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By GreatSchools Staff
"Small is not enough," reports Diana Oxley of the University of Oregon in a report entitled "Small Learning Communities." "Small size creates the conditions to carry out student work that is active and collaborative. However, small size is not an end in itself." Common planning time, development for teachers and high-quality curriculum are all necessary to make small learning communities work.
It may not be possible to create small schools or small learning communities in every school district. "There's not a sufficient number of school leaders and educators to scale up and sustain the small school movement once foundation funding dries up," says David C. Bloomfield, professor and head of the educational leadership program at the Brooklyn campus of the City University of New York. He is concerned that these issues need to be addressed before the small school movement is expanded and says there are other issues that also demand attention.
"The small school movement is just nibbling around the edges," he says. "Small schools, like charter schools, are beacons. But we need to address class size, union contracts and school infrastructure problems-such as inadequate aging science labs- in order to really make a difference." The movement to create small high schools may succeed in lowering dropout rates but it's not clear that the students who stay in school will be able to pass high-stakes high school exit exams. "The data is inconclusive as to whether kids will achieve more rather than just staying in school longer and not dropping out," says Bloomfield.
Strengths of small schools: Students are more likely to master curriculum in a smaller learning environment.
Strengths of large schools: Large schools typically provide a wide variety of classes and services to students.
Other considerations: No real correlation has been demonstrated between school size and curriculum quality.
Strengths of small schools: Many believe smaller schools demonstrate greater levels of academic achievement across the board, and particularly for students of lower socioeconomic status.
Strengths of large schools: Some studies have shown that larger schools have a moderate benefit on achievement levels for affluent students.
Other considerations: Some studies have shown students from small and large high schools perform comparably on college-related criteria, such as grades, admission and graduation rates.
Strengths of small schools: Students are less likely to "fall through the cracks" or feel cut off from the school culture. They are more likely to form strong relationships with peers and school staff.
Strengths of large schools: Large schools have the capacity to offer more specialized programs for disadvantaged students and students with special needs. A wide variety of classes and activities make it possible for students to find their niche.
Strengths of small schools: There is generally more parent involvement and a feeling of belonging.
Strengths of large schools: Large schools may provide more diversity and may make it easier for different types of students and families to find their niche.
Strengths of small schools: Fewer layers of bureaucracy are necessary.
Strengths of large schools: Large schools provide opportunities for cost savings through economies of scale.
Other considerations: If small schools graduate more students and have fewer dropouts, then the "ultimate cost" may not be higher than large schools.
Strengths of small schools: It's easier to spot strangers at small schools; security and discipline are easier to maintain.
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