Larger schools would not be better for Roane County. Here are a few references. These aren't exhaustive :(, but should be a good start for concerned citizens wanting to investigate the issue. :)

"Smith and DeYoung and many others note that James Conant's 1959 book, The American High School Today, greatly accelerated the momentum of the school consolidation movement (Pittman and Haughwout 1987; Stockard and Mayberry 1992; Walberg 1992; Williams 1990). Conant argued that, in order to be cost effective and to offer a sufficiently large and varied curriculum, a secondary school had to have at least 100 students in its graduating class. Conant claimed that the small high school was the number-one problem in education, and that its elimination should be a top priority."

See: (link...)

Note that even Conant, the famous proponent of large schools, considered 400 students total in a high school to be a "large" school. He did not recommend the much larger consolidated mega-schools sometimes proposed or in use today. And the schools he was studying were at the time more middle- and upper-class than ours now.

More sources:

"Many experts have endorsed small schools as educationally effective, often adding parenthetically that smaller size is especially beneficial for impoverished students. A recent series of studies, the "Matthew Project," bolsters these claims...."

Source: (link...)

There are many more studies and sources saying the same things. Here are a few:

"...As school size increases, the mean measured achievement of schools with disadvantaged students declines. The larger the number of less advantaged students attending a school, the greater the decline. The same school-level interactions have been found in California, West Virginia, Alaska, Montana, Ohio, Georgia, and Texas."

Source: (link...).

"During the last forty years, schools with thousands of students have become common. Among these are countless consolidations of small rural schools.

Many researchers trace the large-school trend back to a book written in 1967 by James Bryant Conant, then president of Harvard. In it, he concluded that larger schools (over 750 students) can offer more comprehensive instructional programs of greater quality at lower costs than smaller schools.

At that time, Craig Howley (1994) notes, middle-class students predominated in large urban schools. Since then, residential patterns have changed, overburdening large innercity schools with impoverished students and all the dysfunction they bring.

For decades few educators questioned these notions, but now the tide is turning. This Digest summarizes some recent research findings related to school size.

Have Larger Schools Produced Greater Academic Success at a Lower Cost?

In short, the answer is no, but with one qualification: Howley (1994) reports evidence that students in high socioeconomic status communities perform better in larger schools. Small size seems to benefit minority and low-income students more than middle- and upper-class students, say Valerie E. Lee and Julia B. Smith 1996. Many of the nation's largest high schools are in urban areas having high concentrations of disadvantaged students, who are ill served by large school size.

Michael Klonsky (1995), Mary Anne Raywid (1995), and others report that large school size hurts attendance and dampens enthusiasm for involvement in school activities. Large schools have lower grade averages and standardized-test scores coupled with higher dropout rates and more problems with violence, security, and drug abuse.

Lee and Smith (1996) found that savings projected by proponents of school consolidation have not materialized. Instead of long-assumed economies of scale, they discovered diseconomies, or penalties of scale. Large schools need more layers of support and administrative staff to handle the increased bureaucratic demands.

It is also important to consider how costs-per-student are calculated. Standard operating costs are usually computed by dividing the total amount spent by the number of students enrolled. But when cost-effectiveness judgments are based instead on the figure derived by dividing dollars spent by number of students graduating, the results are entirely different.

Fowler and others found that although large schools offer greater curricular variety, only a small percentage of students take advantage of advanced and alternative classes.

Large schools offer more specialized programs for disadvantaged and disabled youth, but students in these programs are more likely to feel cut off from the school culture. In fact, in large schools social stratification is the norm. Athletic and academic stars reap the benefits of daily close contact with adults. However, the other 70 to 80 percent of students belong to social groups that include no adults (Deborah Meier 1995).

Large schools function more like bureaucracies, small schools more like communities. Klonsky concludes that large schools generally "correlate with inefficiency, institutional bureaucracy, and personal loneliness."

In What Respects Are Small Schools More Beneficial?

