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.
More than personalization and the absence of bells
What first catches the eye when one enters a small school is the personalization it affords. Both the needs of individual students and the passions of individual teachers seem to find uncustomary breathing room. A first-time visitor might also be struck by what appears to be less structure than larger high schools employ: students and adults may mix more freely; no bells may mark the start and end of classes; courses may break from curricular conventions or may not even exist at all. Repeat visitors learn that in most small schools a complex infrastructure actually puts order in these freedoms.
Beyond this unmistakable personalization and openness, much else also distinguishes teaching and learning in small schools. "Sure, size makes a big difference," explains a student at one small high school, "but what's really different is the learning. It's in a whole new set of keys. It's new tunes."
And what are these new keys and tunes? The online portfolio of student learning in small schools that follows-the culmination of a documentation and research effort begun by What Kids Can Do in the spring of 2002-provides a number of answers. Although nothing beats spending several days immersed in the rhythm and conversations of a school to understand how it reaches students, this collection aims to provide a helpful proxy.
Reprinted with the permission of What Kids Can Do, Inc. © 2007 What Kids Can Do, Inc.
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Child Development Theories
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- Graduation Inspiration: Top 10 Graduation Quotes
- The Homework Debate
- First Grade Sight Words List
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Social Cognitive Theory