Mike Klonsky observed on Thursday:

…school size is in fact, one of the most over-researched topics in education and there is plenty of compelling evidence that smaller is better, especially when you look at the impact of school size on poor kids. However, small schools are not a panacea. They are often the launch pad (not the rocket) for badly-needed reforms, especially in large, comprehensive high schools, which were never intended to educate all children.

I had heard a little about the small schools movement a year ago, when an administrator I know in Bastrop ISD (involved in a small schools Gates-funded pilot project) told me some background. Last week’s skypecast with educators at High Tech High Albuquerque provided additional insights for me.

I have read research elsewhere confirming what Mike Klonsky wrote last week: small schools work. This is one of those “no brainer” things that we really shouldn’t need to cite research for, but for those who need/want to, the research is there. I put the following items in this same “no-brainer” category for educational quality and school reform:

  1. Students learn better in smaller groups.
  2. The most important ingredient in a classroom where high quality teaching and learning is taking place is an artistic, master teacher.
  3. Our current public school system was not designed to scale to universal education, and needs to be fundamentally retooled to be effective and viable in the 21st century.
  4. Every child is different, and therefore requires both a curriculum and instructional tasks which are differentiated to his/her own needs and skills.
  5. Teacher expectations are a vital key for high student academic achievement.
  6. Good leadership matters, in education and everywhere else.
  7. Teachers need and deserve our trust as a general public, and need to be empowered to be the creative change agents in the lives of children which drew many of them to the teaching profession in the first place.
  8. Large high schools are great for district football programs and college football recruiters, but generally bad for the students who attend them. (Just look at dropout rates in my home state of Texas for proof.)

I salute educational leaders and small-schools advocates like Mike Klonsky and the Gates Foundation who are taking action for the causes of educational quality and school reform on behalf of my children and yours.

Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships form the core of the small schools movement, from what I understand about it so far. These ideas mesh nicely with my own thoughts (along with those of Miguel Guhlin) about the 4 C’s of authentic education: Communication, Collaboration, Construction, and Context. To learn more about the small schools movement, check out Barbara Miner’s summer 2005 article “The Gates Foundation and Small Schools” on Rethinking Schools. This interview with Deborah Meier from the current issue is also excellent. Here is how Meier defines quality teaching in the article:

Teaching that engages — or reengages — kids and their curiosity about the world, gets them asking questions and subjecting their own and other people’s ideas to tough testing, that calls upon the best habits of mind and imagination, that makes perseverance seem obvious and natural, that widens their horizons in terms of subject matter, people, and places.

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One Response to Educational quality and reform no-brainers

  1. Mike Klonsky says:

    Wesley,
    Thanks for helping make the case for good small schools.

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