Why Small High Schools Are Best Essay

My topic of research is high school consolidation. There is a lot of pressure on small schools, from governmental bodies and other influences, to consolidate into larger schools. In my paper I discuss the downfalls of consolidation, and talk about many benefits that small schools offer. Small schools average better test scores, a lower dropout rate, and a higher rate of extra-curricular activity participation. Studies also show that students who participate in extra-curricular activities become more successful academically and socially.

Also, it’s been reported that large schools have a higher rate of violence and crime, and many studies propose that the ideal school size is under 400 students. Another downfall of high school consolidation is the fact that when high schools consolidate communities that no longer have schools tend to die off. Some large school advocates claim that small schools should consolidate for monetary reasons, but due to all the benefits that small schools offer, I disagree. There are many areas of the U. S. government spending that could easily be cut to make room for an increase in education spending.

Military and defense spending is particularly high, and could easily spare some cuts. Another claim made by consolidation advocates is that a small drop in test scores is not enough incentive to pay for small schools to continue. To the possible surprise of such advocates, the United States is ranked between 14th and 25th worldwide in education , and cannot afford any more declines in its education system. Lastly, it’s clear to even those who pressure for consolidation that small schools offer better learning environments.

While pushing for consolidation, the Illinois state government also helps fund a project to break up large inner-city schools in order to increase learning. It’s clear to all involved that small schools are more effective, and consolidation should not be considered as an option. Education is a right, not a privilege, granted to every child in America, and the majority of America’s youth attend public high schools. Currently there is a disturbance in our country’s education system. Many bodies of government, the Illinois state government for example, are pushing for small schools to consolidate and form a singular large school.

Despite mounting pressures, such consolidation would be detrimental to the youth of this country because small schools are proven to be more effective in nearly every way. I’d like to offer a bit of background to why this is an important topic to me, and why I felt the urge to research and report my findings. I graduated from a high school with an enrollment of approximately 120 students, and I have always been very curious about small school issues. My former high school is currently considering the consolidation option, and I feel it my duty as an alumni to do my research and take a stance on this issue.

Unlike many other arguments, I recognize that both sides of this argument have valid points, which only deepens my desire to find out more. Another reason that I chose this topic is because I feel like I did small schools a big injustice in the past. My senior year, I wrote a somewhat biased newspaper article on why the community should consider the consolidation possibility. At the time, I felt that the teachers at my school were under qualified, that the courses were over simplified, and that the students didn’t have enough extra-curricular and duel credit options.

I was jealous that students from other schools could graduate with hours of college credit, and take AP classes to further their education. However, in hindsight, I cherish everything about my old high school, and realize that the school itself isn’t to blame for our lack of programs. I view this paper as a chance to become more informed on the topic, balance the scales from a previous wrong, and relay sound information to everybody else. The first point I’d like to stress is that small schools produce a better learning environment, a fact proven by better test scores.

The scholarly journal titled Big School, Small School: Testing Assumptions about High School Size, School Engagement and Mathematics Achievement is the written results of a study on big schools versus small schools. The study looked to discover which school type was a better learning environment for students. The journal discloses that students from small schools have higher test scores on average, go to class more, and have a lower dropout rate. They even go as far to say that any school larger than 400 students is potentially harmful to the student body as far as learning goes. Weiss, Carolan, & Baker-Smith, 2010) Considering the weight the U. S. puts on test scores, the results of this study alone should be enough to seal the argument on consolidation. Small schools on average produce better results. If you had the choice between two doctors, and one of those doctors on average produced better results, you would pick that doctor without question. The same should be done when it comes to education. The benefits of small high schools are not limited to academics. The journal entitled School Size Consideration for Safety and Learning relays the results of a study about student safety.

According to the journal, when high schools have a smaller population the risk of in school violence and criminal activity goes down significantly. The journal claims that schools over 400 students are hazardous. The cohesion between this study and the previously mentioned study is too similar to be coincidence. Both studies report that the ideal school size is under 400 students. Many experts believe that high school violence and criminal activity are the results of location and demographics. This study contradicts that belief.

They found that two schools from the same Chicago neighborhood of different sizes showed two very different crime rates, and the much smaller school had the much smaller incident rate. (McRobbie & Villegas, 2001) Such findings are by no means outlandish. It makes sense that school with large populations would have a harder time supervising the students. It is also sensible that small schools have a minimal violence rate because at such schools, the students know each other on a more intimate level, and are less likely to be violent towards one another.

There are numerous other resources that give evidence towards small school efficiency. The journal titled A Review of Research on Small School Student Participation in Extra Curricular Activities informs readers that according to many studies, small schools have a higher rate of participation in extracurricular activities. The journal cites countless other articles, and studies done in countless different states, all showing a decisively larger rate of participation at smaller schools.

