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Are Smaller Schools Better Schools?

Small Schools Not Enough
The researchers warn other school districts that simply creating small schools isn't enough. They advise the following key considerations for districts that want to create small schools.

  • Small schools need support from within and outside the system to flourish. All the schools in the Chicago study had outside partners that supported the school. The central administration also needs to support the creation of small schools.
  • Small schools succeed only when teachers and administrators have enough time to plan the vision and mission of the school. They must act as a unified team to build the school's structure, rules, and consequences for parents and students.
  • School systems must supply ongoing staff development to help teachers identify and use best practices. Schools do better if they rely on data rather than educational trends.
  • Being small isn't enough to improve student achievement. Small schools are a key ingredient, not a panacea for improvement. Understand that small schools are fragile and need commitment from staff members to hang in there when times get tough.

Schools Within Schools
One way of creating smaller schools is redesigning large schools to house schools within schools, Wasley said. "I think we are going to have to have some of these great big buildings refitted for a bunch of small schools."

Wasley has support from the nation's top educator. Last fall, Richard W. Riley told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Budget: "And both new and renovated schools should be designed for the kind of education we know works best: smaller schools that create a sense of community and small classrooms in which teachers can provide lots of individual attention."

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