Study of Small High Schools (Small Learning Communities or SLC) Yields Little on Achievement

David Hoff:

High schools receiving $80 million in annual federal funding to support “smaller learning communities” can document that they are taking steps to establish learning environments more intimate than found in the typical comprehensive high school.
But, according to a federal study, such smaller schools can’t answer the most significant question: Is student achievement improving in the smaller settings?
The evaluation of the 8-year-old program found that schools participating in it show signs of success. In the schools, the proportion of students being promoted from 9th to 10th grade increases, participation in extracurricular activities rises, and the rate of violent incidents declines.
But the evaluation found “no significant trends” in achievement on state tests or college-entrance exams, says the report, which was prepared by a private contractor and released by the U.S. Department of Education last week.


3 thoughts on “Study of Small High Schools (Small Learning Communities or SLC) Yields Little on Achievement”

  1. I went to a middle school of about 100 kids per grade, and there was endless politics, bullying, and in and out groups among the kids.
    In contrast, my high school, Proviso West, just outside Chicago, had 5000 kids. My freshman year was a breath of fresh air. With that many kids, there were no in/out groups – just groups based on common interest. Sure there were groups of kids that are usually seen as “popular” such as the homecoming court, but they had little sway because there were so many other groups. You could always find others with similar interests, for example I was in Ecology Club, and also people who were at your academic level. I had a blast and made lifelong friends.
    People who I’ve met from smaller high schools tell me of experiences similar to the miserable ones I had in middle school. I almost feel like a rarity to have had such a wonderful time in high school. The larger school all but eliminated the worst aspects of adolescent small grouping.
    So why would we want to narrow the experience by forcing random assignments to “Small Learning Communities” which will only recreate the experience of the smaller school?

  2. You make an interesting point, Mary. There is a huge push to keep this going in the high schools, but I’m not sure how many students have benefited from it, especially academically.

  3. My experience was very similar to Mary’s and I would not have chosen to go to a smaller school. That said, my experience is 22 years past. The overall school population is generationally and demographically different than my peer group. I’m not sure which school controllable factors are most in need of attention in order to hold onto the students who have been either failing or leaving. At this point, I don’t have much of an opinion either way about what should be done to improve engagement and achievement at the highschool level, but I hope that as changes are made, the positives of the large school experience don’t get thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

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