Not Just Smaller Classrooms – Smaller Schools

For years, the debate over classroom size reduction has raged all the country – but no place more than in California .  With one in every eight people in the currently living in this state alone – and continuing rapid growth predicted for years to come – California has had its share of classroom challenges for many years.  Now, not only has California worked hard to reduce class size, it has been experimenting with overall school size.  Schools from San Diego to Sacramento are seeing a lot of success in the form of higher graduation rates and overall better test scores from their students in the “smaller school” environment.

Research over the last 30 years has shown that optimum school size at the high school level is 300-500.  Within that range there are enough students to allow for a rich and varied curriculum offering, while also allowing for the kids within the school to know each other, form bonds, and work together.  When the numbers begin to climb over 500, personalization is lost.  Personalization is an important factor in individual student success.  Simply put, smaller groups work together better than larger groups.   Working as teams toward a common educational goal has been shown to be very successful.  Students for whom learning comes easier offer peer support to those who might struggle a bit more resulting in overall success for the group.  It smacks of the one room school house of old where all levels of learner were within the same space helping each other along year after year.

In areas of California where the schools must have a population higher than the 500-pupil, high-end optimum, schools are using the alternate method of dividing the student body into “academic communities.”  While the building may house 1,000 or even 5,000 students, the communities are kept small and close-knit.  This not only offers the same educational benefits as a smaller school, but also has been shown to provide a safer, more nurturing environment.  When students all know each other and feel included, violence and bullying are less likely to occur.  Additionally, teachers and students care about each other more in this more personal environment and also take some responsibility for each others’ actions.

Some California schools have even gone so far as to target their academic communities by dividing the groups into areas of particular interest.  For example, Sir Francis Drake High school in Marin County , has divided its 1000+ student body into six learning academies.  The Communications Academy offers a curriculum that concentrates on Drama, Theater, and Audio Visual.  Alternately, Drake offers an Engineering Academy where students will learn physics, sculpture, and everything in between to provide a foundation for successful future engineers.  There’s also an Environmental Academy that touts that it is “dedicated to helping create a sustainable future.”

With continued and growing success, the smaller school model and academic community models found in more and more schools across California make this an appealing state to raise and educate children who will be well prepared to build successful lives for themselves as adults.

 

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