The Matthew Principle


  • Craig Howley ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Appalachia Educational Laboratory; Charleston, WV



Academic Achievement, Education Policy, Multivariate Analysis, Outcomes of Education, Socioeconomic Status, Multiple Regression Analysis, School District Size, School Effectiveness, School Size, Small Schools


This study extends and interprets a regression technique used to examine the possible role that socioeconomic status may have in regulating the effects of school and district size on student achievement. The original study (Friedkin & Necochea, 1988), with data from California, confirmed an interaction between size and SES such that large schools benefitted affluent students, whereas small schools benefitted impoverished students. This replication applies the model to a very different state, West Virginia. Results are similar, except that the pattern of effects is shown to derive in part from the fact that in West Virginia impoverished students were shown actually to attend small schools in 1990. Small schools are shown to disrupt the usual negative relationship between socioeconomic status and student achievement. These results would be cause for celebration except that since 1988 West Virginia has, under a successful consolidation scheme facilitated by the state, closed nearly 20 percent of its schools, most of them small schools that had served rural communities in this mostly rural state. The discussion interprets findings with respect to this context and interprets the practical significance of studying structural variables such as those used in the study.


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Author Biography

Craig Howley, ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Appalachia Educational Laboratory; Charleston, WV

I've written about, studied, and lived in rural places. (It's debatable whether or not I still live in a rural place, but the local chamber of commerce says I do, given that our house sits 2 miles north of I-64). Culture, politics, economics, and history concern me. I wish schools were better at promoting 'the life of the mind' (whatever that is; finding out is part of the adventure) among everyone. And I think there are reasons they don't, but these reasons constitute more than just inattention or foolishness. Culture, politics, economics, and history suggest reasons. Literature (fiction) may be a much better guide to true education in rural places than the sorts of poor studies we educationists sponsor. Check out Wendell Stegner's Second Growth (circa 1950) or Annie Proulx's The Shipping News (circa 1990) and even E.M. Forster's Howards End (circa 1920). These folks have preserved something we have tried desperately to abandon, but can't actually escape. The wonder is that, though these books (and many more) treat the dilemmas of rural life, they also deal with the idea of a true education more universally. Now, that's fun because it's not easy. In particular, novels don't lend themselves to translations as cookbooks. Teaching well is the most difficult work in the world. We make a great mistake with attempts to make it easy or happy. Happiness is not a worthy aim for education, nor is getting and holding a good job.




How to Cite

Howley, C. (1995). The Matthew Principle. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 3, 18.