In an Education Week commentary, Larry Myatt, founder of Fenway High School, in Boston, draws upon his work in Boston and with educators in other cities and multistate networks to warn of nine “friction points”-places where the conversion from large to small high schools falters. (The complete list is shown below.)
Myatt writes that the movement to break down large, comprehensive high schools has certainly gained a great deal of momentum over last few years, but that people still clamor to see schools that do the job well. Research has shown that successful small schools provide greater personalization, increase adult accountability for the achievement of all students, and create better links among schools, families, community organizations, and institutions of higher education.
Why haven’t more of these schools emerged? According to Myatt, “Given the complicated organization of high schools-built on years of state and federal policies . . . attempting to change one or two of the working parts quickly results in frustration and cynicism.” At the same time, simply reorganizing a large school into smaller units or building a new, small school will not, in and of itself, dramatically increase student achievement. “Despite calls for ‘reform,’ most high schools continue to function as comfortable environments for adults, displaying few tangible changes in operations, values, priorities, professional culture, and, most important, teaching methods and student engagement,” Myatt argues.
By focusing on the issues that bog down reform and inhibit the successful formation of small schools, Myatt, who is also the director of the small schools leadership project for the Great Boston Principal Residency Network at Northeastern University, hopes to invigorate the debate around research-and-development initiatives that offer a range of possible solutions and alternatives.
|Larry Myatt’s “Nine Friction Points in Moving to Smaller School Units”
1. Facilitating Teacher Talk: While research has shown that increased staff involvement and responsibility in smaller settings is crucial to improvement, Myatt notes that most teachers have little experience in making decisions about course offerings or student placement, nor in taking on other responsibilities that normally would fall to administrators. He argues that teachers need support in convening meetings, setting agendas, and interacting with collaborators outside the school.
The complete article is available at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2005/04/06/30myatt.h24.html.