The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced this week that they would invest more than $40 million to help start 70 small high schools around the country. The program will give disadvantaged students college-level work in their last two years of high school, which will enable them to earn a high school diploma as well as an associate’s degree or two years of college credit. This funding is part of a larger national trend toward encouraging smaller schools for high school students.
The money will be distributed through eight intermediary organizations that will develop the school plans. Boston-based Jobs for the Future, an organization that promotes innovative reform in education and workforce development, will serve as the lead coordinator and policy advocate for the effort. The money will help over 25,000 students from Appalachia to New York City, and the schools are expected to open as early as 2003. “These new small schools will help bridge the gap between high school and college, where we lose too many students,” saidTom Vander Ark, Executive Director of Education for the Gates Foundation.
Small schools have a strong advocate in the Gates Foundation. The Foundation has committed more than $345 million to schools and districts throughout the United States in order to create small schools, or transform large high schools into smaller learning communities.
The Gates Foundation, along with the KnowledgeWorks Foundation and the Ford Foundation, gave $31.5 million to Ohio in order to turn large low-performing urban high schools into small and innovative learning centers. This is the largest private investment in public education in Ohio’s history. The grants are statewide, and KnowledgeWorks will coordinate the selection of which schools receive the money. The new schools are scheduled to begin operating in 2004.
The US Department of Education also contributes to small schools through their Smaller Learning Communities Program, which is a $125 million competitive federal grant program that assists communities in creating smaller learning environments in large high schools. The funds assist planning and implementation of such programs in up to 200 school communities around the country. [Note: In fiscal year 2003, the President’s budget proposes to eliminate funding for the Smaller Learning Communities program.]
The small schools movement originated with the concern that today’s students are being “warehoused” in large comprehensive school complexes. Approximately 70 percent of American high schools students attend schools with at least 1,000 students, and nearly 50 percent of high school students attend schools enrolling more than 1,500 students. Small school advocates recommend between 300 students and 900 students to a school.
Research has shown that, on average, small school students have higher achievement and graduation rates and fewer discipline problems. Parents, students and teachers report they are more satisfied with small-school environments. According to a recent Public Agenda report, parents whose children attend small high schools were more likely to say that teachers help struggling students (75 percent versus 48 percent in large schools). Parents whose children were in large schools were more likely to believe students were alienated (40 percent to 23 percent), and likely to dropout (43 percent to 21 percent).
This is true in urban, rural and suburban areas. At-risk students have made the most dramatic increases in achievement in small schools. A poor student in a large school is ten times more likely to be a low performer than a poor student in a small school. The research is so definitive that former Secretary of Education Richard Riley commented that the value of small schools has been “confirmed with a clarity and a level of confidence rare in the annals of education research.”
|Campus Magnet School, Queens, New York
The Campus Magnet School in Queens, New York is the host of four schools under the same roof. Freshman and sophomores can choose which of the four schools to attend: the Business, Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship school, the Humanities and the Arts school, the Law, Government, and Community Service school or the Mathematics, Science, Research and Technology school. Each school enrolls 525 students.
Host schools have become more popular than brand new small schools because the implementation cost is lower and students can still enjoy extra-curricular activities and a diverse curriculum. Students may take classes in other schools, and the entire host school shares the library and the sports teams. Students have shown dramatic improvement in attendance, achievement and graduation rates since the inception of the small-school program.
|Parham School, Cincinnati, Ohio
Small schools can also be affiliated with a community agency. The Parham School in Cincinnati, Ohio shares facilities with Families FORWARD, a social service agency. Parham serves 425 students in grades pre-K through 8, 98 percent of which are African American and 89 percent of which come from low-income families. Families FORWARD works with parents and students to identify their priorities, provides family counseling and conducts classes on social issues. The percentage of students passing 4th and 6th grade exams have more than doubled since the school’s inception, leading the Parham School to be called “a model for the entire nation.”