A higher percentage of students, across all socioeconomic levels, are successful when they are part of smaller, more intimate learning communities. Females, nonwhites, and special-needs students, whether at risk, gifted, exceptional, or disadvantaged, are all better served by small schools. Security improves and violence decreases, as does student alcohol and drug abuse.

Small school size encourages teachers to innovate and students to participate, resulting in greater commitment for both groups. More positive attitudes and greater satisfaction are reflected in higher grades and test scores, improved attendance rates, and lowered dropout rates."

Source: (link...)

"...More recent studies have shown that smaller schools had benefits in academic achievement, discipline, and student attitudes (see Pittman and Haughwout, 1987; Lee and Smith, 1997; Smith and Meier, 1995). Critics of larger schools argue that any increased efficiency in larger schools sacrifices interpersonal relationships and contributes to a loss of a sense of community in schools. Although larger high schools are able to offer more specialized courses and more opportunities for extracurricular activities than are smaller schools, the ‘‘shopping mall’’ high school (Powell, Farrar, and Cohen, 1985) offers many disadvantages. Increased course offerings are generally confined to specialized courses, and usually result in a decline in ‘‘core’’ offerings (Monk, 1987). Only a small minority of students—usually the more academically talented—in larger schools avail themselves of specialized class offerings (Haller et al., 1990). Specialization serves to exacerbate the gap between low-achieving (often low-income and nonwhite) and high-achieving (often more affluent and white) students."

Source: (link...)

"...Research has repeatedly found small schools to be superior to large schools on most measures and equal to them on the rest. This holds true for both elementary and secondary students of all ability levels and in all kinds of settings."

Source: (link...)

I could go on and on--the above sources only scratch the surface. These sources go on and on as well. Check them out; they give sometimes extensive lists of other sources as well as additional facts.

-- OneTahiti


Thanks for all the good info, OneT...

Plenty there to digest. Having the ready references will help.

Way to go!


Two arguments against keeping community schools

First the data:

Roane County has five high schools - Only twelve counties in the state have more high schools. Another way to look at it is that Roane County has more high schools than 87% of the state's counties. Thirty-one counties (32%) have only one high school, 23 counties (24%) have two high schools. This means that over 55% of the counties in Tennessee have one or two high schools.

I point this out only to show how lucky we are to have as many high schools as we have (5).

While, I too like the idea of smaller high schools, there are two major drawbacks to keeping that many in Roane County.

The first is that with five high schools a school system cannot provide a top-notch vocational program. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a series on education where it was estimated that up to 40% of our high school students would be better off going a vocational route. In Cleveland, TN their vocational program turns out students who are skilled in knowing all the electronics in new cars and get jobs as certified mechanics starting at over $35/hr. Their vocation program also teaches numerical analysis programming, machine tooling working, computer maintenance, and many other high-tech vocational programs. The beauty of the Cleveland system is that the vocational programs are woven in with other school activities. Example, math students have to pass by vocational training areas on their way to science class. There is no stigma attached to either the students pursuing the vocational route or the students pursuing a college path. Vocational education done right is a great benefit to students.

The other problem for Roane County is that we have five high schools, each 50+ years old. If we were to build five new schools the cost would be a minimum of $150 million. The cost of building 2 or 3 new schools and do some consolidating would be much less. Do you think county commission would appropriate $150 million for five schools? (And of course another $50 million just to upgrade our other schools).

A school system simply can't afford to put a top vocational program in each of its high schools and you certainly don't want to build a separate vocational school due to a lot of factors. That would be another $30 million plus the social separation issues of students.

When the school Board addresses the high school issue in the county - it is certainly going to be interesting with the small community school advocates lining up on one side and the consolation advocates on the other. Both sides will have valid arguments.

I am looking for suggestions on how to address the school building issues that are facing Roane County - not taking sides, but trying to get the issues out to this forum for discussion.

Good points Mr. Chairman

All points you referenced are valid and applicable.

