by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
State lawmakers are discussing concerns that some North Carolina public school districts are simply too big to operate efficiently and to stay in touch with the needs of kids and the concerns of their parents. Charlotte/Mecklenburg and Wake are behemoths. But what does the research say about all this? As Lindsay Marchello reports for Carolina Journal, it’s rather unclear, according to UNC researchers who addressed lawmakers on Wednesday.
Houck said robust literature on the size of schools indicates smaller schools are sometimes better for student learning, but little attention has been paid to the size of schools within smaller and larger districts.
“It may be the case that smaller districts seem to be more efficient in terms of producing student test scores because they contain smaller schools, and it is the school’s size driving the findings not the district size,” Houck said.
If larger districts are deconsolidated but school size remains unchanged, breaking up those districts may have little to no impact.
In terms of student achievement, Bastian said there’s no real consensus on the impact of school district size, but several studies how that smaller districts are associated with more desired outcomes. A few other studies, including one from Denmark, suggest larger school districts have a positive impact on student outcomes.
In other words, no easy answer here. More research is needed to ensure North Carolina makes the right decision, but there does seem to be an interesting point about school size, rather than district size.