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Are Smaller Schools Better Schools?

Small Schools Make "Cents"
"A common argument for making schools larger is expressed in terms of economics of scale: Large schools save money," Bickel said. "Recently, however, using the Texas data set, we have found that 116 districts that have only one school for all grades have an expenditure per pupil that averages about $389 lower than the more conventionally modern schools. These schools tend to be small, they have at least 13 grade levels from kindergarten to grade 12, and the students are distributed more or less evenly across grade levels.

"Hardly sounds like a modern consolidated school," Bickel continued. "So perhaps cost in dollar terms is not a barrier to making schools more equitable places."

"Teacher Satisfaction Went Way Up!"
Another study also linked student achievement with small schools. The two-year study, Small Schools: Great Strides, was conducted by Bank Street College of Education and funded by the Joyce Foundation.

A team of seven researchers took a close look at 150 small schools in Chicago, many created as part of education reform that started in the city during the past decade. The schools had enrollments between 200 to 400 students, far below the national average of 741, said Pat Wasley, one of the principal co-investigators of the study.

The researchers found that student achievement was greater in the small schools than in the larger schools. Students, parents, teachers, and community volunteers reported greater satisfaction because they felt more connected to one another, Wasley told Education World.

"Teacher satisfaction went way up!" Wasley added. "[Teachers] thought teaching was more fun, satisfying, and that they were more effective teachers, that they could get the kids moving in a positive direction." Many teachers told the researchers that teaching at a small school reminded them why they became teachers in the first place.

Greater Expectations
The report found that teachers expected more from their students because they knew them better and cared about what happened to them; students acknowledged this to researchers.

Teachers reported more collaboration with colleagues and more-regular professional development activities at their schools. They also had greater contact with parents and understood them as an important element in student success. Lack of parental involvement in schools is often a problem in poor communities.

Like the Howley and Bickel studies linking small schools to reducing the impact of poverty on student achievement, the Chicago study also found the connection. "Some of our schools in the study were among the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Chicago," Wasley said. However, the study found that those students still outperformed their peers in large schools in many areas.

"We actually do think that urban school districts should create smaller schools because it's doing so much for the students," Wasley explained. "If we had our druthers, we really would want to see large schools the exception, not the rule."

Where Everyone Knows Your Name
Although a variety of factors affect student achievement, the greatest factor was the reduction of anonymity -- going to a school where someone knows you and your name. Being known by your teachers and peers makes a difference, Wasley noted.

The study found that small schools are also safer for this reason. "We really think that size does have to do with the reduction of anonymity and isolation of students, which reduces fighting and violence," Wasley explained.

Students took more responsibility for their behavior and the behavior of their classmates in small schools. They told researchers they fought less because they knew one another.

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