One of the most effective ways to improve student achievement and curb school violence is to reduce the size of the nation’s schools. Hundreds of studies have found that students who attend small schools outperform those in large schools on every academic measure from grades to test scores. They are less likely to dropout and more likely to attend college.
Small schools also build strong communities. Parents and neighbors are more likely to be actively involved in the school. The students benefit from community support and the school in turn fosters connections among neighbors and encourages civic participation.
(For more information on the benefits of small schools, see Stacy Mitchell’s article “Jack and the Giant School” in the Summer 2000 issue of the New Rules Journal.)
Althoughthe empirical research in support of smaller schools is extensive, the trend toward ever larger schools continues. Over the last decade, the number of high schools with more than 1,500 students doubled. Two-fifths of the nation’s secondary schools now enroll more than 1,000 students. This trend has largely been driven by public policy.
State and local policymakers often prefer large schools, because they are less expensive to operate on an annual per pupil basis. In many states, education funding formulas provide a flat rate per pupil and make no adjustment for the higher costs of running a small school. This favors larger schools and pressures smaller ones to close. Such policies are short-sighted. Small schools may require higher levels of annual per pupil funding, but they are far more cost-effective. Small schools have higher graduation rates and, on a per graduate basis, they cost about the same or less than large schools. Vermont is one of a few states that recognize the effectiveness of small schools and provide additional financial support to maintain them.
Construction / Renovation Policies
State and local policies often favor the construction of new, sprawling schools on the outskirts of town over renovating smaller, more centrally located schools. Examples of these policies include minimum acreage requirements (national guidelines call for at least 50 acres for a high school); state funding programs that support new construction and limit funding for renovation; and inflexible building codes designed for modern construction methods. For more information , see “Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School,” a report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Jack and the Giant School – by Stacy Mitchell, The New Rules, Summer 2000.
- Land for Granted: The Effect of Acreage Policies on Rural Schools and Communities – by Barbara Kent Lawrence, Rural School and Community Trust, December 2003
- Historic Schools: Renovation vs. Replacement
Guidance from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Historic Schools: A Roadmap for Saving Your School
From the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Research: Smaller Is Better – Education Week
- Small Schools: Great Strides – A study of new small schools in Chicago from Bank Street College.
- Small Works in Arkansas: How Poverty and the Size of Schools and School Districts Affect School Performance in Arkansas – March 2002 report from the Rural School and Community Trust
- “Better Schools Come on Smaller Campuses” – by Stacy Mitchell, San Francisco Chronicle, September 8, 2000
- “Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School,” a report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Successful Schools: Smaller, Safer, Saner – by Joe Nathan and Karen Fabey, co-published by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities and the Center for School Change, Humphrey Institute of the University of Minnesota
- Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools
- National Equity Project
- Center for Rural Affairs – Reports on small schools and education policy in Nebraska.
- Coalition of Essential Schools
- Small Schools Workshop
In 2000, the Florida legislature passed the statute shown below, that recognizes the benefits of small schools and prohibits, as of July 2003, the construction of large schools. As of that date, new elementary schools will be limited to 500 students, middle schools to 700, and high schools to 900. Continue reading