Is small beautiful?

New York City’s newly created small schools face tough challenges, reports the New York Times.

Nearly 70 percent of the students started the year performing below grade level, often far below, in math and reading.

The small schools – with themes like the law, performing arts, technology, and architecture – also strained to carve out identities in the face of large numbers of ambivalent students. More than half of pupils in the small schools had applied elsewhere and were rejected, or had applied nowhere and were simply assigned to a small school.

I suspect the closer student-teacher relationships are far more important than the theme.

Jose Morales, a student at the F.D.N.Y. school, said the personal attention was surprising. “This is kind of weird,” he said. At his old school, Intermediate School 292, he said, “the only way a kid would get attention is if you got in a fight or did something bad.”

At the F.D.N.Y. school, Jose said, teachers not only assigned books like “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, but also wanted him to understand them.

“They wanted, like, essays,” he said. “They wanted you to get it.”

There’s no data yet to show whether students are learning more in the city’s small schools, but attendance is better. Teachers report being exhausted by the added responsibilities of creating a new school and taking on counseling duties but hopeful it is making a difference.

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  1. Naturally, the children will learn more and be more motivated in a more personal school. If the tests don’t show it (though they probably will), or if attendance is up – that means nothing.