Earlier this week, an article in the Christian Science Monitor asked the question Is a smaller school always a better school? about the growing movement toward creating smaller high schools. They do a good job of reviewing the development of the concept and offer some arguments on both sides of the issue. However, the best points on the issue are made by people advocating for a slower approach to implimenting this type of school reform.
"Small was just the door," says Michelle Fine, a professor of psychology and urban education at the City University of New York. "Now I think people are worried that people are just creating smaller versions of what we know to be problematic structures."
Of 145 small schools visited by insideschools.org, an independent group that evaluates New York City schools, director Clara Hemphill writes that about one-quarter "replicated many of the problems of the large schools they replaced."
Then there is the problem of evaluating this new format for public education using the same old tools.
Others worry that the current trend toward judging schools based on standardized test scores will work against the individual approach to education of many small schools. "Information retrieval" and "formulaic writing" clash with what the best small schools offer, says Urban Academy codirector Ann Cook. "Assessment in the end will undo and ruin the promise of small schools," she predicts.
The concept of creating smaller high schools has a lot of potential to vastly improve secondary education for some – maybe most – students. But not if the only change is to shrink the size of the school and leave the same old teaching structure in place. And if you’re not prepared to create new methods for assessing the new format, the whole idea will be just another failure in a long line of educational reforms that changed nothing.