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School Size and the Interpersonal Side of Education: An Examination of Race/Ethnicity and Organizational Context


  • *The first author will share coding materials for the Add Health data with those wishing to replicate the study. The authors acknowledge support by the National Institute of Mental Health (MH 00567, MH 57549), National Institute of Aging (2 T32-AG00155-12A1), a grant to the Center for Developmental Science (MS 52429), and a Spencer Foundation Senior Scholar Award to Elder. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design of Add Health. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 〈〉.

Robert Crosnoe, Department of Sociology and Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station A1700, Austin, TX 78712-1088


Objectives. The purpose of this study was to extend research on the connection between school size and student outcomes by examining how school size was related to interpersonal processes and whether the interpersonal effects of school size varied by race/ethnicity.

Methods. We applied multilevel modeling techniques to a sample of 14,966 students in 84 schools from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

Results. Increasing school size was associated with decreasing student attachment to school and to teachers as well as extracurricular participation. Student attachment and teacher bonding diminished with increasing school size at a decreasing rate (reaching minimums in schools with between 1,700–2,000 students), but extracurricular participation dropped at a steady rate. These patterns did not differ substantially by race/ethnicity.

Conclusions. The size of the educational institution influences interpersonal dynamics among actors in the institution and does so similarly across student groups. More generally, this research demonstrates the importance of organizational characteristics for social life.