Small school districts put students at a disadvantage, study says

Students living in small Indiana school districts may be receiving fewer opportunities to succeed than those in larger school districts.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research on Monday released findings of a study showing that the size of a school corporation has a direct impact on student achievement.

The study, which covers the 2011-2014 academic years, found more than half of Indiana’s 289 school corporations had an enrollment of fewer than 2,000 students.

Those school corporations often don't have the needed resources to produce the most effective outcomes for students.

“With today’s fierce competition for talent, too many young people in our state are suffering due to inadequate preparation for post-secondary education or the workforce,” Kevin Brinegar, CEO and president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement.

Larger school corporations can employ more qualified instructors and offer more specialized classes as opposed to smaller ones. For example, an introductory physics class is offered by 55 percent of the smallest corporations, while 83 percent of districts with more than 2,000 students offer that class.

Many science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, majors require calculus as a prerequisite for upper level courses. The likelihood of a school offering calculus tends to increase with the size of the corporations, the report said.

Also, the availability of advanced placement courses also increases in larger school corporations.

The study found that the size of the school corporation didn’t have an effect on the pass rates of 4th grade ISTEP and English end-of-course assessments. However, the size of the school corporation did have a significant impact on SAT and ACT scores, advanced-placement course success, and science and math end-of-course evaluations.

The percentage of high school students who plan to enroll in college also tends to increase with the size of the school corporation.

The lack of resources and specialized courses and instructors has pushed some school corporations to consolidate in order to provide a better learning experience for students.

Dr. Thomas Rohr has been a superintendent for 33 years in Indiana and is currently the superintendent of North Central Parke Community Schools. North Central Parke is a combination of what Turkey Run and Rockville schools, which merged in 2013.

In the 1970’s, between Rockville and Turkey Run schools, there were more than 2,000 students. Last year, in the recently consolidated North Central Parke Community Schools, there were 1,200 students. The school board voted to combine into one high school and one middle school within the next two years.

“This is not an easy process, but the one thing that was key in our school corporation was that we had two school boards that said ‘Let’s do what’s best for students’,” said Rohr. “That was the driving force.”

Brinegar said the situation will get worse as small districts continue to shrink and lose financial resources along with the ability to provide quality teachers and courses.

“We aren’t suggesting that everyone needs to consolidate, but they need to be aware of the disadvantages that occur to students that happen to live in those districts and encourage them to take a hard look and do what’s best for the student,” said Brinegar.

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