Following up on the previous post about the growing movement to create smaller high schools, Tim Lauer points to several districts in his area of Oregon that are trying this concept. One of those small school experiments is profiled in an article from the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory.
Tim and an email also reminded me that many of these small school reform programs are being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through their Transforming High Schools initiative. The people at the Foundation certainly make a good case for using this model to shake up the structure of public schools. As I said before, just changing the size of the school will not by itself improve high school education. But looking at the overly large high schools in our district (three have 4000 students in grades 7-12), also makes me think this would be a good place to start.
Small schools are not a panacea – as nothing is in education. However, I do think they provide a unique opportunity to create spaces for innovative educational practice. I also think they provide alternatives to larger, impersonal schools that do not serve many students well here in NYC. 53 new small high schools opened this year in NYC and they offer a wide range of academic programs; some more “traditional” and others more “progressive” if I can use those labels. (My school is one of these new small high schools and we too received funding from the Gates Foundation.)
I can point to examples of outstanding small schools here in NYC but success is not guaranteed. A recent report referred to some small schools are “large schools in drag” – smaller size with the same big school culture – but I believe these to be the exception. Most of our new schools are engaged in serious efforts to provide better options to our students.