The small schools movement has shown us that size alone does not guarantee the success of a small learning community or school. It is necessary to personalize the environment so that students and teachers know each other well, to establish a unified vision of teaching and learning that binds the school and wider community, and to grant schools the autonomy to create unified learning communities (NESSN, 2002). Even with those conditions met, the members of the immediate school community need to share a common sense of purpose and shared vision, and the school must also receive the support of the district and school board. Clarke (2000) reveals the importance of building the conditions for systemic change: "Change can begin with the teacher, students, or the district, but you need the whole system to change to make it lasting." Schools can solicit enduring support for change by creating key stakeholders in the process, drawing from both the district and the wider community (Cunningham 2002). In order to truly support the conditions for change, schools must engage students, teachers, parents, community members, and political leaders in meeting a set of goals (DiMartino, Clarke & Wolk 2003).
The research on redesigning high schools is about both size and quality. The discussion about size focuses on the various ways to reorganize large schools into smaller learning communities and the persuasive findings that smaller can be better in terms of student performance and engagement in learning. The discussion about quality refers to improving the teaching and learning environments so that they are also more student-centered, more individually relevant and rigorous in content, and more versatile/effective with respect to teaching strategies.
Most studies of high school redesign look at "best practices" in concert and as elements of unified and systemic change. In a 1999 New American High Schools publication, Key High School Reform Strategies: An Overview of Research Findings, authors Visher, Emanuel, and Teitelbaum listed ten reform strategies with two warnings:
First,...none of the strategies by themselves should be expected to make a significant difference in any one school. That is, the available evidence suggests that it is the gathering of several strategies under one roof, especially certain combinations of strategies, that matters . . . Second, schools should adapt strategies to fit their own unique circumstances. Unfortunately, there is no single, correct way to implement reforms . . . (p. 2).
Having identified the essential elements of reform, researchers have since turned to focusing on the barriers to improvement that schools have encountered. All Over the Map addresses what states can do to help. New Small Learning Communities: Findings from recent literature looks at numerous barriers and their roots.
Researchers also continue to probe the interplay of reform elements with other factors such as individual school cultures, teacher and administrator capacity, and racial and economic inequities. Research About School Size and School Performance in Impoverished Communities by Craig Howley, Marty Strange, and Robert Bickel (ERIC Digest, 2000) reviews the findings of the Matthew Project, a multi-state study that replicated findings showing that small schools significantly reduce the achievement gap for low-income students. All else equal, larger school size benefits achievement in affluent communities, but it is detrimental in impoverished communities (Howley & Bickel, 1999). Even in affluent communities, however, schools serving 1,500 or more students might have diseconomies of scale and bureaucratic operating modes that are not educationally hospitable. Indeed, a wide consensus seems to have emerged (cf. Fulton, 1996) that schools larger than 1,000 are unwise choices for any community. The consensus clearly suggests that schools in impoverished communities should be much, much smaller.
Clearinghouse on Educational Management (2002). Corporate Involvement in School Reform. Eugene, OR: Author.
Focuses on business involvement in school reform, an increasingly significant trend that has been met with mixed reactions from both educators and policymakers. Includes the history of business's role in attempting to improve schools, the goals of both education and of business, reform programs implemented around the country, problems that come with business participation in education, and a number of examples are cited and questions raised to help educators and policymakers decide what level of business involvement is right for their districts.
Clearinghouse on Educational Management (2000). Business Partnerships with Schools. Eugene, OR: Author.
Addresses a range of ethical concerns educators have raised concerning school-business partnerships. The section on school-business partnerships highlights recent education policies, federal laws, and practical guidelines for relationships between schools and businesses. Special attention is given to legal and ethical guidelines for partnerships with businesses that offer technology resources to students.
Cooper, C. (1999, Fall/Winter). Beyond the bake sale: How parent involvement makes a difference. NCREL's Learning Point, 1(3), 1-6.
An interview with NCREL's Greg Hall, Program Associate for the Center for School and Community Development, provides readers with a close-up look at effective parent involvement programs.
Cunningham, C. (2002, April). Engaging the community to support student success. ERIC Digest.
