Small is disappointing

Oregon’s experiment with small high schools, which started four years ago, has produced disappointing results.

Armed with $25 million from billionaire Bill Gates and other education reformers, backers of small schools heralded the academies as the best way to curb high dropout rates, forge connections to keep teenagers on track and prepare every graduate for college.

None of that has happened. Large high schools were cut up into smaller schools that produced similar test scores and dropout rates.

Organizers now say they focused too much on school structure and not enough on improving teaching. In addition, hiring multiple principals at what used to be a single high school proved to be expensive.

As a result, many small high schools are run by lower-paid, less-experienced administrators. That has led to high turnover, and at some schools, confusion among teachers and students about who is in charge.

The new schools had no performance targets; nobody was quite sure what it meant for all students to be “college ready.”

About Joanne


  1. > Organizers now say they focused too much on school structure and not enough on improving teaching.

    Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  2. After being a young, reform-minded principal and investing a lot of energy in restructuring plans and then watching what happened, I came to the conclusion years ago that nearly all educational discourse is a distraction from teaching and learning and seldom leads to improvement.

    But the professional journals are full of talk about structures, policies, procedures, budgets, etc. etc.

    What do kids need to learn and why? What are the best ways to teach it?

    Talk about these things will lead to talk about the other stuff, but most talk about the other stuff seldom leads to or leaves room for talk about teaching and learning.

  3. When will we begin to see that schools (no matter how good) cannot build on an insecure, unstable foundation now provided by society and home?
    Yes, we teachers and schools need to continue to improve, but no amount of money and training can make up for what is not appropriately provided by the other meaningful components of the total picture we call education.
    Until we begin to behave as though we believe that ALL of us (parents, schools, community, businesses, etc.) are responsible for educating our young people, we can test ourselves silly, throw money at various endeavors of schools, criticize teachers who don’t care, and still “miss the mark”.

  4. This reminds me of a visit to my high school at a class reunion a few years ago. The school enrollment is just about what it was when I was a student, the community demographics are very little changed, but they have become caught up in the “small is better” mantra.

    When I was there, for some 2000 students, we had a principal, an assistant, six counselors and three secretaries. Now, organized into three “academies” and the same number of students, the administrative body count is up to sixty five.

    Much of the first two floors of the original building are now housing administrative drones, and the taxpayers have been tapped to replace that classroom space.

    At least it’s in a part of the country where they don’t do the California thing of spending little on maintenance and replacing the buildings every twenty years.

  5. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    “College ready” is a laudable, I suppose, but what about “life ready?” (As we all know that not all students want to go on to college…)

  6. In summary: they had incompetent personnel who didn’t know what their job was.

    Well, gee, I can’t imagine why they weren’t successful.

  7. Tommyboy35 says:

    I’m so shocked. Once again liberalism fails whenever it is implemented. You would think that eventually people would stop believing liberals whenever they ask for money to solve a problem. Time and time again, however, you give them tons of money and you get what? The same, predictable, result. Failure…and a whole lot of wasted tax dollars. Really, should it take 25 million dollars to figure out that crappy teaching was the problem in the first place?


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