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Smaller Schools


Smaller Schools

Issue Summary

New Mexico's graduation rate ranks second from the bottom of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only 54.1% of New Mexico's children graduate from high school, compared with a national average of 70.6%. An average of 77 students drop out each school day across New Mexico—nearly 14,000 per year.

Decades of research have shown that smaller schools have higher graduation rates, higher student achievement, lower levels of student alienation and violence, and higher levels of satisfaction among students, parents, principals, and teachers. Small schools also dramatically improve the performance of low-income children, which helps to narrow the persistent achievement gap.

The most effective high school size, according to the research, is 600-900 students. Yet, in 2007, more than two-thirds of New Mexico ninth graders entered high schools with populations larger than 1,000 students, and nearly a third entered high schools with more than 2,000 students.

Small schools are not only better for students, they also cost less to build and operate. Researchers have found that the most efficient schools are those serving 300-900 students. Schools larger than this experience "diseconomies of scale": inefficiencies and increased costs that result from increases in bureaucracy, security, and transportation. In addition, if the operational cost of a school is calculated "per graduate" rather than "per student," small schools are substantially more efficient than large schools because their dropout rates are much lower.

The capital costs of small schools can also be far less per student than those of large schools if the small schools are designed to take advantage of community educational resources like gymnasiums, pools, libraries, and sports fields, rather than duplicating these facilities. Several New Mexico charter schools have successfully applied this community-based model, at a savings of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Think New Mexico recommends that the legislature and Governor Martinez enact legislation limiting the size of new schools built in New Mexico at no more than 400 students for elementary and middle schools and no more than 900 students for high schools.

During the 2009 legislative session, Think New Mexico championed legislation based on our proposals. The bill (Senate Bill 255) passed the Senate 28-11, but ran out of time in the House. In 2011, Think New Mexico's legislation (Senate Bill 2) was unanimously approved by both the Senate Education and Senate Finance Committees. In 2012, Think New Mexico assisted the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education in enacting a resolution that limited the size of new elementary schools in the district.

Think New Mexico is continuing to advocate for smaller schools in New Mexico at both the state and school district level. Sign up for our email alerts and join our Facebook and Twitter pages to stay informed and get involved on this issue!


Get Involved

Contact your Legislators Think New Mexico's legislative successes are due in large part to the grassroots advocacy of our supporters. During the 2007 legislative session, Think New Mexico supporters sent hundreds of messages to their legislators and the governor urging them to support our lottery reform legislation, which ultimately passed by wide, bipartisan margins. If you would like to assist Think New Mexico in our efforts to establish smaller schools to help New Mexico's students succeed, please call or write your state legislators and urge them to support legislation capping the size of New Mexico's public schools. Click here to ask your legislators to support small schools.

Contact your Local Media Vocal public support of policy reforms like reducing the size of New Mexico's schools plays a big part in making them happen. Legislators are attentive and responsive to letters to the editors from their constituents. We encourage you to express your support for small schools through the media, as well as directly to your representatives. The Media section of Think New Mexico's Action Center provides the names and contact information for your local media, including newspapers, radio stations, and television stations, and you can compose and send any of them an email or letter right from the page.

Donate Now Online

Learn More About Think New Mexico's Campaign to Make Small Elementary Schools Accessible to Every Child in Santa Fe


Think New Mexico joins with legislators to question the legality of the Santa Fe Public School District's diversion of bond money to consolidate small schools - read our opinion editorial in the Albuquerque Journal NorthJuly 25, 2010


Listen to KSFR Santa Fe Public Radio story on Think New Mexico's work on small schools in Santa Fe • July 20, 2010 (mp3, 5:09)


The Albuquerque Journal editorializes against the Santa Fe school district's plan to close small, neighborhood schools


Listen to Fred Nathan's presentation to the Santa Fe Public School Board about why the district should not consolidate its smaller schools, broadcast on KSFR Santa Fe Public RadioMay 7, 2010 (mp3, 1:51)


Read Think New Mexico's plan to make small schools accessible to every child in Santa Fe, as it appeared in the Albuquerque Journal North, as well as the paper's supportive editorial



Resources & Media


Smaller Schools Policy Report Read Think New Mexico's policy report describing how smaller schools can help New Mexico's students succeed


Coalition in Support of Smaller Schools


Read the Santa Fe Public Schools draft resolution limiting the size of future public schools in that district


Read what New Mexicans are saying about smaller schools


Read what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says about the importance of smaller schools


Read what New Mexico Secretary of Education designate Hanna Skandera says about the benefits of smaller schools


Newspaper Articles & Editorials

Read an opinion editorial published in the Rio Grande Sun about why the small school of Velarde Elemntary should remain open • June 25, 2015


Read a letter to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal about what the top ten performing schools in the state have in common: their small size • August 9, 2012


Read an editorial from the Albuquerque Journal about the benefits of smaller schools. • May 28, 2012


Read a column by Deming Headlight columnist Win Mott on the importance of small schools for the students and community of Deming. • June 30, 2011


Read an article from the New Mexico Business Weekly on the support for smaller schools from all across the political spectrum. • February 18, 2011


Read an editorial from the Albuquerque Journal about how smaller schools help New Mexico's most vulnerable students succeed. • January 15, 2011


Read an article in Capitol Report New Mexico about how much higher the graduation rates are in New Mexico's small schools than in its large schools. • September 30, 2010


Read an opinion editorial on why smaller schools are a cost effective education reform, authored by Paul Gessing of the libertarian Rio Grande Foundation • January 10, 2010


Read editorials from the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican advocating for smaller schools as part of the solution to New Mexico's dropout crisis • August 2009


Read La Jicarita News article on 2009 smaller schools bill • February 2009


Read New Mexico Business Weekly story on Think New Mexico's smaller schools reform initiative • December 5, 2008


Read Albuquerque Journal editorial in support of Think New Mexico's smaller schools reform initiative • October 11, 2008


Read Santa Fe New Mexican editorial endorsing Think New Mexico's smaller schools reform initiative • October 17, 2008


Read Santa Fe New Mexican article on Think New Mexico's smaller schools reform initiative • October 5, 2008


Read Union County Leader article on Think New Mexico's smaller schools reform initiative


Radio and Television

Listen to Fred Nathan's presentation to the Santa Fe Public School Board about why the district should not consolidate its smaller schools, broadcast on KSFR Santa Fe Public RadioMay 7, 2010 (mp3, 1:51)


Listen to KUNM Public Radio report on Think New Mexico's proposal to save Santa Fe's small schools • April 21, 2010 (mp3, 8:05)


Watch KWES NewsWest Channel 9 report on Think New Mexico's smaller schools initiative • October 22, 2008 (1:57)


Listen to KSFR Santa Fe Public Radio "Journey Home" story on smaller schools • January 8, 2009 (mp3, 14:36)


Listen to KUNM Public Radio report on small schools • October 9, 2008 (mp3, 1:45)


Blogs, Online Media, and Other

Read syndicated columnist Jay Miller's blog entry on Think New Mexico's small schools initiative • March 11, 2009


Read Mario Burgos blog entry on Think New Mexico's smaller schools reform initiative • October 14, 2008