School Size Impact upon Student Achievement

Source:  University of South Carolina website, 2005

Researchers have found that parental involvement tends to be greater in smaller schools than in larger schools (Meier, 1996; Walberg, 1992). Walberg (1992) argued that small schools tend to have greater physical and psychological proximity to students’ homes than do larger schools, and that such proximity increases parental involvement because parents feel more comfortable approaching a smaller school.

Meier (1996) took a similar approach arguing that a culture of respect between parents, students, and teachers was necessary for parental involvement. This culture comes from parents and teachers knowing each other personally, and is, therefore, more likely to develop in smaller schools.  In support of this explanation, Green and Barnes (1993) reported that administrators in small schools relied more heavily on verbal communications and held more conferences with parents than administrators in large schools.

In dealing with school size issues, educational decision-makers should avoid simplistic notions of economic efficiency based upon perceived economies of scale. Advocates of the economy of scale often perceive a linear relationship in which larger schools are automatically more efficient. Research does not support this view. Beyond 1000 students, the inefficiency of large bureaucracies is likely to waste more resources than can be gained by increasing size. 

Furthermore, decision-makers must be careful not to confuse expenditures with costs (Wiles, 1994).  Expenditures refer to the total amount of money that is spent, whereas costs refer to the amount of money needed to produce a particular outcome. Research indicates that when a school grows beyond 100 students per grade level, more money must be spent to attain the same level of academic achievement. Thus, increases in school size between 400 and 1000 students may result in decreased per pupil expenditures, but per pupil costs are likely to rise.

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