Saturday, May 13, 2006

Is Smaller Better In The Big City?

Here's a good introductory overview of New York City's "small school" instructional model which is being used in several other large school systems around the country:
Five years ago, Sharis Wingfield couldn't have imagined attending a high school that emphasizes sports vocations and teaches kids math using batting averages. She also couldn't have envisioned a scenario where her high school would be smaller than her junior high.

But, through various twists of fate, she landed at the Academy for Careers in Sports — enrollment 306. She is now convinced a smaller school is better.

"Size is actually the most important factor," said Wingfield, an 18-year-old senior. "The attention you get from the teachers, just that individual time you spend with them ... In a bigger school there's no way I'd be doing as well."

In the last few years, New York's embrace of the small schools model has dramatically reshaped the nation's largest public school system. The city is among scores of districts — others include Chicago, San Diego and Milwaukee — that are betting smaller settings will yield higher attendance and graduation rates than mammoth high schools.

The small schools in New York are often highly specialized, with themes ranging from human rights to aerospace. There is the High School for Violin and Dance. The Peace and Diversity Academy. The Food and Finance High School. The schools generally have fewer than 600 students as well as outside partners, such as non-profit groups.

In 2001, the New York City system, which has 1.1 million students, had fewer than 1,250 schools. The addition of new small schools, which primarily serve grades 6 through 12, will swell that figure to nearly 1,450 this fall.

Some education observers say New York is forming too many small schools too quickly. They worry the schools lack a broad enough curriculum, and they question how long interest in this latest school reform movement will last.

"The problem with the current small school movement is that some people think it's a panacea, the silver bullet," said Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, a partner to one of the city's small high schools.

Education administrators say the city's school system, with a graduation rate of 54% (others put it even lower) needs emergency surgery, not more therapy. This year, a key group of small schools will graduate their first classes, and officials are betting the rates will top the citywide average.
Consider reading the whole thing.

With a graduation rate of just over 50%, obviously something had to be done. I think that they just may be on to something here.

I just hope that those who would reform inner-city schools don't think that simply turning large comprehensive schools into smaller more specialized ones is some sort of magic cure-all for what ails their respective public school systems.

Any effective re-structuring must also involve putting well-qualified, highly trained, and motivated teachers in the classroom who receive the support that they need from administrators at both site and district levels.

And let's not forget the need to also hold students and parents accountable for their own academic success. This includes the absolute need for students to put forth an effort to attend class daily and attempt, to the best of their abilities, to do the work that is assigned.

The successful education of children is a team effort involving educators, parents, and the students themselves. If any component of the team is not playing well, success is much less likely.

To get some down-to-earth perspectives from those who are actually working in New York City's public schools, visit
Ms. Frizzle, NYC Educator and Mr. Babylon.

Update:(PM) NYC Educator dropped by and made some good points about what's not being said in the article.

See our latest education-related entries right here.