Small isn’t always beautiful

Despite lots of Gates Foundation funding, the small-schools movement is stumbling in some towns, reports the Boston Globe.

In Oregon, Lebanon High was divided into small “academies” specializing in: communications; farming, natural resources, and health; arts, business, community and family affairs; and engineering and other technical fields. Students took classes within their academies with the same teachers, building bonds between classmates and teachers.

In Lebanon, though, scheduling problems abounded and test scores did not budge. Many feared that the student body was becoming too fragmented, a particularly touchy subject in a town where community is forged on the football field and at graduation ceremonies.

Students complained about being separated from friends and about a limited choice of courses.

Parents didn’t want their children choosing a career path at the age of 14, reports the Globe. “And in a lumber mill town, there was outrage that the new system was focused more on college-prep classes than on vocational education.” Lebanon High lost its small-school grant for failure to mobilize community support.

Clara Hemphill, director of, a project of Advocates for Children of New York, said the trouble can begin with what she called “small schools in drag” — schools that are small in concept only.

“The school becomes these four `Groovy Academies for Esoteric Studies,’ but the kids still call it `Roosevelt’ or whatever. The teachers aren’t really interested and the building stays the same, and they just rename the floors,” she said.

Via Ed Wonk, who teaches at a big high school that plans to stay big.

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  1. My high school got a grant for SLC’s, so everybody was moved around this year to implement it. Very inconvenient, to say the least. Bill and Melinda Gates are no longer funding these SLC’s because they found they don’t really work. Personally, I’m with Ed Wonk on this, but I never cease to wonder at the educrats’ willingness to jump on the next bandwagon riding through Skoolville. If there’s grant money attached to one of these fads, you can bet that someone at my school will be writing a grant and preaching the new religion during common meeting time, after which everyone is expected to jump on board with unmitigated enthusiasm. There is nothing new under the sun in the world of edumacation.

  2. A couple of years ago I attended a reunion of my high school class. They had arranged for tours of the school, and I wondered what the last 45 years had wrought.

    First impression was pretty good. They had avoided the California “ignore maintenance and replace the building every twenty year” routine. The buildings were well maintained, and very little changed. The total enrollment was about 150 students less.

    What had changed was the division into three “small schools.” Number of teachers about the same; number of administrators, counselors, clerical types gone from about 8 in 1958 to 75 (!!) now.

    At the same time, the district administration building, located near the high school had undergone a proportional expansion, although total district enrollment is down from the mid-50s.

    A demonstration of the iron law of bureaucracy at work.