiling on the aspirations of children from low socioeconomic families. The first time he conducted his research on school size, Dr. Howley used 1990 data from West Virginia, where 30 percent of all children now live in poverty. Working with Dr. Robert Bickel of Marshall University, he has since replicated the study in Georgia, Ohio, Texas and Montana. The results are the same: small schools and small school systems offer low income students the best opportunity to achieve.