Gongol.com Archives: June 2024

Brian Gongol

June 16, 2024

Iowa Dissolving a small school district

The board of a small Iowa school district has voted to initiate a process to dissolve the district next year, subject to voter approval at a public referendum. The Orient-Macksburg school board acknowledged that it was a "difficult and emotional decision to make", but the vote was unanimous. ■ It's not uncommon for educational policy to be discussed in dull, over-broad terms. The public hears endlessly about "small class sizes" and the need to "pay teachers more", but the broad terms are rarely enough to address what's really optimal for students and their well-being. Sometimes, for instance, scale becomes a limiting factor. Rural Iowa school districts have been consolidating for decades because the smallest ones found themselves economically unsustainable -- no matter how much their local communities wanted to keep them around, whether for travel convenience, sentimental reasons, or local identity. ■ In 2020, America was abruptly forced to reassess what goes into schools and what we expect out of them. And to some extent, we've begun to reckon with certain important truths. Among them: Most kids very much need to be in social environments with their peers, most learning can be individuated to some degree (especially with the aid of thoughtfully-applied technology), and in some cases, class size doesn't matter one iota (see, for instance, the infinitely scalable coursework delivered by MIT OpenCourseware or the Khan Academy. Sometimes a great recorded lecture is vastly preferable to a poorly-prepared small-group lesson. ■ Consolidation isn't going away for rural places: America was on an urbanization trend even from the beginning, and it's still taking place today. The changes won't always be comfortable, but that doesn't make them any less important to address thoughtfully. Catchy slogans aren't often going to do much to help.

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