Full Disclosure: I am the intellectual product of small schools! I went to a College that has an enrollment of about 300 students, and my cohorts in the two graduate programs I attended were 7 and 13 students respectively. The “small school thing” worked out for me particularly as an undergraduate.
But conceptually, it never made sense to me that smaller schools necessarily produce a better education for every student, every time. The flaw in thinking that small schools are superior for learning is based on the critical assumption that a smaller school will provide better instruction. At best, this is an assumption that requires reflection and critical thought. I, for one, can imagine an ineffectual teacher in both a large or small institution providing equally poor instruction in both settings!
Which begs the question — if the size of the institution does not necessarily lead to a better education, then what does? It seems reasonable that the answer would have something to do with the quality of the instruction and the teachers who provide that instruction.
To this point, there was an interesting article about Brockton High School (Massachusetts) in The New York Times on September 27th entitled, “4,100 Students Prove ‘Small is Better’ Rule Wrong” which also cites a Harvard Study on the “Achievement Gap” that included Brockton’s High School.
Brockton High was in trouble in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The article points to changes in the state’s secondary education standards:
Massachusetts had instituted a new high school exit exam in 1993, and passing it would be required to graduate a decade later. Unless the school’s culture improved, some 750 seniors would be denied a diploma each year, starting in 2003.
With the school in a potentially disastrous position, the teachers acted:
Dr. Szachowicz [the current principal] and Paul Laurino, then the head of the English department — he has since retired — began meeting on Saturdays with any colleagues they could pull together to brainstorm strategies for improving the school.
The group eventually became known as the school restructuring committee, and the administration did not stand in the way. The principal “just let it happen,” the Harvard report says.
Among other things the committee,
put together a rubric to help teachers understand what good writing looks like, and began devoting faculty meetings to teaching department heads how to use it. The school’s 300 teachers were then trained in small groups.
These weren’t just the English teachers, but included every educator including math and science teachers and “even guidance counselors.”
This story is definitely worth reading! But I think the real story isn’t so much about the controversy over “small or big” schools. No, I think the deeper story is in this line in case you missed it.:
…meeting on Saturdays [emphasis added] with any colleagues they could pull together to brainstorm strategies for improving the school.
On Saturdays! This story is really about teachers who empowered themselves and changed and are changing their world!