Promising to “cut the fat” is often better politics than policy, as lawmakers pushing to consolidate school districts may soon learn. The idea—floated in at least a dozen states—calls for absorbing smaller districts into larger ones to reduce overhead costs and, ultimately, fund better student performance.
But consolidation fails on both fronts, according to a new Indiana University study. Researchers crunched testing and budget data to conclude that of the Hoosier state’s 292 districts, the 49 with fewer than 1,000 students are, on average, the top-performing and most efficient. The smaller the district, in fact, the closer it came to the national benchmark for classroom spending (65 percent of the total budget); only the seven smallest school districts exceeded it overall. That, says education professor Jonathan Plucker, a study coauthor, should urge policymakers to focus less on politics—and more on what’s best for kids.