Examines how public engagement can foster student achievement, how school boards and administrators can facilitate the public-engagement process, and how school leaders can solicit enduring support from key stakeholders.
Decker, L.E. (2001, September). Allies in education. Principal Leadership, 2(1), 42-46.
Increasingly, the public is losing faith in America's public schools. Principals can prevent this loss of faith by developing relationships between schools and the communities they serve.
Henderson, A.T. & Raimondo, B.N. (2001, September). Unlocking parent potential. Principal Leadership, 2(1), 26-32.
A statewide program in Kentucky, the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership, nurtures and trains parents to become effective partners in improving schools. Almost 700 parents have graduated from CIPL, and they form a small army of informed activists.
Kuo, E.W. (1999, February). Creating beneficial institutional collaborations. ERIC Digest. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED427818).
This digest examines the value of collaborations among businesses, community organizations, and educational institutions, and explores how partnerships create new opportunities and challenges.
Manning, M.L. & Lee, G. (2001, Summer). Working with parents--Cultural and linguistic considerations. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 37(4), 160-163. Copyright 2001 Kappa Delta Pi International, International Honor Society in Education.
Involving parents of various cultures in their children's education is essential to working effectively with all students. This paper describes: The rationale for cultural considerations; the need for objectivity; passive parental involvement; extended family involvement; generational differences; communication challenges; parents' expectations for school performance; school emphases on parental role; and ways to involve parents at school.
Potter, L. & Meade, D. (2002, March). Show me the money. Principal Leadership, 2(7), 81-82.
When districts need money, they can go to the community for help - but their efforts will only be successful if they follow some important guidelines.
Sanders, M.G. (1998). Schools, families, and communities--Partnership for student success. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Focuses on three areas for building effective school, family, and community partnership programs: a planning framework, an organizational structure, and an assessment of challenges.
Simon, B.S. (2001, October). Family involvement in high school: Predictors and effects. NASSP Bulletin, 85(627), 8-19.
Study of high school, family, and community partnerships is based on reports from 11,000 high school parents and 1,000 high school principals. Findings revealed that regardless of students' background and prior achievement, various parenting, volunteering, and home-learning activities positively influenced student grades, course credits completed, attendance, behavior, and school preparedness.
Bairu, G. (2001, Summer). Public school student, staff, and graduate counts by state: School year 1999-2000. Education Statistics Quarterly 3 (2). Available online at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/quarterly/Vol_3/3_2/q2-6.asp.
Clarke, J. (2000) Dynamics of Change in High School Teaching: A Study of Innovation in five Vermont professional development schools.
DiMartino, J., Clarke, J., and Wolk, D. editors (2003). Personalized Learning: Preparing High School Students to Create Their Futures. Lanham, MD: ScarecrowPress.
Ferguson, R. (Summer 1991). Paying for public education: New evidence on how and why money matters. Harvard Journal on Legislation 28: 465-98.
Henderson, A.T., & Berla, N. (Eds.). (1994). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. Washington, D.C.: National Committee for Citizens in Education
Breaking Ranks in Action
New Report Tracks Progress of Groundbreaking Research
School Redesign Network at Stanford University
Internet Resources on Starting Small Schools
Top 5 websites with links to research on small schools
The Research in Brief:
New Small Learning Communities: Findings From Recent Literature
Small Schools: The Numbers Tell a Story
Current Literature on Small Schools
Affective and Social Benefits of Small-Scale Schooling
Research About School Size and School Performance in Impoverished Communities
Curriculum Adequacy and Quality in High Schools Enrolling Fewer Than 400 Pupils (9-12)
ASK ERIC Internet Sites:
Youth at the Crossroads: Facing High School and Beyond (Winter 2001)
Transforming the American High School: New Directions for State and Local Policy (2001)
High Schools That Work
The New American High Schools Initiative
High Schools of the Millenium
State Graduation Requirements
Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey (August 2000)
1994 Bibliography on School Restructuring
I. General References on School Restructuring
These topics reflect specific research projects conducted at the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools.
Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools