What's small

The research base making the case for small high schools is compelling. Student achievement goes up. The achievement gap between poor students and their more affluent peers is narrowed. Discipline problems and dropout rates go down. Student attendance goes up, as does participation in extracurricular activities. Teacher and parent satisfaction and student affiliation increase. College-going rates increase. The cost per graduate is lower.

At the same time, "small schools" means different things to different people. We agree with our partners at the Small Schools Project that the term "small schools" is an identifier for schools that have a core of common characteristics:

  • They are small. Few effective small schools serve more than 400 students, and many serve no more than 200 students.
  • They are autonomous. The school community — whether it shares a building, administrator, or some co-curricular activities with other schools - retains primary authority to make decisions affecting the important aspects of the school.
  • They are distinctive and focused rather than comprehensive. They do not try to be all things to all people.
  • They are personal. Every student is known well by more than one adult, and every student has an advisor/advocate who works closely with her and her family to plan a personalized program. Student-family-advisor relationships are sustained over several years.
  • They are committed to equity in educational achievement by eliminating achievement gaps between groups of students while increasing the achievement levels of virtually all students.
  • They use multiple forms of assessment to report on student accomplishment and to guide their efforts to improve their own school.
  • They view parents as critical allies and find significant ways to include them in the life of the school community.
  • They are schools of choice for both students and teachers, except in some rural areas, and are open without bias to any student in a community.

For more information, see www.smallschoolsproject.org.

If you want to get the benefit of small, then the kids have to affiliate with the unit – the small school — in order to bring it off. Unless teachers can create their own school climate — unless the kids can see some difference when they leave their own part of the building — then they are not going to identify with it. And if they don’t identify, you have lost the battle. Unless the kids bond with the teachers (and the students as well) then they aren’t going to feel that they are really involved with or a part of this process and won’t buy the schools values, and therefore schools won’t work. (Mary Anne Raywid)