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We had some fascinating education headlines last week. Perhaps none more interesting than the report of comments made by Mark Elgart, CEO of AdvancED, the accreditation conglomerate that owns many regional accreditors including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Here’s some background – Georgia is constitutionally limited in the number of school districts to 159 county districts and 21 city district. Last year, Rep. Tom Taylor filed HR 486; a bill calling for a statewide vote to amend the constitution to allow new school districts to form under certain conditions. A feasibility study was commissioned for the City of Dunwoody to determine if an independent school district was viable from a revenue standpoint. The study’s results indicate that a city school district would be financially feasible and, at current millage rates, would produce a healthy surplus.
Speaking before the Buckhead Business Association days after the feasibility study was made public, Dr. Elgart stated the current 180 school districts in Georgia are “far too many.” According to The Reporter Newspaper, he went on to state, “Georgia does not need to expand the number of school systems it has in the state, … It needs to contract it so it can use its resources differently than it currently does.”
I’m puzzled why the head of an international accrediting agency would comment on a state political subdivision matter. The organization of school districts is a self-determination made by the good citizens of our state. Notwithstanding that fact, the suggestion that Georgia has “far too many” school districts is not supported by the research on the topic of optimal school district size.
Here are just a few quotes from scholarly articles on the subject of school district size that support the need for Georgia to break-up its large districts.
- In a study to examine if consolidating smaller school districts in Michigan would save taxpayers money, Andrew Coulson estimated the most cost-effective school district size in Michigan and the cost savings that would result from merging small districts and breaking up excessively large districts. From his analysis, Coulson found that the most cost-effective district size for schools in Michigan was 2,900 students. Districts that were either larger or smaller in size would generate higher per-pupil costs (Coulson, 2007). Consolidating smaller school districts to achieve this optimal size was estimated to result in a cost savings for the state of Michigan and local governments of approximately $31 million annually. In comparison, breaking up large school districts would produce an annual savings of $363 million. The savings from breaking up large districts is estimated to be 12 times greater than the savings that would be generated from merging small districts.
Center for Evaluation and Education Policy
Education Policy Brief
VOLUME 8, NUMBER 3, SUMMER 2010
Revisiting School District Consolidation Issues
Terry E. Spradlin, Fatima R. Carson, Sara E. Hess, and Jonathan A. Plucker
- Small size is good for the performance of impoverished schools, but it now seems as well that small district size is also good for the performance of such schools
The Influence of Scale on School Performance: A Multi-Level Extension of the Matthew Principle
Robert Bickel, Marshall University; Craig Howley, Ohio University and AEL, Inc.
- A study of Pennsylvania districts found that the lowest costs per student were in districts enrolling between 2,500 and 2,999 students (Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services, 2007).
- A North Carolina report compared the district sizes of the five states with the best and worst SAT and ACT scores, high school graduation rates, dropout rates and retention rates. The study found that the states performing at higher levels on these performance indicators had smaller average district sizes (Sher & Schaller, 1986).
- A Nebraska study demonstrated that smaller school systems academically outperformed larger ones within the state (Johnson, 2004). Researchers in Maine found that their 15 smallest districts produced higher graduation and post secondary enrollment rates than their 15 largest districts (Bowen, as cited in Driscoll, 2008). In Massachusetts, a task force found that smaller districts had lower average dropout rates, higher attendance rates, greater extra-curricular participation, and were more likely to meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) targets than the state average (Driscoll, 2008). A study of small rural districts in New York found that students in these small districts tended to learn the basics at average or above average levels, when compared to students in other districts (Monk & Haller, 1986). In a series of five studies, researchers found that smaller districts and schools had greater achievement equity than larger districts and schools (Howley, 1996; Bickel & Howley, 2000).
An Exploration of District Consolidation:
By:Kathryn Rooney and John Augenblick
Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, Inc.
The abundance of research indicates that the optimal district size is certainly much smaller than DeKalb’s current enrollment. That research shows us that per-pupil costs are minimized in much smaller districts; completely negating the argument of economies of scale with large districts. Furthermore, academic achievement measurements are better in smaller districts, particularly for the economically disadvantaged. In the face of this type of evidence it is difficult to understand any defense of the status quo or advocacy for even larger districts. The evidence is clear and compelling that our students and taxpayers would benefit from breaking up large districts.