The study also shows that students who attend small schools are much more likely to hold a leadership position during their high school years. (Stevens & Peltier, 1994) Many big school advocates have used extra-curricular as a selling point, claiming that large schools offer a greater variety of extra-curricular activities. While their variety may be larger, small schools actually have a much larger participation rate. Having graduated from a high school of only around 150 students, I know from experience that small schools provide an excellent extra-curricular environment.

At these modestly sized schools, students don’t have to try out to be on sports teams, nobody is cut, and everyone can participate. The same is true for clubs and organizations; a simple parental signature is all that’s needed to join most clubs. At larger schools, extra-curricular involvement is not so easy. Some might find participation in extracurricular activities irrelevant to the argument at hand, but it cannot be ignore when coupled with the information that students who participate in extracurricular activities do better in school.

The article titled After the Bell: Participation in Extracurricular Activities, Classroom Behavior, and Academic Achievement explains to readers how participation in extracurricular activities leads to greater social skills, and greater academic success. The article informs that structured extra-curriculars increase brain activity, create a connection between students and their school, and make participants better functioning social individuals. The study also reports that students involved in EAs are more likely to attend class, attain a high GPA, and become socially active.

Not coincidently, it appears that extracurricular activities, which are evidentially so crucial to student success, are more integrated into student life at small schools, giving small schools another advantage over large schools. (Covay & Carbonaro, 2010) Another disadvantage that coexists with consolidation is the disturbing statistics about what happens to communities that are left behind once their high school has consolidated. The Journal Socio-Economic Impact of School Consolidation on Host and Vacated Communities tells of the effects school consolidation has all communities involved.

The journal explains that industry, job creation, and population all diminish after that town’s school consolidates with another. The journal says that retail sales and community services also declined harshly in the years following a consolidation. Even in cases that consist of schools reorganizing to combine districts and have one community support certain ages groups while the other supports the remaining ages, it is shown that one town usually suffers the afore mentioned declines. (Sell, Leistritz, & Thompson, 1996) The fact is that when schools consolidate, towns die.

Most small towns do not exist for industrial and job creation reasons; most small town residents commute to work but live in rural communities because of their lifestyle preferences, so when their high school disbands, they usually relocate closer to the new school. High school consolidation would not only lead to poor student development, but it would also lead to an inevitable urbanization of the United States. For those who cherish or at least respect the rural lifestyle should fight adamantly against consolidation, because with consolidation the rural lifestyle in America will diminish.

With the copious amounts of information stating that small schools are more suitable for student success, one might wonder why there is a push for consolidation at all. I admit to asking the same question upon researching small school benefits. The article Official’s question Quinn’s school consolidation plan shines light onto why there is a demand for consolidation. The article discusses Illinois’ governor Pat Quinn’s plan to consolidate the number of school districts in Illinois. It states that the governor plans to decrease the number of school districts in Illinois from 869 to 300.

The article also addresses the reasoning behind such a large scale consolidation. According to the governor’s office, the plan would save the state over $100 million dollars. (Lafferty 2011) It is disappointing and embarrassing that governmental forces are making decisions that are clearly detrimental for the youth of our country, in order to save money. It’s time that certain bodies in the United States take a few steps back and reprioritize. The well-being and education of the next generation of our country is exponentially more important than building a cheaper education model.

Many people, including people with consider influence and power continue to insist that the current education system isn’t cost efficient. They claim that money can’t be spared to fund small schools. I find that accusation despicably false. There are many areas in which the government could easily cut wasteful spending, areas that don’t jeopardize the educational benefit of our nation’s youth. One area that could easily survive spending cuts is military and defense. The source titled Defense Spending Request: Briefing Book describes the proposed military budget for the 2011 fiscal year.

It gives the proposed amount that the United States planned to spend on military defense and operations during 2011, and then relays specifically how much money was planned towards which unique functions. (Olson, 2010) Keep in mind that these numbers are all the budgeted amounts, not the actual amounts which usually are actually higher than the proposed amount. According to the source, the United States budgeted 773 billion dollars this year in military spending alone. (Olson, 2010) Compare that to the measly 17 billion dollars that was budgeted to the Department of Education.

Our school systems are underfunded, which burdens their ability to offer special programs, and makes it difficult to afford small schools. Consolidation, however, is not the answer to these problems. An increase in funds is a more appropriate response to the assorted downfalls of small high schools. Nearly every flaw found in small schools can be easily corrected with a simple increase in funds. Small schools could afford to hire more qualified teachers, and in turn offer higher level courses. They could cover transportation costs to send students to more prestigious events.

With more money, small schools provide any of the benefits that are assumed to be ‘specific’ to large schools. Consequently small schools would not only offer a better learning environment, lower drop-out rate, and higher extra-curricular rate, but also all the small advantages that large schools do possess. Another issue that constantly rises in the debate on school consolidation is: how drastic are these academic benefits? It is argued that the higher test scores that are reported to accompany small schools are minimal, and not worth the millions of dollars of expenses created by small schools.

