Student Learning in Small Schools: Learning in a New Key
Learning in a New Key
"In my old school I did little pieces of everything, but it didn't really stick to my brain. Pieces aren't enough." - Maya
"There were too many students in the high school I went to before. The teachers only had time for the motivated ones. It's a lot harder here. These teachers, they see all of your strong points, all your weak points, everything."- Freddie
"I used to throw my work out right away. Now I want to keep everything." - Leah
- Students at Providence's Met School
Rarely in the clamorous history of American public education have there been more calls for high school reform than today. And never before has the notion of improving adolescent learning through smaller schools received so much attention.
The blunt testimonies of "small school" students like Maya, Freddie, and Leah-and the comparisons they make with "regular" schools-certainly fuel both this interest and the critique. So does almost two decades of compelling research on small schools.
In schools with fewer than 600 youngsters, we now know, students generally learn better, drop out less, and attend more. They participate in extracurricular activities in greater numbers and get into fewer disciplinary difficulties. On college-related variables-entrance examination scores, acceptance rates, grade point averages-students from small high schools match or exceed those from large ones.
And small schools work especially well for the least advantaged students. Studies linking school size, poverty, and student achievement indicate larger schools, particularly urban ones, exacerbate the negative effects of poverty on student learning.
Nevertheless, between 1940 and 2000 the average school size rose five-fold. Seventy percent of today's students attend schools with more than 1,000 students, reflecting the belief that larger schools afford more opportunities, a richer curriculum, and economic efficiencies. The current interest in "small learning environments" feels almost revolutionary, regardless of the affirming research.
Reprinted with the permission of What Kids Can Do, Inc. © 2007 What Kids Can Do, Inc.
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