Consolidation Fight-Back Toolkit

Last Updated: February 16, 2011

Are you a citizen activist facing the threat of school closure or consolidation? As you address proposed consolidation on a local or state level, your most potent weapon is good information. The documents in this Consolidation Toolkit, prepared by the policy staff of the Rural School and Community Trust, can help you educate your fellow citizens and the policymakers who have the final say in consolidation decisions.

If you have questions about these documents, please send an e-mail to


Consolidation Fight-Back Toolkit: Available Documents

Items available as web and PDF documents.

Consolidation of Schools and Districts: What the Research Says and What It Means

Has the time for consolidation come and gone? This February 2011 report by Craig Howley, Jerry Johnson, and Jennifer Petrie of Ohio University shows that state policies that broadly push mergers of schools and districts will not save money and will likely lower the quality of education — especially for the poor.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Dollars and Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools

Dollars & Sense is a collaborative effort of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Rural School and Community Trust, and Concordia, Inc. A team of nine researchers with expertise in education, architecture, and quantitative research challenge the common belief that big schools are cheaper to build and maintain than are small ones. Their conclusion: investing tax dollars in small schools makes good economic sense.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Closing Costs: A Summary of an Award Winning Look at School Consolidation in West Virginia, a State Where It Has Been Tried Aggressively

Few states have pursued consolidation of rural schools more aggressively than West Virginia. With the promise of broader curriculum and huge tax savings, the state has closed more than 300 schools, one in every five, since 1990. In 2002, the Charleston Gazette investigated the outcomes of the state's consolidation efforts in the series, "Closing Costs."

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Alternative Ways to Achieve Cost-Effective Schools

There are legitimate concerns about the administrative costs of running small school districts. It has been widely assumed that the only way to reduce these costs is to achieve economies of scale by eliminating school districts through consolidation. Proposals to consolidate districts often include assurances that closing districts does not mean that schools have to close. The idea is that we can reduce administrative costs without losing the educational benefits of small schools.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


School Size, School Climate and Student Performance

Excerpted from Kathleen Cotton, School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance (Portland, OR: NWREL), 1996, pp 10-11, a comprehensive review of formal research studies on school size.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Distance Learning Technologies: Giving Small Schools Big Capabilities

In school and district consolidation, the well-documented benefits of small schools to students and their communities are lost. It doesn't have to be this way. Other alternatives, such as distance learning, are both possible and preferable. Distance learning can provide students access to a virtually unlimited curriculum while retaining the benefits of small, local schools. But distance learning can be done well, or badly. Here, too, there are choices.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


The Fiscal Impacts of School Consolidation: Research Based Conclusions

Consolidation proponents often argue that consolidating schools and/or districts will lower per pupil costs. But a stream of studies over half a century casts doubts on this assumption.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


School Size: Research-Based Conclusions

School size is a critical factor in determining educational outcomes. Research links small school size with higher levels of achievement and cost effectiveness. Small size also makes other school improvements more effective. But the advantages of small schools can be undermined if they are under funded or forced to organize and operate the way larger schools do. Here is what researchers have found about school size.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Anything But Research-based: State Initiatives to Consolidate Schools and Districts

The consolidation of schools and school districts is an ongoing issue in most of rural America. Each year hundreds of communities face the closure of their local school or the loss of their local school district-and the school governance positions associated with the district. State policies promoting consolidation have existed for most of the 20th and now 21st centuries. Indeed, the numbers of schools and districts in this country have been drastically reduced, despite burgeoning school populations.

webdoc Read online


National Study Links Small Schools and Higher Achievement

A major study by rural education researchers Craig and Aimee Howley addresses the vexing problem of how individual students of various income levels fare in larger and smaller schools nationwide. It is the strongest evidence to date that small schools are better for low income children.

webdoc Read online


How to Know if Your School or District is Threatened with Consolidation—and What to Do About It

Participants at a workshop at the 2005 Rural Education Working Group conference in Charleston, West Virginia, talked about how to anticipate a threat to consolidate your school before it is too late to stop it, and what to do about it. Here are just some of the notes from workshop leader Robin Lambert, a consultant to the Rural Trust, with a few ideas added later.

webdoc Read online


Riding to School in Slow Motion

Students who attend consolidated rural high schools face longer bus rides and are less likely to participate in extra-curricular activities because of the challenge of transportation. This is one finding in Slow Motion: Traveling by School Bus in Consolidated Districts in West Virginia. Survey results show that high school students who ride the bus and attend consolidated high schools lose an average of 49 minutes each day, compared to students who have other forms of transportation in those same districts. Though the report focuses specifically on consolidation outcomes in West Virginia, the lessons learned are a warning to any state that has pursued or is considering pursuing consolidation as an education policy.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Small Size, Big Results: Nebraska

This research, funded in part by the Rural Trust, finds that small schools measure up very well against their big neighbors when the cost of schooling is measured as the cost per graduate.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Impact of Act 60 on African American Leadership in Arkansas

This report examines the impact of Arkansas' Act 60 on the racial composition of the student population, elected school boards, and administrative leadership of 27 districts affected by consolidations involving one or more districts with an African-American majority.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Promise and Power of Distance Learning

Distance learning is here to stay. Its future appears to be unsure only in its direction or extent of growth. This paper focuses on the applicability and potential of two-way interactive television (I-TV) for small and rural K-12 schools as a primary asset in improving educational access and equity and calls for the adoption of enlightened distance learning policies and guidelines at the state and local levels.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


West Virginia Legislative Audit

A West Virginia legislative audit report has found that district size exerts greater influence over whether students graduate than other factors including socioeconomic status and academic performance. It concludes that the state should conduct a full review of its school consolidation policy to determine its effects on a full range of academic outcomes. The report also found that the state has underestimated dropout rates and that the rate has not improved in the past 15 years.

webdoc Read online


Lowering the Overhead by Raising the Roof

Lowering the Overhead by Raising the Roof provides strategies to help communities reduce the costs of maintaining, building, and renovating small schools, author Barbara Lawrence reports on specific strategies that rural communities have used and shares what she has learned from people throughout the country.

webdoc Read online


Small Schools: Why They Provide the Best Education for Low-Income Students (Challenge WV)

This report crystalizes the research of Dr. Craig Howley focusing on West Virginia.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Hobbit Effect

While numerous studies have documented that small schools effectively boost student achievement, especially among at-risk students, our report, The Hobbit Effect: Why Small Works in Public Schools summarizes the vast research literature that explains just why small works in schooling, identifying ten research-based attributes of small schools that are proven to have a positive impact on kids and their learning.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Why Small Schools Work: Ten Reasons Small Schools Positively Impact Students and their Learning

This press release provides details on The Hobbit Effect: Why Small Works in Public Schools.

webdoc Read online     PDF Get PDF File


Don’t Supersize Me: The Relationship of Construction Cost to School Enrollment in the U.S.*

webdoc Read online at Craig Howley’s website.


Craig Howley’s website

webdoc Read online

*This research was partially supported by KnowledgeWorks Foundation, Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Hippolyte Lohaka and Jessica Perry worked as assistants on the study. The author is grateful for the support of the Foundations and for the very helpful efforts of the research assistants.