Newsweek has a familiar-feeling piece on breaking up big behemoth high schools into smaller, more personal schools. To describe the approach, as Newsweek does as “the biggest wave of school reform to hit that classic American institution, the comprehensive high school, in 30 years” seems a bit breathless in its hyperbole.
Critics say that creating small high schools out of large ones merely masks the real problem: coming up with a national consensus on what children should be learning in high school and making sure they learn it. “The size of the school matters less than the quality of the curriculum,” argues Brookings Institution scholar Diane Ravitch, an educational historian. Although small high schools may be moderately beneficial for the most impoverished kids, who do better in a more personal environment, real improvement in high school won’t begin “until we come up with a universal curriculum.”
After that speedbump, it’s acres of the usual anecdotes about the personal touch, teachers and administrators getting to know students and “education on a human scale” before getting around to noting that “at small high schools across the city and across the nation measures of student achievement have flatlined, and some schools have even seen dips in math scores.”
(Amusing sidenote: Newsweek describes NYC Schools Chancellor Joe Klein as “a small, bespectacled former Justice Department lawyer.”)
I’m all for shuttering lousy schools and tend to favor small small schools reflexively, but let’s talk about which ones work and why.