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Topics Smaller schools are safer, saner

Joe Nathan reports on the evidence that students do better in smaller public schools. Families also are more involved, and faculty feel safer, and more fulfilled, he says.FROM HOMETOWNSOURCE.COM


by Joe Nathan

On average, students do better in smaller public schools. Families also are more involved, and faculty feel safer, and more fulfilled.

Those are key messages found in a new report published by the Center for School Change (CSC), where I work. We’ve sent a copy to every Minnesota public library. The report also can be found on the Web (PDF).

The report includes many color pictures of outstanding rural, urban and suburban small schools in Minnesota and 10 other states. It’s a major revision of a report we issued in 2001, which has been purchased or “downloaded” from a computer more than 50,000 times. It’s called Smaller, Safer, Saner, Successful Schools.

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Here is one of the charts that appears in the study. The chart shows, for example, that while 21 percent of urban public school teachers in schools serving 200-749 students report robbery of theft happened at least once a month, 50 percent of urban public school teachers in schools with 1200 or more students reported this happened at least once a month.

Teacher Reports of Daily, Weekly or Monthly Incidents by Urban Public School Size

This information comes from a study we cite done by University of Washington researchers. They examined reports from thousands of U.S. urban teachers.

The report also notes the benefits of smaller schools in suburban and rural areas. We point out Minnesota research that I have discussed before regarding the percentage of Minnesota public high school graduates who entered Minnesota public colleges or universities and then took one or more remedial courses in reading, writing or math. ALL 50 of the Minnesota public high schools with the smallest percentage of graduates in Minnesota public colleges or universities were in rural Minnesota, and 45 of the 50 were quite small.

This does NOT mean that every small school is excellent. But the report shows that on average, students in smaller schools are safer, and achieve more, whether measured by test scores, graduation rates or other factors.

We also show that faculty working in smaller schools, in general, feel more fulfilled than those in larger similar schools. And, we cite studies concluding that smaller schools are not necessarily more expensive.

Sheena Thao, who co-wrote the report, and I believe we should stop debating which is better, district or charter public schools. There are excellent examples of both.

We urge that communities, educators learn from the best. We also suggest that foundations and legislators might establish ways to help communities apply lessons from the finest district and charter public schools. This might include forums to discuss them, and funds to help replicate them.

The report honors and celebrate outstanding schools. We hope that “Smaller, Safer Successful Schools” is encouraging and useful.”

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Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota