Date of Graduation


Document Type



This dissertation contributes to a line of evidence about the role of socioeconomic status (and related constructs) in mediating the relationship between school (or district) size and student achievement and to a growing literature of critique in rural education. The study investigated the relationship of student achievement, socioeconomic status (SES), and size among schools and districts in West Virginia in 1990. It also examined the historical and political economic circumstances of the school closures that took place (most of them after 1990) in this poor, rural state. Findings suggest that smaller schools benefit impoverished students, whereas larger schools benefit affluent students. All variables were measured continuously, so that the meaning of "smaller" and "larger" is relative. State policy in West Virginia, however, interpreted 50, 150, and 200 students per grade as the minimum allowable school size at the elementary, middle, and senior high levels, respectively. Many West Virginia schools were smaller than this in 1990, and many of these schools (25.7 percent of all schools) had been closed by 1994. The critique developed in this study suggests that the State closed schools in order to help manage a crisis of legitimation, and not, as its agents suggested, principally to foster school improvement. Since half the state budget was devoted to education, the will to improve educational efficiencies (via consolidation) was represented as evidence that the crisis would be resolved by a new administration. As a result, many small schools were withdrawn from impoverished communities. Such action, however, would not be anticipated to improve the achievement of impoverished students on the basis of findings developed in this study. Evidence and critique from this study suggest that (1) the closures were a bad idea that served corporate interests rather than the public interest, (2) small schools should be retained and better supported in impoverished West Virginia communities, and (3) the reorganization of West Virginia's 55 county districts into multi-county districts may be the next bad idea on the State's consolidation agenda.