22 November 2013

Small Classes, Small Schools

Patricia A. Wasley writes a very insightful look at the relationship between small classes and small schools. Of course, research shows that small schools are mostly found in smaller school districts, so this article is a reflection of that, too.
Students in schools with large populations of disadvantaged students perform least well on standardized assessments. Evidence also suggests that these schools often have the least-experienced teachers (NCTAF, 1996; Roza, 2001). In effect, having standards in place emphasizes that standards are necessary but insufficient in themselves to improve student performance. Unless we change students' learning opportunities, especially for students who are ill-served by their schools, standards alone are unlikely to influence student learning. Educators and policymakers are looking for strategies that will enable students to succeed on the new assessments (thereby supporting the standards movement) and, more important, that will enhance students' learning opportunities. Small classes and small schools may be two such strategies.
Research conducted on the validity of the assertions favoring large schools has suggested that less-advantaged students end up in the largest classes, with the least-experienced teachers and the least-engaging curriculum and instructional strategies (Oakes, 1987; Wheelock, 1992). Further research suggests that schools are organized more for purposes of maintaining control than for promoting learning (McNeil, 1988).
Powell (1996) examined independent schools in the United States and learned that private preparatory schools value both small school and small class size as necessary conditions for student success. In 1998, the average private school class size was 16.6 at the elementary level and 11.6 at the high school level. By contrast, the average class size was 18.6 in public elementary schools and 14.2 in public high schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999).
Despite parental involvement and teachers' good intentions, it is easy for students to get lost in large classes and in large schools.
Colleagues and I recently conducted a study of small schools in Chicago. Part of our time was spent in a small school-within-a-school with eight teachers. Because they were few, they could meet together every day for an hour, work toward common agreements and understandings, and accept shared responsibility for their students. They discussed the curriculum in all subjects, agreed on instructional approaches, and tried to build as much coherence in the curriculum as they could manage. In the larger school, which had some 70 faculty members, a common agenda simply wasn't possible.
Read more from the original article: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb02/vol59/num05/Small-Classes,-Small-Schools@-The-Time-Is-Now.aspx

20 November 2013

The Answer is Reduce School District Size

Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA), gives more information about how reducing school district size can solve many of the problems in education. His first bullet point is as follows:
One of the bits of information the EIA tables provide is whether a school district spent 65 percent or more on "instruction."
EIA ranked all 14,218 school districts by enrollment and checked the correlation between size and the ability to reach the 65 percent instructional threshold. The results should surprise economists, but not observers of public education.
In 2003-04, the U.S. had 26 school districts with more than 100,000 students. Of these, only New York City and Cobb County, Georgia, met the 65% threshold. That's a success rate of 7.7 percent.
An additional 61 school districts had between 50,000 and 100,000 students. Of these, five (8.2 percent) met the mark.
Let's continue down the rankings. There were 170 school districts with 25,000 to 50,000 students. Of these, 25 spent 65% on instruction (14.7 percent).
Then we reach a plateau. There were 7,152 districts with an enrollment between 1,000 and 25,000 students. Of these, 1,213 (17.0 percent) reached 65% on instructional spending. No matter how you subdivide this group, there is little deviation in how many districts meet the mark. But below 1,000 enrollment, the pattern resumed.
There were 2,382 districts with between 500 and 1,000 students. Of these, 476 (20.0 percent) reached the 65% mark. And of the 4,427 districts with fewer than 500 students, 976 (22.0 percent) met the 65% mark.
There are variety of theories to explain why this should be so, but the data demolish any notion that increasing the size of a school district will increase the resources available to spend "in the classroom." On the contrary: the larger the district, the greater the chance that more money will be spent on "non-instructional" programs and personnel.
Read more from the original article: http://www.eiaonline.com/archives/20060501.htm

Larger School Districts Tend to Veer 'Off Task'

Vin Suprynowicz, assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, recently posted about the problems that large school districts are prone to have.

Read more from the original article here: http://www.backwoodshome.com/columns/suprynowicz030316.html
"While espousing the virtues of small schools with a community atmosphere, our public school system has monstrously large school districts, mainly in poor urban areas, which are home to the worst problems in education."
And of course, caught up as they are in the supposed "efficiencies of scale," the largest districts tend to house the largest schools -- Los Angeles Unified, alone, accounting for five of America's 15 largest campuses.  
The Los Angeles district actually managed to lose track of $228 million last year -- a mere 5 percent of its budget. "The (district) does not know how many employees it has working in what position at any given time, or how much they get paid," reported L&L Fuller Inc. in an official 1999 audit.  
A number of researchers over the past 10 years have found that large districts are increasingly "off task," in the language of education. A 1989 study from the magazine Education and Urban Society found, "As specialization in staff grows, program offerings expand, and administrative personnel increase, problems of coordination and control also increase. And in large systems, time and energy are more likely to be shifted away from core service activities."   

So why is there so much resistance to dividing large school districts?
School teachers' and administrators' unions "don't control the size of school districts directly, but they do resist efforts to break up large ones. ... Why? Because it's a lot easier for union officials to organize, administer and oversee one local union of eight thousands teachers than to have 80 local unions with 100 teachers each."
Larger districts are handier for administrators, too, Mr. Brimelow points out. "The larger the district, the larger the bureaucracy and the higher the career ladder. The American government school system suffers from penalties of scale. Through the principle of bureaucratic bloat known as Parkinson's Law, the larger a school district gets, the more resources tend to get diverted to secondary or even nonessential activities."