NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 29, 2005

Decreasing the size of a state's school districts leads to substantial improvements in its public high school graduation rate, say Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters (Manhattan Institute).

The authors calculated high school graduation rates for each state over a decade-long period and found a statistically significant, positive relationship between decreasing the size of school districts and high school graduation rates.

According to the authors:

  • Decreasing the average size of a state's school districts by 200 square miles would lead to an increase of about 1.7 percentage points in its graduation rate.
  • If Florida decreased the size of its school districts to the national median, it would increase its graduation rate from 59 percent to 64 percent, which is equivalent to 9,379 more students in Florida graduating high school.
  • If Hawaii, which only has one school district, increased its number of school districts from one to four, it would raise its graduation rate by a full 13 percentage points.

Residential school choice is by far the most frequently used form of choice, say the authors. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 47 percent of parents choose their residence based in part on the public school their child would attend.

By making it easier to relocate from one school system's jurisdiction to another, smaller school districts allow families to exercise choice among different school districts, note the authors. Increasing the choice parents have makes it easier for parents to leave school districts providing inadequate services. As a result, schools are given an incentive to improve because they do not want to lose enrollment and revenue to other districts.

Source: Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, "The Effect of Residential School Choice on Public High School Graduation Rates," Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, April 2005.

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