I find this argument as equally appalling as the previous. Better results are better results no matter how slight, and I might add that these are test scores produced by small schools that are continuously underfunded. With proper funding one can only guess the boost small schools would produce in test scores. Furthermore, the U. S. standard of education is falling. The article entitled International Education Rankings Suggest Reform Can Lift U. S. discusses the lacking achievement of the U. S. education system.

It states that the United States, previously a world leader in education, is now merely average among non-third-world countries. The article goes on to offer specific rankings and statistics that compare the U. S. to other countries in the study. . According to said article, our students rank 14th word-wide in literacy, 25th word-wide in mathematics, and 17th world-wide in science. (Johnson, 2010) It’s not as if the U. S. is so far ahead of the game that there is room to self-inflict more injuries, and a massive consolidation would only worsen our educational fallout.

To reiterate the flawed logic of many big school advocates I’d like to draw your attention to one rather ironic article titled The Contemporary Small School Movement: Lessons from the History of Progressive Education, which talks about the fact that many large cities in the United States are urging their schools to break down into several smaller schools. New York and Chicago are examples of such cities. The article goes on to report that these projects are funded by Bill Gate’s small school movement organization, the individual cities, and their respectful states. Semel & Sadovnik 2008) Granted that the majority of the funding comes from Gate’s organization, but it says a lot about the state’s reasons for its consolidation push. They advocate consolidation on one front because it’s cheaper, but on the other front they pay for schools to break up in order to improve academic achievement. It’s clear that the motivation behind the consolidation push is purely financial, and even the people responsible for it realize that it’s not the most beneficial academically. As far as I’m concerned there are only two questions that need answered by the American public.

Do you place value on the education of our young people? And, is the value you place on that education higher than the additional operating costs of a small school? If you answered yes to those questions then high school consolidation is a method that you should harshly oppose. Student’s that go to a small school are better off in a multitude of ways. It’s proven that students from small high schools have better test scores on average than students from large schools. Not only do they produce better test scores, but they also offer a lower dropout rate, and a higher rate of extra-curricular activity.

Large schools have been shown to have a higher rate of violent incidents, and when schools consolidate it usually leads to the death of a rural community. The money needed to keep these small education systems afloat is miniscule when compared the mountain of money thrown into our nation’s military and defense department. We have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world twice over, yet we continue to develop more. We have over 81 oversea bases that have insane amounts of expenses. We spend 6 times more on our military than any other country in the world.

When it comes to military spending we are number one by a huge margin. (Olson, 2010) Sadly, when it comes to education we are a measly 14th at best. (Johnson, 2010) Our children need all the educational benefits they can receive, only then will we have a future generation capable of making sound decisions, capable of developing new technologies, capable of making the world a better place. Cheapening the education and forcing small schools to consolidate is another horrendous step in the wrong direction.


Johnson, J. (2010, December 8). International Education Rankings Suggest Reform Can Lift U. S. | ED. gov Blog. U. S. Department of Education. Retrieved February 6, 2012, from http://www. ed. gov/blog/2010/12/international-education-rankings-suggest-reform-can-lift-u-s/ Covay, E. , & Carbonaro, W. (2010). After the Bell: Participation in Extracurricular Activities, Classroom Behavior, and Academic Achievement. Sociology Of Education, 83(1), 20-45. doi:10. 1177/0038040709356565 Lafferty, S. (2011, February 25). – Official’s question Quinn’s school consolidation plan. The SouthtownStar.

Retrieved January 30, 2012, from http://southtownstar. suntimes. com/news/3976119-418/squeezing-schools. html McRobbie, J. , & Villegas, M. (n. d. ). School Size Consideration for Safety and Learning. wested. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from www. wested. org/online_pubs/po-01-03. pdf Olson, L. (2010). Fiscal Year 2011 Defense Spending Request: Briefing Book. The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, 1,4 Sell, R. , Leistritz, L. , & Thompson, J. (1996). Socio-Economic Impact of School Consolidation on Host and Vacated Communities.

Agricultural Economics Report, 347, 2-18. Retrieved February 17, 2012, from http://www. eric. ed. gov/PDFS/ED423100 SEMEL, S. F. , & SADOVNIK, A. R. (2008). The Contemporary Small-School Movement: Lessons from the History of Progressive Education. Teachers College Record, 110(9), 1744-1771. Stevens, N. , & Peltier, G. (1994). A Review of Research on Small School Student Participation in Extra Curricular Activities. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 10(2), 116-120. The Federal Role in Education. (2012, February 12). ED. gov. Retrieved February 17, 2012, from