Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Scale of Schools: Small Schools Foster Big Gains in Learning

Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Helen Cordes, Utne Reader: http://www.utne.com

It was, sadly, the Columbine High killings in suburban Denver in 1999 that may have provided the most dramatic evidence in the case against big schools.

In the aftermath, many blamed the violence on Columbine’s immense size - 2,000 students - and the powerful cliques that evolve in such an environment.

Critics included Al Gore, who blasted the practice of "herding all students into overcrowded, factory-style high schools." And yet the case for small schools doesn’t rest just on emotional rhetoric and bloody TV footage.

Recent studies have shown that simply reducing the size of a school can "create small, supportive learning environments that give students a sense of connection," as Richard Riley, U.S. secretary of education, puts it.

And it’s not just a feel-good environment for students. Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, writing in The Progressive Populist (Oct. 1, 2000), reports that students in urban, rural, and suburban small schools (300 to 400 students for elementary schools, 400 to 600 for middle schools, and 400 to 800 for high schools) outdo their big-school peers in grades and test scores, have far fewer discipline problems and lower dropout rates, and log more years in postsecondary education.

Buoyed by these and other findings, the U.S. Department of Education in October awarded grants to 354 schools in 39 states to help create smaller, more personalized "learning communities," including "schools within schools" in large high schools.

Meanwhile, state education officials around the country are finally beginning to see the value of the small schools that survived the consolidation trend of recent decades. All of this elates Deborah Meier, whose pioneer small schools in Harlem helped inspire a boom in New York City - which now boasts more than 100 small schools - and nationwide.

"It’s not even their particular approach to curriculum and pedagogy that makes them work," writes Meier in The Nation (June 5, 2000). "It’s that the schools are organized to maximize the power of the adults who know the kids best, the strength of their ties with kids and families, and their ability to put together a coherent schoolwide pedagogy and curriculum." And, she adds, "all of this can happen inside the public sector, without charters, vouchers, or privatization."

To read further, go to: http://www.utne.com/2001-01-01/the-scale-of-schools.aspx?newsletter=1&utm_content=06.11.12+Mind+and+Body&utm_campaign=2012+ENEWS&utm_source=iPost&utm_medium=email
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