Sunday, February 12, 2012

Comments in response to email about small schools:

A friend's spot-on comments in response to my last email about small schools:


Small schools may have worked in New York, but the rest of the nation needs to understand that they can be quite difficult to implement successfully. Oakland Unified School District launched a small schools movement in 2004, where they broke apart many of their larger campuses into 3-4 separate schools. This was expensive (significantly less than 50% of the district's per pupil allocation currently goes to teachers, who are the among the lowest paid in CA) and has had limited results, especially at the high school level. Several suffering schools have had to shut down because of low enrollment (due to school choice), and there are some schools that do not even have the resources to offer the required classes for high school graduation in California (A-G). Over the past six years, this school district has seen strong gains across its elementary schools (it has had a lot of room to grow), but very slow progress in its high schools.


On the flip side, there have been very large high schools that have been successful (


Net net, small schools shift limited resources away from teachers toward administrators. The New York study shows that it is possible for small schools to be more effective, but it is not a guarantee.


…The biggest driver of school quality is teaching quality. If you use small schools as an excuse to axe bad teachers then I'm for it. But if you just move them to other schools or wind up not paying teachers across the district a competitive salary because of extra administrators (who can be equally incompetent) then it's not going to work.

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