The School-Within-a-School Model (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

Outcomes Associated With the School-Within-a-School Model

While considerable dataexists on outcomes associated with small schools, there is much less evidence about outcomes associated with school-within-a-school programs (Cotton, 1996b). In part, this is because very few school-within-a-school models have been fully implemented. A growing body of literature does suggest that downsized school models can have a positive impact on students, including improved attendance rates, improved behavior, greater satisfaction with school, and greater self-esteem (Aschbacker, 1991; Corcoran, 1989; Fouts, 1994; Gordon, 1992; Raywid, 1996a; Robinson-Lewis, 1991; Tompkins, 1988). Additionally, there is a positive impact on teachers, who have reported enhanced morale (Fouts, 1994; Robinson-Lewis, 1991). Some case studies suggest that a school-within-a-school can contribute to a greater feeling of "community" among participants, which facilitates student attainment. 

Greenleaf's research (1995) suggests that "creating learning communities for young people ... increased their social commitment to one another and to their teachers, thereby increasing their personal investments in school" (p. 46). Evidence related to educational achievement is less clear. Several studies provide evidence that school downsizing models can contribute to increased educational achievement and attainment (Crain, Heebner, & Si, 1992; McMullan, Sipe, & Wolfe, 1994; Robinson-Lewis, 1991). Some research, however, suggests that subschools produce only moderate or mixed gains in achievement (Robinson-Lewis, 1991; Jokiel & Starkey, 1972; Morriseau, 1975). 

Other research has identified fiscal and organizational advantages and disadvantages of the school-within-a-school model. Aside from the advantages of replicating the qualities of a small school, the school-within-a-school appears to be a cost-effective approach to school reform in terms of start-up costs, and in some cases is less expensive to maintain (Moffett, 1981; Public Education Association [PEA], 1992a; PEA, 1992b; Raywid, 1995). Among the disadvantages, research suggests this model can sometimes create divisiveness in schools because it tends to realign organizational structures and fracture preexisting relationships. Conflicts can arise concerning allegiances to the larger school versus the smaller school unit, thus creating rivalries (Muncey & McQuillan, 1991; Raywid, 1996b). Other critics maintain that subschool groupings can lead to inequitable tracking if only one population is targeted for a subschool (Raywid, 1996a; McMullan, Sipe, & Wolfe, 1994). Another critique argues that the school-within-a-school model may negatively affect school coherence and the role of the principal, two areas of concern in the literature on effective schools. 


The school-within-a-school model may be an effective and affordable way to capture the benefits of smaller-scale schooling within larger school buildings. While research results are limited, the school-within-a-school model has the potential to contribute to a greater sense of student well-being, a sense of student community, and higher student achievement and educational attainment. This model seems to hold promise especially for disadvantaged students, who are affected positively by smaller schools but are more likely to attend larger schools (Jewell, 1989; Lee & Smith, 1996). Because a subschool model can be adopted in an existing building structure, it is a cost-effective approach to school reform; however, the challenge lies in successful implementation. As Raywid (1985) observed, "The major challenge to schools-within-schools has been obtaining sufficient separateness and autonomy to permit staff members to generate a distinctive environment and to carry out their own vision of schooling" (p. 455). 

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