A new report by the Rural School and Community Trust, in partnership with KnowledgeWorks Foundation, builds on current research that stresses the social benefits of small schools and the negative effects of large schools on teachers, students, and the community as a whole. The report also examines the financial implications of building and operating small schools and argues that small schools are also a wise investment in economic terms.
Dollars and Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools summarizes research on school construction and finds that costs per student and per square foot were lower for smaller high schools and middle schools than they were for larger schools. Because research has shown that small schools typically have higher graduation rates than their larger counterparts, costs per graduate are even lower. The report represents the work of a team of nine researchers with expertise in education, architecture, and quantitative research who challenge the common belief that big schools are cheaper to build and maintain.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 70 percent of American high school students attend schools enrolling more than 1,000 students and nearly 50 percent of high schools students attend schools enrolling more than 1,500 students. The Smaller Learning Communities program was created to assist large public high schools, (defined as schools that include grades 11 and 12 and enroll at least 1,000 students in grades 9 and above), create a more personalized high school experience for students and improve student achievement and performance. Under the President’s proposed budget for fiscal 2003, the Smaller Learning Communities Program would be eliminated.
Small School Structure Succeeds in Chicago High School
The atmosphere at [North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School] was noticeably and totally different than what is prevalent at typical Chicago Public High Schools, especially those in lower socioeconomic communities… There is no inkling of negativity at NLCP; everyone strongly desires to succeed, to learn, to improve themselves. –Northwestern University Center for Urban Policy, Spring 2001
Typically, inner-city kids with academic promise avoid the public schools in neighborhoods such as North Lawndale, favoring magnet programs or small charter schools. North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School (NLCP), however, is not your typical urban high school.
Begun on a shoestring budget in 1995, NLCP is a rigorous community school for 400 students who are willing to study hard, prepared to work hard and are committed to their own educational success. In return, the school prepares its students to not only start, but also to finish college. The academic day is longer and the reading and writing coursework is double that of typical high schools, but successful students realize that the rewards are great: North Lawndale has the highest retention rates of any high school in Chicago. The school has outperformed neighborhood and similarly situated high schools on math and reading tests. Most importantly, over 90 percent of the school’s graduates will be entering college or the military in the fall.
At North Lawndale, every student is expected to complete four years of English, social studies, and math, three years of science, and two years of a foreign language. Realizing that students enter high school at varying skill levels, NLCP’s freshman curriculum includes a course in reading. Enrichment or support classes are offered daily during tutorial periods and afford students access to the individualized attention they may need.
A counselor is assigned to each freshman class of 85. The counselor follows the class members throughout their time at NLCP and stays with them through their first postgraduate year to ensure success at college or work. Class sizes are 20 percent smaller than traditional public school classrooms. Student support services are individualized as much as possible and extend beyond academic needs-the staff includes a full-time clinical social worker.