For those that don't know, Mr. Nall is the school board's Chairman this next year.
I've spent some time yesterday and today researching OneT's resources and links. Most of them I have seen at one time or another and over the years it has shaped my philosophy. I have studied the pros and cons of this topic since studying education in college. I just like small schools. But, there are many things I like that I cannot afford so finding the balance is critical, especially so with our children’s education.
I'm interested in reading everyone’s thoughts on this issue and always appreciate when the position taken is backed up with supporting data. Maybe more folks will chime in on this subject. (Tell your friends about this site.)

I certainly oppose large elementary and middle schools. I do not see any synergy at that level. Any cost savings there only force additional costs elsewhere. Any K-8 school with more than 500 students has problems smaller school avoid.

Maybe the balance is small elementary and middle schools that funnel into two larger high schools.

One other possible benefit on the high school level and one that strikes me as very critical is the potential "unity" from our high schoolers entering their high school years united as Roane Countians. That would be a big positive for Roane County. We have divisions inside our county that hurt, not help us as a whole working community.

Well, that’s my opinion...

Excellent Discussion

Thanks to all who give thought to this and share with us on this public forum. Don't we wish all of our leaders were this courageous and forthright?

School size is a bit of a red herring, but comes into focus if we change the term to "organizational unit" instead of just "size".

There are advantages and disadvantages to all organizational sizes and some balance has to be chosen. At this point in time, our school system is a "one size fits all" whatever that size may be, and this is not a good thing.

Whatever we do, it must pay homage to monetary and political realities, and those are constraints that we in this forum can have an effect on.

I frankly believe that it is not how much money we have to spend in Roane County but where we spend it. Allowing our Commissioners to put replacing a 30 year old jail ahead of replacing 50 year old schools is disappointing, for instance.

Wouldn't it be nice if our Commissioners were as forthcoming in sharing their thought process as our School Board? That would prevent us from forming the opinion that they have no "thought process" to share.

I generally agree, WC

Without making the jail the focus of the discussion, which is about schools, I think it is disappointing, too. I'm most disappointed because the previous County Executive/Mayor, and previous County Commissions never developed the testicular fortitude to do what had to be done about the jail until now. That is sad. By putting it off and putting it off, they forced the current County Executive and Commission into a situation where they had to face the option of putting all the worthy (and popular) things on hold in order to build the jail and avoid the much worse financial repercussions they would have set the county up for had they not finally taken action.

That said, though, I think your remarks about the finding of a balance, looking at monetary and political realities is absolutely on the money. We're not in a situation where we can wait for the ideal: we gotta figure out some better things (better than what we're doing now) and find ways to do 'em.

This discussion is valuable, IMHO. I hope I can be deemed to "get it" at least to the point that we can agree on that :-)


I don't believe this statement is true, RB

they had to face the option of putting all the worthy (and popular) things on hold in order to build the jail and avoid the much worse financial repercussions they would have set the county up for had they not finally taken action.

That's not your fault. It is the party line from the Commission, which apparently lacks the huevos to do what really should be done.

Just my thoughts...

I grew up in a great school system in North Georgia. We had 4 very small city high schools and 1 (now 2, cause I am old) very large county High Schools. There were pros and cons to this system, but our leaders tried to decide which items were for the good of the community. I would like to point to a few factors that were learned. I really like learning from someone else's mistakes AND successes.

When the county high school was built, the Economic Developement Board told the school system that they were struggling to draw high paying jobs to the area because they lacked skilled workers in the workforce. The only opportunities were carpet mills and the new steel mill. They suggested an expanded vocational program. The school system responded by offering automachanics, autobody, health occupations, graphic communications, office administration, drafting and design, food service, computer technology (very small and primative at that time), journalism and media (included a radiio station), welding, and horticulture. There was no local community colleges in the county until 7 years ago. There were so many high schoolers with great skills, the need for it was hard to see. Many of the drafting and design students went straight to work for a new engineering firm that was attracted to the area by the supply of entry level employees. There are now several auto and diesel repair businesses. Computerized industries came to the area (including Lever Brothers and Busch Beer). The vo-tech program brought businesses that provided jobs to the young people so they could stay in the area if they wanted to.

