Recent media articles have given a mixed message about the successes of smaller schools. The trouble is two fold. First, smaller schools were never a guarantee of success. It only made success more likely – probably more likely than any other factor changeable from outside the family. Some studies say that the only higher predictor of success than school size was socioeconomics, i.e. the family. With smaller schools, success becomes possible for people who will work to create the right setting for learning to happen. Big schools make that much more difficult.
Second, most attempts at creating smaller schools have not been truly smaller schools or they changed other things in the process. Most attempts at creating smaller schools have been what used to be called “schools within a school.” These is where students continue to come to the same big school but are grouped together by a common theme in smaller “communities” within the same school. Though it has been called creating smaller schools, it is not. It is just another way of organizing a large school.
Some have even reorganized a community of schools so that, for instance, all of the sixth grade students go to one building with other grades also similarly grouped. This is also NOT creating small schools, because the magic of smaller schools is in lowering the grade level size. Smaller grade levels make it possible for all students of varying interests, at the same age to know each other well, and makes real collaboration between teachers less difficult and cumbersome.
A school of 600 6th graders would be a huge school because the grade level size is so big. A school of the same number of students grades K-6 would be a moderately sized school, because there would be somewhat less than 100 students per grade. If a school was a K-12 school with that same number of students, it would truly be a small school, again, because of the number of students per grade level rather than per building.
Conclusions that smaller schools have mixed results are not accurate, because they aren’t judging real smaller schools. They are evaluating reorganized large schools. Schools within a school are what have mixed results – not smaller schools.
Real smaller schools work. Pretending to create them confuses people. The research is already there. When will we listen and act accordingly?!