CONTACT: MELVIN O. SHAW
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Jan. 6, 2000
Technology may be factor in future rural school consolidation
IOWA CITY, Iowa The future of the rural school
consolidation debate will likely be shaped by technological advancements and
the Internet, according to David R. Reynolds, University of Iowa geography
professor. Reynolds also says the topic, once the centerpiece of rural educational
reform, has received scant scholarly attention.
In "There Goes the Neighborhood," (University of Iowa
Press) Reynolds provides a historical look backward at the events and people
who fashioned Iowa's early 20th century "Country Life" movement that intended
to create a more modern future for Midwestern farm families. It is in the
book's epilogue, which follows a varied, descriptive accounting of what initially
made consolidation successful, its 1920s fall from popularity, and its resurrection
just after World War II, that Reynolds suggests "recent technological advancements
have largely robbed the grand debate over consolidation of its traditional
"If through the exploitation of telecommunication
technology, education no longer requires the direct contact of students, teachers
and administrators on the scale required in the past, then the school as a
place of specializing in the provision of education needs to be reviewed.
"The relationship between the school and the community
it serves needs to be reconsidered," Reynolds says.
The grand debate once put rural and urban areas in
competition to provide equal educational opportunities while attempting to
maintain rural community norms and values. School consolidation has always
involved a spatial logic that assumes the primary determinants of educational
quality are necessarily related directly to the size of school districts,
If student transportation costs were removed or become
less related to distance, or thirdly, if the provision of public education
was no longer dependent on property taxation, then the traditional logic of
consolidation would be irrelevant and the grand debate could finally be relegated
to history, Reynolds says.
The number of Iowa school consolidations currently
numbers 375. In 1965 there were 458. The consolidation pace also has slowed
significantly since 1993 when 21 districts were merged to create new ones,
according to the Iowa Department of Education. The next consolidation is scheduled
for July 1 when the Greenfield and Bridgewater-Fontanelle districts will be
combined, creating the Nodaway Valley School District, says Klark Jessen,
media specialist, Iowa Department of Education. Greenfield, which last fall
had an enrollment of 590, and Bridgewater-Fontanelle, which had 289 students,
will be the first consolidation since July 1998. That year, the Gladbrook
and Reinbeck school districts of Grundy County were joined under a hyphenated
In the book, Reynolds examines the Ku Klux Klan's
involvement in school consolidation (Reynolds discovered the Klan was pro-consolidation),
resistance to consolidation in most Iowa localities, and the lasting consequences
of school consolidation. Reynolds argues the consolidation movement failed
earlier in the 20th century because rural Iowans were unconvinced that the
supposed advantages of the consolidated school were worth the loss of rural
neighborhoods and the more intimate social relationships practiced within
"If the history of rural school consolidation teaches
us any lesson, it is that the grand debate over consolidation was based on
a false dichotomy between equality and community. They need not be antithetical.
"While innovations like distance learning may well
become the principal means of delivering education in the future, other key
issues in public education are unlikely to be transcended by advances in technology,"
Questions likely to loom in the near future, Reynolds
says, are: Who will control the educational system? Who will have access to
it? How much will it cost? and Who will pay for it?
"Now that consolidation is no longer tipped in favor
of 'big is necessarily better,'" Reynolds suggests that perhaps more socially
constructive reforms in the production and delivery of education can now find
a political forum and be taken seriously.
"The rural neighborhood is gone but the issue of the
relationship between the school, place-based communities, and social class
is as important as ever," he says.
"There Goes the Neighborhood," $39.95 hardcover, is
available at bookstores or directly from the UI Press online at www.uiowa.edu/~uipress
or by calling 1-800-621-2736 or 319-335-2012.