People are trying once again to manipulate control of Maine schools away from local people through school unit consolidation and a statewide contract for teachers.

Consolidating school units in the name of saving money and improving education has proven to be a hollow promise by politicians of all stripes. Be very, very cautious. Decades of research show that students in small schools learn more and better, make more rapid progress toward graduation, are more satisfied, are less likely to drop out, and behave better. According to researcher M. Raywid, at Hofstra University, “All of these things we have confirmed with a clarity and at a level of confidence rare in the annals of education research.”

Are these not the results that parents want for their kids? In lower income communities, these results are magnified. Kids really thrive in smaller schools where they are known and recognized.

Considering costs of education, we really need to dig deeper than “per pupil cost.” It does not reflect the real results very well at all. A more accurate metric is cost per pupil graduated — not just how many students do you have in your schools, but how many graduated? This links cost with results.

For example, using this metric one school system found that “though these smaller schools have somewhat higher costs per student, their much higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates produce among the lowest cost per graduate.” These results fit many Maine schools with high percentages of “free or reduced lunch” students.

A thriving small community is often centered around the school. Research shows when there is no school, businesses tend to leave, property values and tax base plummet, new residents avoid the town. In brief, if you lose your school, you lose your community.

Keith Cook, Ed.D.

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