Built to scale

Culture | EDUCATION: A special report on three unique schools

Issue: "John Kerry's dream," March 13, 2004

MICHAEL KLONSKY, A PROfessor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says, "A compelling body of research shows that when students are part of smaller and more intimate learning communities, they are more successful."

There's a movement afoot in the public-school realm to return to small schools after decades of consolidation. The large schools of the past three decades, which were supposed to result in economies of scale and academic breadth, are now viewed as part of the problem with education. Large schools bred anonymity and a culture of misbehavior. Large schools didn't have a unified mission or vision, and communication between parents and school was often impersonal.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and other places say that small schools increase student morale and achievement, foster community, and increase graduation rates. Students at small schools don't get lost in the cracks. "Anonymity is the greatest tool an adolescent can use against you," Mary Butz, principal of Manhattan Village Academy, a 330-student high school in New York City, told Education World. "In small schools, students lose their anonymity and have to produce."

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Over the past year, I've traveled to three different small schools that have carved out unique niches. Although these schools are private, not public, they share the characteristics that make small schools work. Each of the schools has a clear mission and teachers and families who share that mission.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.


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