Research Base

Small Schools Project Research Base

Across the country, educators, policymakers, and school leaders are focusing on small high schools as a primary way to combat the alarming number of dropouts and widening achievement gap among public school students. The Ed Fund's Small Schools Project was founded to provide direct support to Kensington and West Philadelphia High Schools, two of the city's largest schools with high percentages of at-risk students.

Resource:

Are Small Schools Better?—School Size, Considerations for Safety & Learning

Findings:

  • Students learn well and often better. A meta-analysis concluded that achievement in small schools — especially for poor and minority students — is at least equal and often superior to that in large schools
  • Violence and behavior problems diminish. Truancy, classroom disorder, vandalism, aggressive behavior, theft, substance abuse, and gang participation all decrease.
  • Attendance is higher; dropouts fewer. For example, students in small high schools in Chicago's poorest neighborhoods attended up to five more days per semester and dropped out at a third to half the rate of students in larger schools.
  • Extracurricular participation increases. Students join teams and clubs in significantly higher numbers — including students otherwise considered marginal.
  • Poor and minority students benefit most. These students are concentrated in some of the nation's largest schools.
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Resource:

The Chicago Small Schools Research Team, consisting of: Patricia A. Wasley of Bank Street College of Education, Michelle Fine of City University, Sherry P. King of Mamaroneck Schools, Linda C. Powell of Teacher's College, Columbia University, Nicole E. Holland and Robert Matt Gladden of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and Esther Mosak a Qualitative Researcher, collaborated in 2000 to write Small Schools: Great Strides

Findings:

  • Students receive more attention from their peers and teachers
  • Less instances of violence occurred
  • Enhanced student persistence & performance
  • Increased student attendance rates
  • The community was more satisfied with the school system
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Resource:

Lili Allen and Adria Steinberg's Big Buildings, Small Schools: Using a Small Schools Strategy for High School Reform

Findings:

Big Buildings, Small Schools describes communities that are leaders in determining how to provide young people with multiple pathways to and through the postsecondary education and credentials they will need for successful adulthood. Recommendations for consideration:

  • Labor agreements: Reformers have to calculate the strength and stance of local unions, the recent history of collective bargaining agreements, and the level of labor-management discord that the political climate will tolerate.
  • Staff and student relationships: A central reason for moving to small schools is to ultimately foster stronger and deeper learning relationships—student-to-student, student-to-teacher, and teacher-to-teacher.
  • District-community relations: The goal of building community understanding and demand should be central to decisions about the pace of reform and the locus of control.
  • District or partnering organization capacity: Key considerations in selecting a strategy are the kinds and amount of support that a school will need from the infrastructure to the school culture.
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