This did not pull their focus from college preparation. Our school ranked in the top 25 schools in the state all 4 years that I was there and still holds a spot there regularly. They have provided the student with the states top ACT/SAT scores 11 times in 30 years. By directing students to vo-tech that had no desire for college, the college prep classes could be accelerated to really prepare the students.

Large schools do not guarantee large classrooms, but small schools guarantee limited space and therefore limited curriculum opportunities.

We need to look to see if the plans for the school system compliment the plans for our community. Regardless of where OR why priority has been placed, our schools are struggling. I hate to see us build schools based on todays needs that will be obsolete by the time they are finished. Where are our long term goals and projections? What is our vision for this project? Somewher in scripture it says, "a people without vision perish."

Yes it is about the students and their future, but what future will they have in a community with no future.

Just my two cents.

Welcome, Wylamena!

What a wonderful post! I am so glad you jumped into the discussion! :)

And welcome to RoaneViews! :) :)

It was very interesting hearing about your school. You got me thinking about mine. :)

I went to a small rural public high school in a federally-designated poverty area adjacent to an Indian reservation—there were 39 kids in my graduating class, 130 kids in all 4 years—but we had excellent academics and extensive vocational classes as well. We had all of the vocational subjects you listed except computers (there were no personal computers at that time) and the radio station. We probably had more agriculture (6 years of ag classes in 4 years of high school) and 4 years of home ec/cooking/tailoring/event planning as well. We did have extensive business classes appropriate to the times (typing, bookkeeping, shorthand, office practice).

Our music, Future Farmers of America, and Future Homemakers of America programs were outstanding and so were our sports. FFA often won at the state level, and FHA members won many blue ribbons at the state fair.

Our cheerleading team often won at state level, as did our football and basketball teams. We had active soccer, tennis, and even golf teams. All students participated in music, sports, and other activities except when there were necessary schedule conflicts. For example, football players didn't play in the band during games, just during non-football parades and concerts. There was intense social pressure to participate in everything possible, because otherwise we wouldn't have enough people to fill out the teams, make an active marching band, put on a major musical each year, make a yearbook, etc..

The academics were good enough to adequately prepare me for a scholarship to a top private school and to ensure I did well once I got there. When I wanted to take extra courses not on the curriculum, the school was small enough for that not to be a problem. I had 4 years of French. Two years of Latin, 2 of physics, 2 of biology, etc., were offered as well.

As far as I knew, all the students were literate, no one dropped out, everyone graduated, and only one baby was born to a student during my 4 years there. And this was in the late 60s, during the Vietnam War and well into the hippie era, in a school that was about 1/3 minority.

The school had cliques like any other but was literally so small that cliques couldn't really matter. Everyone had to work together to meet our goals.

Before high school, I had attended schools in other places, both much smaller and much larger. I have to say a far smaller proportion of students got to take part in activities in the larger schools. Our school was so small that this nerd rather improbably managed to earn a letter in tennis and was elected to school office.

I was once even asked to try out for cheerleader, not because they wanted me to be one—to say that I was not exactly the cheerleader type would have been an understatement—but because the rules said there could only be one cheerleader for every 4 girls who tried out. They only had 15 would-be cheerleaders, one too few to allow them to continue their award-winning 4-girl team. So... in the name of school spirit, I made a fool of myself in front of the whole school and tried out. They got the 4th cheerleader, and I got some memories. :)

The worst thing about my high school was that it was pre-Title IX. Girls, me specifically, were not allowed to take wood shop, auto shop, metal-working shop, any shop, because we would be a "disruptive influence." :( I was very glad later when Title IX was passed.

Thanks for causing me to take a trip down memory lane! :)

I agree completely with your points about vision.

-- OneTahiti

A Good Two Cents

Great post Wylamena. It is good to hear feedback like you have provided. It is information/discussion like this that I hope this forum continues to produce.

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