The Advantages of Small Schools (page 3)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 21, 2008

What does research say about optimum school size?

Research has not yet revealed an "optimum" school or district size. The studies which have been conducted show a broad range enrollment for the "best size" school. The Education Research Service (Research Action Brief, 1982) summarized 119 publications printed between 1924 and 1974 regarding school size. The differences for optimum size varied by as much as 370 students for elementary schools, 50 students for middle schools, 679 students for junior high schools, and over 1700 students for senior high schools. Due to differences in the design and methodology of the many studies summarized, it is difficult to compare them and thus impossible to draw hard and fast conclusions.

Although research on optimum school size has provided mixed results, most teachers and parents clearly feel that class size radically affects the quality of instruction and achievement of students. A summary of research on class size suggests that (Glass, 1982):

--Class size is strongly related to pupil achievement. --Smaller classes are more conducive to improved pupil performance than larger classes. --Smaller classes provide more opportunities to adapt learning programs to individual needs. --Pupils in small classes have more interest in learning. --Teacher morale is higher in smaller classes.

How do characteristics and practices of "effective schools" research relate to small schools?

Recent research has identified numerous practices and characteristics associated with effective schools. Among characteristics commonly noted are (Fried, 1982):

--A school climate that is orderly, serious, safe, and attractive. --A clear school mission where there is consensus on goals for the school, consensus on teacher objectives and priorities assigned to those objectives. --Strong leadership by the principal which focuses on instruction. --High expectations for student achievement which are clearly communicated to students. --Instructional activities absorb most of the day. --There is an evaluation system which includes student progress, the staff, and the school itself. --Supportive home/school relations.

Small schools need not apologize for their size. The strengths inherent in small schools clearly support characteristics and practices associated with findings emanating from "effective schools" research. The challenge facing administrators, teachers, parents, and students attending small schools is to capitalize on many advantages of smallness in order to provide the most meaningful education possible.

For more information

Barker, Roger, and Paul Gump. BIG SCHOOL, SMALL SCHOOL: HIGH SCHOOL SIZE AND STUDENT BEHAVIOR. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1964.

Beckner, Weldon. THE CASE FOR THE SMALLER SCHOOL. Bloomington, Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1983. ED 228 002.

Dunn, Faith. "Choosing Smallness." In Jonathan Sher, ed., EDUCATION IN RURAL AMERICA: A REASSESSMENT OF CONVENTIONAL WISDOM. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1977.

Fried, Robby, ed. EFFECTIVE SCHOOLING IN A RURAL CONTEXT: A NEW HAMPSHIRE VIEW. Northeast Regional Exchange, Chelmsford, MA., 1982. ED 243 628.

Glass, Gene, ed. SCHOOL CLASS SIZE: RESEARCH AND POLICY. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications, 1982. ED 217 111.

National Center for Education Statistics. DIGEST OF EDUCATIONAL STATISTICS, 1983-84. Washington, D.C: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983.

Research Action Brief. SCHOOL SIZE: A REASSESSMENT OF THE SMALL SCHOOL. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, February, 1982.

Sher, Jonathan, ed. EDUCATION IN RURAL AMERICA: A REASSESSMENT OF CONVENTIONAL WISDOM. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1977.

Swift, Doug. FINDING AND KEEPING TEACHERS: STRATEGIES FOR SMALL SCHOOLS. Las Cruces, NM: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, 1984.

Wynne, Edward. "Behind the Discipline Problem: Youth Suicide as a Measure of Alienation." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 59 (1978): 307-315.

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