Consolidation of Public Schools

The American public school system was revolutionized sometime in the middle of the 20th century in a rather conspicuous way. The school system in many parts of the US were small entities run by communities as recently as the 1930s. Most of these institutions only acquired the services of a single teacher. In the subsequent four decades, the number of schools in the US reduced by over 100 000. Approximately two thirds of the existing schools were integrated under the consolidation program (Berry, 2006). The average size of schools increased five times in the short span. Increasingly, school districts became professional entities overseen by professionals. Some of these bureaucracies were in charge of huge numbers of students. Some handled several hundreds of thousands of students. Consolidation and closure of schools is a process for the long-term because it is complex. Owing to social and cultural policy differences, the consolidation resulted in a number of varying characteristics in different school districts. Indeed, the consolidation adopted reflects a number of differing characteristics. Depending on the implementation approach, the consolidation may be split into several sections, i.e. amalgamation, crossover, annexation or centralization-decentralization.

Definition of Consolidation

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Researchers apply a range of terms to describe consolidation. It is the merging of a number of attendance areas to constitute a larger school entity (Fitzwater, 1953). In his view, reorganization refers the to the process of combining two or more schools that were previously independent districts into a fresh and larger school arrangement (p. 4). Kansas chose to refer to the schools that were consolidated as unification. The reorganized school entities were referred to as unified school districts, and not reorganized schools or consolidated districts.

Although there is varying terminology used by the researchers and bureaucrats, most communities still refer to the schools as consolidated schools. The media, policy makers and other stakeholders consistently try to remind the public of the differences in the terminologies. For instance, an article in the news in Kansas in 1964 responded to concerns by the community about the consolidation process by pointing out yet again that the vote in 1964 to unify schools would not close protection schools and that the action was unification as opposed to consolidation (Bard, Gardener & Wieland, 2006). However, this seemed to have little effect since thirty-four years down the line, the process is still widely referred to as consolidation by a large section of the population. Thus, the term consolidation is the assumed definition by most rural community members. The bottom-line behind the assumption is that someone loses in the process and, of course another wins.

Background

The process of consolidation was inspired by the need to professionalize education in the nineteenth century (Tyack 1974). In the eyes of the administrative forward looking experts, putting the authority to run schools in the hands of professionals was the only way to get rid of corruption that was witnessed in city schools and the parochial approach adopted in rural ones. Cities are the ones that first experienced consolidation. The progressive strategy aimed at putting schools in the hands of professional superintendents in order to eliminate the political machinations that existed. The school reformers then focused their attention to rural schools. They decried the inefficient and unprofessional style of running these institutions. These reformers borrowed a leaf from modern corporations in their plight to establish professionalism in running of school affairs.

In his arguments, Ellwood P. Cubberley (1922), one of the leading reformers of the 20th C, emphasized on four points in favour of merging schools. He stated that a large school would allow easier centralized administration because they would need fewer administrators and teachers and subordinate staff. Secondly, since there was little distinction in educational achievement in the existing school system, centralized schools would ensure more specialized instruction. The teachers in…

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