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Study: Students Adjust, Teachers Struggle After Consolidation

Students in rural districts readily adapt to the life changes imposed by school consolidation while teachers—especially veterans—struggle with new relationships, researchers studying some Arkansas school districts found.

A study published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Research in Rural Education looked at what those who went through consolidation in four Arkansas districts between 2002 and 2006 experienced. Researchers from three universities (two in Arkansas, one in Washington) interviewed students, teachers, and administrators about the impact on their everyday lives. (Download a pdf of the study, "A Phenomenological Study of Rural Consolidation," at the journal's website.)

The headlines:

Students adjusted better than teachers to the social disruption. (The "kids will be kids" phenomenon, the article suggested.)

Nearly all students and teachers reported some benefits from consolidation. Those benefits included wider course offerings and having to teach fewer subjects.

The study offered no recommendations about whether consolidation is helpful or hurtful. Yet, it did make this important point: The narrow, cost-versus-community-impact focus of research and debate has ignored the effect of consolidation on students and teachers. In turn, decisions have discounted that critical factor.

"The existing literature has failed to adequately prioritize the experience of those within schools," the researchers wrote. "Conclusions about the desirability of consolidation must address changes that occur within the consolidated schools, and these changes are best described by those who daily live in them."

Meanwhile, the legal wrangling over forced consolidation in Arkansas continues. Another community group fighting consolidation filed a lawsuit against the state late last week.

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