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Study Links Smaller School Districts to Poorer Classroom Performance

Ball State report: schools with fewer than 2,000 students underperform on SAT, ACT, ISTEP

A Ball State study says about half Indiana's school districts are too small to deliver a top-quality education.

About half Indiana's school districts have fewer than two-thousand students. Economist Michael Hicks says their SAT scores are 20 points lower than the other half, and their passing rates on high school end-of-course exams in algebra and biology are four-percent worse. He argues it's a direct result of the districts' size.

Hicks says when there are that few students, it's unlikely there will be enough to offer high-level classes like calculus and physics. And he says administrative costs siphon money out of the classroom. Turkey Run-Rockville Superintendent Tom Rohr, who oversaw the merger of two western Indiana districts in 2013, estimates it costs a half-million dollars to run the central office, and says that's a significant chunk for a smaller district.

There's not much difference among big and small districts on the end-of-course English test, or on fourth-grade ISTEP scores. But Hicks says those are areas which don't involve extra costs for equipment or to hire qualified teachers. He says there's a five-percent gap in passing rates on the eighth-grade ISTEP.

Hicks used statistical techniques to control for variables like the predominantly rural makeup of the smaller districts and higher poverty rates in larger ones.

The Indiana Chamber commissioned the study -- it's long argued schools could steer more money to the classroom by merging administrative costs. Legislators this year approved money to assist districts which decide to merge.

(Photo: Andrey Vergeles/Thinkstock)


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