Monday, June 29, 2009

Small Schools: David vs. Goliath?

I attempted to post a comment directly on The Quick and the Ed, but alas, the software hates me. When Google Help waves its magic wand, I'll be back there commenting!

Chad Aldeman at The Quick and the Ed posted an intriguing article this morning entitled "The Truth about New York City's High Schools." In his post, Aldeman discusses a recent report on the impact that New York City small high schools are having on the larger schools, and he argues that the report is being misused and misinterpreted.

This blog entry caught my eye because the criticisms against NYC small schools are so similar to the rants our small schools have endured from other district teachers and administrators, as well as from uninformed members of our school board.

Like the NYC small schools, we've been told that our high achievement comes as a result of creaming students, and other administrators have gotten almost personally angry when their best students finally receive a coveted spot in a small school (although they're strangely silent about the wealth of underperforming students who choose our school). Our admission system is not nearly as complicated as that in New York, but it does require families to be involved enough that they can complete and return the 1-page application (basic information - grades and behavior aren't counted) before the lottery deadline; because of that simple requirement, we're unlikely to get families who refuse to involve themselves in education. That's the only distinction between accepted students and those who are placed on the wait list.

John Thompson, who posts on ScholasticAdministrators' This Week in Education, commented on Alderman's post. He suggests that "creaming" is not the best term, saying "can't we agree that choice inherently results in creaming?" If this is true, than the obvious response is to make every school an excellent choice, so that students can choose the programs that best fit their interests and needs.

Before you start yelling, please notice that I said obvious, not simple. Smaller schools have more flexibility and are better able to fit students' needs...but isn't that the point? Thompson argues that the "default" schools face tougher challenges, "require additional resources, and aren't necessarily amenable to the methods of the charters/small school/magnets[....]" But if these "default" schools are facing all these problems, shouldn't we work on reforming them, rather than tearing down the small schools? Let's continue the conversation about how to make those large schools an excellent choice for students who excel in that environment, and how to provide more non-traditional choices so that every student fits somewhere.

In truth, small schools aren't David to the large schools' Goliath. We have no desire to topple them and cut off their heads with their own swords; the very idea of "us" and "them" is counterproductive to our common goal, which must be to provide an excellent education to every student. School choice should allow students and their families to choose from a variety of options, unrestricted by paperwork, language, economic status, location, or any other prejudicial barrier to success.

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