Things I Know 238 of 365: Small schools’ve got moxy

Results showed that smaller, more personal learning environments and strong, caring bonds between students and adults can increase graduation rates dramatically.

– Bill Gates, Jr.

Growing up, I never thought of myself as attending a small school. We were country, sure, but the 50-some members of my graduating class and I were never cognizant of our small school status.

Though the Shadow Secretary of Education has lost patience with small schools, I’m still in this fight.

In the end of whatever the fight may be, it’s the small schools that will be around anyway.

Small schools are scrappy. Small schools are nimble. And, small schools see kids. In the interest of avoiding any claims I’m making a molly coddler’s case, we’ll ignore the idea of seeing kids as being key to strong and effective schools.

Let’s don our navy blazers with brass buttons and talk all business-like for a few moments.

Small businesses are scrappy. They run on lean budgets and are driven by market forces to find the niche demands of clients.

Nestled away in a side street here in Cambridge, is a shop the shape of a hallway that sells goods of India – fine textiles and curios among other things.

And they’ve been their for years, connected to and dependent on the other shops around them, offering something their peers cannot – filling a unique need.

Small schools do this too. Built around a magnet program, a unique pedagogy or a partnership with a local institution, small schools can build an infrastructure of school choice and specialization unmatched by lumbering industrial schools.

Small schools do not lumber.

They are nimble.

Howard Hughes’ infamous Spruce Goose flew only once and then at only 70’ for less than a mile. After that:

A full-time crew of 300 workers, all sworn to secrecy, maintained the plane in flying condition in a climate-controlled hangar. The crew was reduced to 50 workers in 1962, and then disbanded after Hughes’ death in 1976.

Such is the case of most industrial schools. Built in times of great conflict, many flew only once, if that, and then never as high as was hoped.

In each of the small public schools I’ve taught in, moves to adjust to the needs of both students and teachers were quick, exact and effective.

A student causing problems across classes was discussed among a teaching team, suggestions were made, and a plan was put in place. Rather than falling deeper and deeper into the chasm of neglect present in many industrial school, students were caught early and supports were put in place.

When school-wide reading strategies were the identified need, teachers read the same texts together, discussed what they found and began implementing – comparing results along the way. The resulting shared language around curriculum found its genesis in the examined texts, but was shaped by the school community to build a coded language of literacy owned by all faculty.

Busy meeting the needs of all wings and factions, industrial schools are constantly preparing for takeoff, let alone worrying about how they might turn, should the course be wrong once they’re aloft.

Small schools are imperfect. Resources are often at a scarcity. Faculty members often juggle several roles.

Still, their scrappiness, nimbleness and ability to more clearly see the children in their care make them better places for learning.

In an network of small public schools, proponents of school choice who often bemoan the lack of options would find the answers and educational affordances for which they are searching.

Let’s build those.

3 thoughts on “Things I Know 238 of 365: Small schools’ve got moxy

  1. I see your point, Zac, but the overhead and infrastructure costs of multiple small schools in place of large ones would seem to limit the potential of scale-up in your proposal. Perhaps we just need large schools to FUNCTION like small ones in their day-to-day operations. How might THAT be accomplished?Reading your post through my personal lens, I am struck by how “small school” our Ohio Virtual Academy experience has felt despite the numbers: 40% increase in enrollment this fall and over 14,000 students state-wide. Unfortunately, the sky-rocketing growth has forced us “learning coaches” (we are not technically teachers because this is a public online charter with state certified staff) to be very scrappy when it comes to supporting and fostering our children's education. The certified teachers seem just completely overwhelmed by the logistics this year and have not been very supportive aside from patting us learning coaches on the head and telling us that “it takes time to adjust” and “you and your child are doing great!” This forces us as LC's to wear the mantle and play the role of the “small school with moxy” you outlined above.

  2. Hi, my name is Sarah Powell and I am student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama.I really like your idea and reasons behind your idea. I find your train of thought very interesting. I agree with your small schools are better than industrial sized schools in theory; however, i think practically it would be hard to pull off. Funding is a problem. Public education government regulations is a problem. However, I do believe small schools would be more beneficial to students and teachers for the reasons you described in your post.I will be talking about this post on my blog.

    • Sarah,Thanks for the comment. Both you and Debbie brought up issues of funding. I wonder if you would say more about that. I look forward to reading your post.- Zac

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