Small schools and the pressure to consolidate.


  • Aimee Howley Ohio University
  • Craig Howley Ohio University



small schools, school district organization, school consolidation, rural education, education reform, reformism.


Positioned in relationship to reform literature calling for small schools “by design” and interpreting data from a case study of a high performing but low-SES district in a Midwestern state, this paper provides a basis for making sense of the apparent divergence in policies governing schooling structures in rural and urban places. Its interpretation examines the way educational reformers work to valorize a multidimensional set of practices constituting “small school reform.” This reform package is, ironically, to some extent unrelated to what is actually taking place naturally in small schools and districts, where more “traditional” practices are said to be more common. Reformers often regard such practices as deficient, but that judgment seems to disregard empirical findings about school and district size, which typically show that smaller scale itself confers advantages across locales. Moreover, they overlook dynamics such as those revealed in this case study, which demonstrate how smaller scale promotes a close-knit family atmosphere as well as shared commitment to a set of core values. In addition, with smaller scale come structural arrangements that support an ethos of self-sufficiency and openness to “outsiders”—transient as well as open-enrollment students. These dynamics enable a small district to weather substantial threats to its existence.


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Author Biographies

Aimee Howley, Ohio University

For the past several years, Aimee Howley has worked on research that explores the intersection between social context and educational practice, and she has used both quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate a wide range of questions relating to instructional improvement, recruitment and retention of school administrators, school size, rural education, education of the gifted, and parent involvement. In addition, she has written numerous critical analyses of educational policies and practices focusing on topics such as the intellectual aims of schooling, the sense in which rurality constitutes a social context, and the relationship between educational theory and practice.

Craig Howley, Ohio University

Craig Howley has researched rural education and published widely in that field. He has taught mathematics at the University of Charleston and has evaluated mathematics professional development projects in rural schools. He is coauthor of Small High Schools That Flourish (AEL, 2000) and (with Aimee Howley and Edwina Pendarvis) Out of Our Minds: Anti- intellectualism in American Schooling (TC Press, 1995). He currently co-directs the research efforts of the NSF-funded “Appalachian Collaborative Center for Learning, Assessment, and Instruction in Mathematics” (ACCLAIM) and is an adjunct professor in the Educational Studies Department at Ohio University. The Howleys are coauthors of Thinking About School Adminsitration, forthcoming from Lawrence Erlbaum in Fall 2006.




How to Cite

Howley, A., & Howley, C. (2006). Small schools and the pressure to consolidate. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 14, 10.