Student Body Size on School Costs and Academic Performance in Mississippi High Schools
One of the most heated point of contention within school districts currently is the variable effects of school size, school funding and student performance. There are costs and benefits associated with school size and especially class size and those issues effect school funding, as it is largely accepted that less schools, therefore larger schools equals less cost overall. Yet, the concern in any district is the trade off associated with increasing the size of the student body and therefore almost assuredly increasing the class size and the student to teacher ratio.
The decade of the 1980s saw a massive effort on the part of state governments to reform their educational systems. Although most efforts such as decreasing student-teacher ratios or increasing teacher salaries had little impact on student performance, three variables that are under the control of state education agencies are related to performance - compulsory education laws, school size, and long-term educational funding.
Smith and Meier)
The education system within the United States has been is driven by the economy as tax revenue is the major source of school funding. "To some degree the picture will be affected by the economy of the country. If it takes a serious downturn, school districts will increase class size, eliminate some subject areas, and hire fewer new teachers."
Maloy and Seidman 18) Additionally the education system has been in a constant state of flux, while educators and lawmakers alike attempt to improve upon a system that's image fluxuates almost as much as policy.
Ironically, at a time when job prospects seem to be the most positive they have been in two decades, teaching and teacher education, are under attack. In the 1950s the former Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik created a crisis in confidence in United States schooling. In 1983 the report entitled A Nation at Risk declared a crisis in American schools. In fact, for the entire twentieth century, the field of education has been in the throes of one reform or another.
(Maloy and Seidman 18)
Like most states Mississippi began an extensive reform movement within its school districts. With the 1985 legislation that implemented the Onward to Excellence school improvement process has come greater recognition of the needs of the schools in Mississippi. Through the implementation of the programs associated with the goals and the corporate partnerships offered by a few large local employers individual schools have had the opportunity to really look at just what needs to be done to improve outcomes for students. What has been realized is that by 1996 the success of the implementation of the OTE excellence program is marginal at best. (Kushman 1999)
Though this was clearly only a preliminary study designed to assess the continuing needs of schools to assist implementation, basically to see what worked and what did not marginal success was the best observation that could be made. (Kushman 1999) What the researchers found is that fundamental change is difficult and now with increasing pressures to implement even more change through mandated budget constraints the system is in even greater danger than it was just a few years ago. The development of these new mandates, though necessary part of the running of a school system go against the fundamentals of the OTE program.
State and district curricular mandates often drove school reform more than did the actions of OTE leadership teams. Whereas mandates are a reality in any state or district, they sometimes leave leadership teams little else to do except to figure out how to make the new changes fit. When this happens, the intent of OTE as a site-based decision-making process is lost. OTE becomes a way to manage change from the outside rather than a proactive process to develop goals and action plans through shared decision making. (Kushman 1999) frustrating reality of school change is that advances are often curbed by outside influences including changes in curricular standards and also funding and allocation allotments. Making the process of wide scale change seem like an exercise in two steps forward and one step back. "The last several decades have also witnessed a massive school district consolidation effort as small and rural school districts were merged to form larger districts (Meyer, Scott, and Strang, 1987; 189). As part of consolidation, schools often become larger. "
Smith and Meier) Smith and Meier go on to express that though school size is being increased smaller schools are at the same time being recognized for their advantages.
Although there probably are economies of scale in education, small schools have some distinct advantages over larger schools. As Chubb and Moe (1990) would argue, a smaller school is likely to serve a smaller, more homogeneous area. It should be more able to adjust teaching methods to the specific education problems that the school faces. Systems with smaller schools, therefore, should be positively related to student performance.(13)
(Smith and Meier)
The Mississippi schools are not alone in their quest to find an answer to this growing question. A review of current literature may assist educators in a greater understanding of the inherent problems and solutions offered for both increasing school size and decreasing or maintaining current status. Though it is also clear that a consensus has yet to be met and many researchers call for more information. (Andrews, Duncombe, Yinger, 2002) In 1965 a large regional survey assessed the major problems associated with southern high schools and their findings resulted in a major pull toward consolidation of high schools. (Vance et al. 1965) The results of that survey are as follows:
1) nearly all teachers in the South hold a bachelor's degree and 25% hold a master's degree or above; (2) more than 50% of all high school classes in each of the 11 states can be classified as either too small or too large; and (3) the majority of southern high school youth attend schools which offer an inadequate program of courses. A major conclusion is that the prevalence of small high schools constitutes the most serious obstacle to quality education and equal educational opportunity in southern secondary schools. (Vance et al. 1965)
The problem today lies in assessing the current conditions and determining if this trend that began in the 1960s went to far and if a new plan of action including the advancement of information and communication technology and better networking could provide better results in smaller schools. This analysis will assess the current state of information on the interrelated issues of student body size, school costs, and academic performance.
A short summary of the conclusive evident found within the literature that follows will show that there is a growing trend to determine just what the best size is for secondary schools. The overwhelming evidence is in favor of smaller schools that incorporate the use of many interdisciplinary tools and use careful coordination to ensure that diversity remains within the school curriculum.
Researchers from all over the spectrum are searching for ways to determine the best possible results for all students with the compulsory education system and the focal point could just be the very question we are asking today: How much does school size effect the cost and student success.
Review of the Literature
Within the literature today investigators are questioning the validity of the arguments for both increased student body size and the immediate financial savings that it can offer financially strained school systems. Through an analysis conducted in collaboration between Mississippi State University and the Mississippi State, Bureau of Educational Research a direct correlation between cost and actual measurable success was shown:
Using detailed cost breakdowns, this study attempts to determine the extent to which achievement of fourth- and eighth-grade students can be predicted from educational costs and school district size, and what combination of these variables and socioeconomic status best predicts student achievement (as measured by 1980-81 California Achievement Test scores in 152 school districts in a Southeastern state). (Amos & Moody 1982)
Through the use of the standardized testing tool of the California Achievement Test scores, offered at the fourth and eight grade levels the authors attempted to break down and separate all the factors associated with the interplay between student success and school financial output. "The findings indicate that costs of instruction are significantly related to student achievement. The authors conclude, however, that the cost of supporting a given level of achievement in low-income populations is quite high, and that mathematics concepts and applications scores are higher in large school districts due to greater teacher specialization in those districts." (Amos & Moody 1982) Though there has been a clear historical connection between cost, size and student achievement within districts and even individual schools the benefits ratio for older students has been neglected and is in need of much further study.
One way to determine the success of students in an older age range is correlating student success with the statistics that…
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