Should Small Schools With Low Enrollment Be Closed?
Small schools should not be subject to arbitrary closure and should be maintained where good education can be provided at reasonable cost.
There are several reasons why low-enrollment schools should be kept open.
- They often get good academic results and enjoy strong community support.
- Most students can walk to school, getting healthy exercise and remaining safe in the community's embrace.
- They foster parental involvement and help to build social capital.
- Often located in the downtown, they play an important role in keeping the business section vibrant.
Unfortunately, however, low-enrollment schools are often overly expensive to run. The extra cost typically results from below-average pupil/teacher ratios and above-average costs for maintenance, repairs, and cleaning. The combination of rigid provincial and board formulae and unimaginative administration prevents schools from making intelligent accommodation. Parents typically seize the only weapon they have - lobbying and public relations, which sometimes works (with resulting loss of efficiency), more often does not (with resulting loss of community and the small-school ambience).
There are three constructive approaches to the problem of low-enrollment schools. First, school councils should see if they can come up with a viable plan using the average pupil-teacher ratios and average support staff. Cross-grade classes can be sensibly built up containing two or three groups of children (drawing from two or three consecutive age- and grade-levels) where each group is working at approximately the same level and is progressing at roughly similar rates. Principals can build a staff with complementary areas of expertise so that art, music, and French are all responsibly covered. And a "Let's keep this school and keep it clean" campaign can minimize dirt being tracked into the school and the abolition of litter and discarded food on or near school property. The two approaches will reduce costs substantially.
Second, the board can be asked to give the school 'alternative school status' in order to attract out-of-zone students and increase the school's cost effectiveness: a traditional school is the most popular option.
Third, the provincial government can be lobbied to legislate freelance schools, which may come in various forms. One approach is to permit a majority of parents to choose autonomous status for their school by opting out of the school board and receiving funding directly from the province. Another popular approach in North America is to legislate charter schools, which are independent schools with their own legal charter of goals and operations within the public schools system. Each charter school receives a block grant, with restrictions mainly based on transparency and avoidance of fraud. School boards are typically opposed to the inconvenience of alternative schools, but are likely to prefer them if faced with the possibility of freelance or charter schools.
Reprinted with the permission of the Society for Quality Education.
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